Blaming it on Bawarias
On the very day the Uttar Pradesh Police claimed that it had solved the case of the gang rape of a Noida woman and her minor daughter on National Highway 91, those who have followed crime scene in and around the national Capital raised their eye brows. The crime is alleged to have been committed by members belonging to the denotified tribe of the Bawarias. The former “criminal tribes”, though known for committing most heinous crimes including murder have never been named in any case of rape or sexual assault.
Upon carefully scanning the reports published in newspapers in Uttar Pradesh in the past week, it can be discerned that the police are working overtime to thrust it on the denotified tribes to escape indictment for their inability to prevent the most grotesque criminal incident in recent times. The first question which arose in your reporter’s mind, too, was that when there was a movement of this tribe in the area, why were enough precautions not taken?
The police have come up with an explanation for it. The Senior Superintendent of Police heading the Special Task Force of the UP Police was quoted in a report that, “Gone are the days when the members of nomadic tribes used to don customary attires, apply antimony, and wear amulets. The nomadic tribes active in UP — including Bawarias, Kalandars, Kankalis, Kanjars, Nats, Sansis, Bhatus, Baheliyas, and Hobaras — have all changed their strategy.” He was further quoted as saying that in order to dodge the police the members of the former criminal tribes stayed with their families in cities and enrolled their children in local schools.
Now, this statement is full of contradictions as it is very difficult to believe that the community members were enrolling their children in schools and taking to urban way of living just to dodge the police to continue with their “criminal” activities. Though, until a decade ago in the then upcoming suburbs of Noida and Gurgaon, members of these communities did commit gruesome crimes but their activities in the area have receded greatly. This has been possible because of a large number of voluntary organisations working with them to bring these tribes into the national mainstream.
However, the NH-91 incident and the police putting the blame on the Bawaria community members has once again sparked the debate which social activist and litterateur Mahasweta Devi pursued for a long time. In an article titled, “Year of Birth – 1871”, she mentioned, “Because, between 1871 and 1952, certain communities came to be known as criminals. The local people and the police killed them, tortured them, hounded them like beasts of prey. And, after Independence, police and the political and non-political power wielders engaged them in criminal activities. They were forced to rob and steal. The police and the stolen good receivers took it all and often had them killed. Their stigma is the curse of their life. All over India, the denotified communities are jailed, mob-lynched, tortured to death in police lock-ups. Worst of all, even India’s other tribals treat the denotified tribes as expendable ones.”
In 1871, the British Government had notified certain tribes as criminals and passed the notorious Criminal Tribes Act of 1871. The act had classified them as nomadic cattle grazers, wandering singers, acrobats, etc. but also those who resisted the British aggression from time to time. “The logic was simple. These people lived in forests or were nomads. Only the criminals would do this. As Indians follow caste professions, these mysterious (to the British) people, too, are hereditary criminals. Thus history’s most heinous crime was perpetuated in this Act,” wrote Mahasweta Devi in her famous article.
A recent newspaper report had a very interesting angle which said that the main accused, Saleem, was a Bawaria, whereas the members of this community are practising Hindus. Their community leaders have come out claiming that the police was unnecessarily trying to stigmatise the community.
Estimated to be around 15,000 in number, members of the Bawaria tribe mostly live in 12 villages in Jhinjhana area of Shamli in western UP. Their ancestors had moved from Rajasthan around 300 years ago to settle in Shamli. The community leaders claim that the condition of the community had improved manifold in the past few decades after they were included in the category of Scheduled Castes and given the benefit of the job quotas.
However, the UP Police is sticking to its own thesis claiming that during their probe in the Bulandshahr gang rape and loot, they found that notorious criminals — Sabil Hasan, Sallan, Afzal, Moin, Saleem, Beeru, Vikas, Amar, Ravi, Dilzan, and Mobin — who belonged to various tribes had started living in urban areas. They shift their hideouts and travel 500-1,000km in SUVs to commit a crime. They point that the arrested members of the Bawaria gang accused of gang-raping the woman and her minor daughter on July 30 had also moved from their native places in Rajasthan and Haryana to Meerut, Hapur, Khurja, and Muzaffarnagar. The gang members wore t-shirts, jeans, and bermudas.
The police are also claiming that the members of these communities now operate more like a crime syndicate with a battery of lawyers in various districts who defend their cases. They claim that these lawyers manage bail for these criminals, who thereafter vanish in thin air to reappear only to commit another crime.
The police’s version is not easy to believe. If they are so aware of the know-how of such gangs, why did they fail to prevent the NH 91 incident? However, it would not be correct to reject it completely either. There are some grey areas and the truth lies somewhere there; till then the police can safely blame it on the Bawarias.
(Sidharth Mishra is President, Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, and is Consulting Editor, Millennium Post. The views expressed are personal.)