The Sonbhadra massacre served to reveal the ugly fissures between dominant castes and those they consider to be inferior to them (members of scheduled tribes and scheduled castes). The Gond tribals in the village of Umbha, in the district of Sonbhadra in Uttar Pradesh (UP), were indiscriminately fired at by men from the Gujjar community in July 2019. What was their folly? They were farming on ‘disputed’ land. This angered some members of the Gujjar community who decided to ‘teach them a lesson’.
A 300-strong mob, led by the village headman, and armed with guns and sticks, arrived in tractors. This angry mob attacked unarmed tribals and ended up killing ten people (three women and seven men) and injuring several others. Time-and-again, tribal folk and people from Dalit communities have been subjected to cruel violence at the hands of those who have greater social and economic capital. The riotous mob’s intention was to take possession of the land, by hook or crook. I find it saddening to note that the value of human life seemed to them less precious than the value of the land they were so desperate to own.
A Special Investigation Team (SIT), constituted by the Uttar Pradesh (UP) police, which was probing the land dispute, found that members of the Gond tribal community had been farming on the 145 bighas (a unit of measurement) of land in question since before independence (1947).
More than 50 people have been charge-sheeted so far including the headman, Yagya Dutt, and his relatives. A charge-sheet has been filed against them under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) including Section 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention), Section 120-B (criminal conspiracy), Section 147 (rioting), Section 148 (rioting, armed with a deadly weapon), Section 149 (every member of unlawful assembly guilty of offence committed in prosecution of common object), Section 302 (murder) and Section 307 (attempt to murder). They have also been booked under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act as well as the Arms Act.
I think that India’s blood-thirsty mobs are quickly proving to be a major threat to its minorities, as these mobs have their own system of delivering justice. These mobs mete out violent punishments to those who seem to have erred by the mobs’ standards, in order to seek vengeance.
The state of UP accounted for 43% of crimes against marginalised communities (869 cases out of a total of 2,008 cases) registered with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) between 2016 and 2019. According to Amnesty India, out of 218 cases of hate crimes reported in 2018, 57 incidents occurred in UP (a little more than 1/4th of the total incidents).
I am of the opinion that UP clearly has a law and order problem that it needs to tackle head-on. A deteriorating law and order situation shouldn’t be its only concern as minorities are being disproportionately killed in the process. This needs to be urgently acknowledged and addressed by the Yogi Adityanath government.
Note: The author is part of the current batch of the Writer’s Training Program.