If the post-Mandal Dalit Bahujan upsurge was an expression of the democratic revolution, the advent of Adityanath’s BJP government constituted the beginning of a counter-revolution that is on the way to consolidating itself in Uttar Pradesh.
The facts of the case are well known, even though the Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh is trying, ever so hard, to produce a different narrative by resorting to the usual Hindutva tactic of assigning it to an international conspiracy. It is typical of the utterly farcical and shoddy nature of the Indian police (and maybe indicates the regime’s over-confidence) that it in the name of collecting evidence of the conspiracy, it has done a cut-and-paste job from an American site, even forgetting to delete references to ‘NYPD’ and ‘white supremacism’! Incidents of gang-rape and murder have since also happened elsewhere in the state, notably in Balrampur and Bulandshahr. We are witnessing the heinous episode of the Hathras gang rape and murder when the memory of the Unnao rape case in which then BJP leader Kuldeep Sengar was accused, is still fresh in our minds. The victim’s father died in police custody, having already been very badly beaten by Sengar’s brother and their goons, a video of which was proudly circulated on social media. Some other members of the family were killed in an accident when a truck with a blackened number plate hit their car. In a second rape case, in the very same Unnao, two years later, a 23-year old woman who had been raped and was on the way to a hearing of the rape case, was caught and set ablaze by five men and died soon after that. In the first case, the rape-accused was a ‘popular’ figure – a Rajput leader – in whose support demonstrations were organized after he was arrested. In the second case, the girl was a Lohar (a blacksmith jati) while those who brutalized and killed her were Brahmins.
It is the sort of place you will not find unless you are looking for it. Even if you find the address in Hardevpuri near Shahdara, you will not know where to knock. There is no signboard that will tell you this is Gautam Book Center. “A signboard will attract the attention of those who don’t like our books,” explains AK Gautam.
Anand Teltumbde is a noted Bombay-based Dalit intellectual who also wears the hat of a business executive. He has written this book about the lynching of a Dalit family in a Maharashtra village in 2006 to ensure that the incident is not easily erased from memory. He quotes Milan Kundera: “The struggle against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” In other words, he sees this book as being a seminal work on the Khairlanji atrocity.
The book begins with Abel Meeropol’s song Strange Fruit, written in 1936 (and not 1939, as the book incorrectly states) about the lynching of two black youth. It is from this song that the book derives its sub-title, “A Strange and Bitter Crop,” which once again reinforces the book’s ambition. Billie Holiday’s rendition of Strange Fruit (in 1939) soon became an anthem for the anti-lynching movement in the US, but does Teltumbde’s book achieve its ambitious goal?