Updated: Sep 15, 2022
As regular violence against indigenous communities becomes an unfortunate reality in India, writer Aditi Tulsyan, discusses the custodial killing of Bala*, a Pardhi tribal working as a daily wage labourer.
Violence has become an integral part in the lives of the indigenous communities in India. Extrajudicial killings, torture by police, killings by Maoists, false allegations, forced disappearances, abuse by forest officials, forced evictions, sexual violence against indigenous women and children, etc., have become a daily routine, apart from the structural and social discriminations against indigenous communities on a regular basis. For someone working on the violation of rights of the Adivasis and tribals, this situation is extremely worrisome. I fear for the very lives of people belonging to indigenous communities.
The latest data from National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) states that the number of crimes committed against the Scheduled Tribes was 6,528 in 2018 and 7,570 in 2019, which increased to 8,272 cases in 2020. The conviction rate for crimes against the scheduled tribes was merely 28.5% in 2020, despite the provision for speedy trial in “Special Courts.” Is this not a miscarriage of justice?
At this juncture I am reminded of the killing of a tribal man Bala*, in police custody and its impact on his wife, Dyuti* and family. It should be noted that Bala had been illegally arrested. He was a daily wage labourer. The police had illegally detained him for almost a week. The police falsely accused him of theft. They tortured and beat him to extract confession for a crime he did not commit. Due to the atrocities of the police, Bala died.
Bala was the sole earner of his family. His wife and children were dependent on him. His death left the family in extreme distress and trauma. Dyuti was forced to beg to meet the needs of their children. The family had no money or a source of livelihood.
“The family was tortured and denied justice. There was an effort to suppress this case. Pardhi community people suffer from injustices like these, and many such cases exist. The situation is bad. The police brand the community as thieves and falsely imprison them. The condition of Paridhi tribals has become worse than animals,” said an activist from the Pardhi community.
Imagine losing a loved one and living a life filled with death threats every day. Dyuti and the children lived in constant fear of being attacked. Dyuti had filed a case and was facing continuous police harassments. Bala and Dyuti both belonged to the Pardhi tribal community. The Pardhis are one of the 150 tribes branded as the ‘criminal tribe’ by the British colonial government in 1871 for rebelling against the regime. Their ‘criminal’ legacy makes members of the community an easy target in independent India. They regularly face police brutality and social discrimination because of the ‘criminal’ tag. "Bala had fallen victim to the same,” asserted a member of the community. Pardhis are one of the 150 tribes branded as the ‘criminal tribe’ by the British colonial government in 1871 for rebelling against the regime. Their ‘criminal’ legacy makes members of the community an easy target in independent India. They regularly face police brutality and social discrimination because of the ‘criminal’ tag.“Bala had fallen victim to the same,” asserted a member of the community.
As part of IRAC’s advocacy intervention, I had to speak to Dyuti to understand her financial and legal needs. I was concerned about creating a trustworthy and safe environment for Dyuti, who had lost every ounce of faith in the legal system and the government. It was going to be our first conversation. She sounded alarmed as she received my call. She immediately asked, “Who are you? Are you from the police?" As I said "No", she again questioned "Are you sure you are not from the police?” I was not surprised to see this level of mistrust and fear. The continuous violence and misuse of power by police had left Dyuti traumatized. The police had become a source of persistent danger for her.
In the report by Dutta (2022), data suggests that out of 33 people subjected to alleged police atrocities between 2019 & 2022, 23 were from the indigenous communities, out of which ten died. However, these are just a few of the many unreported cases. Like Bala’s family, many other Adivasis and tribal families share the stories of police brutality, atrocities and violence over them. Violence against one indigenous person is equal to the violence against the whole community as it threatens the entire community. Research suggests that the family members of those wrongfully accused experience ‘secondary trauma.’ Families undergo mental health challenges like anxiety and depression, especially the wives of people wrongfully detained. Imagine the mental health crisis that families undergo when the wrongfully accused/detained person is killed in custody.
While India is celebrating its 75th year of independence, it should recognize that it has failed its indigenous people.
Indigenous people are marginalized, discriminated against and suppressed. They face significant challenges in accessing education, health care, and other basic services. There are 104.3 million Scheduled Tribes, also called tribals or Adivasis, who form the indigenous population of India. They constitute around 8.6% of the country’s total population. Nearly 90% of them live in rural areas without access to basic facilities. The criminalization of Adivasis further marginalizes them, deprives them of their rights and leads to increased poverty and vulnerability. It also threatens their survival and they live in constant fear. Such survival without any dignity and protection of lives, is indicative of how the Indian state has treated its indigenous populations, for decades.
*Name changed to protect the identities of the concerned persons.