The Hindu (December 2, 2006)
WHY DID Maharashtra burst into flames on Thursday following Dalit protests, almost without warning? To those who have not been monitoring what is happening among Dalits, and more specifically amongst the followers of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar this year, it would appear that the protests came out of nowhere. Yet the signs of anger have been more than evident, particularly over the last two months since the murder of four Dalits in the village of Khairlanji, 100 km from Nagpur on September 29. Ironically, just three days after this atrocity in which the mother and three grown children of the Bhotmange family were brutally killed, a major event took place in Nagpur bringing together the national leadership of Dalits. On October 2, Dussehra Day, Dalits marked 50 years since Dr. Ambedkar's conversion to Buddhism. On October 14, the actual date of the conversion, once again lakhs of people gathered in Nagpur. Not a whiff of the atrocity so close at hand disturbed the occasion.
The first protests against the Khairlanji killing emerged more than a month later, first in Nagpur and then in Amravati and Yavatmal. In each case, the protesters appeared as if out of nowhere and caught the police off guard. They seemed to be leaderless but did not escape the full force of police brutality, particularly in Amravati and Yavatmal. The anger that fuelled those demonstrations was clearly linked to Khairlanji and the State Government's failure to move swiftly to deal with the crime. Although since then, the State Home Ministry has taken some steps by suspending the officials who were lax in registering the atrocity and in the follow-up to it and arresting the sarpanch and upa sarpanch of the village, suspected of having led the mob, the general perception remains that the incident has not been taken seriously enough.
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