This morning, like most others, I was quickly flipping through the pages of the newspaper and this one story, which instantly grabbed my attention, was about a young 23-year-old from a Dalit community, Abhishek Pal, who was brutally murdered by the family of the woman he loved, who belonged to an upper-caste community. Those who read newspapers regularly will acknowledge that such tragic tales of caste-based violence have become a regular feature of the news cycle now. But, this particular story really shook me to the core, left me teary-eyed, and my heart heavy, as this was a story of a young aspirational youth, who represented a new India. He had big dreams for himself and his family, and stood up against a regressive caste order for his love, but alas! Not all love stories have a happy ending and in the end, he had to pay with his life for daring to challenge those who didn’t want to give up the privileges that they enjoy, by the virtue of their birth.
Abhishek was a 23-year-old resident of Hardoi district in Uttar Pradesh, a few hundred kilometers from Delhi. His parents were poor sharecroppers, for whom, putting food on their children’s plate was a daily struggle. After he completed his school education his relatives wanted him to quit further studies, but Pal had a dream of becoming a police officer to provide a better life for his family and improve their social standing. So, he joined college. He loved cricket and was a huge Virat Kohli fan, he liked to dress well, had a warm nature. The only folly that he committed, which proved to be his ‘undoing’, was that he dared to love someone who belongs to an upper-caste community, Shivani Gupta. For performing such a grave sacrilege he was burnt alive by her family. At the time when he was brought to the hospital in a charred condition, his mother was also admitted there. When his father and siblings saw him in that condition they couldn’t believe their eyes but could do nothing other than curse their fate.
The death of Abhishek Pal should hold each of our heads in utter shame and provides us all with an opportunity to reflect on our mistakes. Most of us would comfortably shift the blame on those who practice and propagate this caste-based discrimination. But, we have to realise that all of us who choose to turn a blind eye to the actions of such people are equally responsible for the tragic end that Abhishek and Shivani’s story had to meet and the pain that the family of the boy and many others like them have to go through.
If we really want this regressive caste-based system to end for the better of this country and of the people, who have to spend every moment of their life under its burden, then every well-meaning citizen of this country will have to take a stand against it. Only when we stand together, shoulder-to-shoulder with each other to declare war against this hierarchical order, which has hampered the progress of our country for centuries, then, and only then, this system of caste would be relegated to the annals of history. And that time is now. Let us take action and make our constitutional forefathers and our future generations proud of us.