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Sacred games UP style: Caste, crime and punishment amidst battle for political clout

By Aviral Anand*
As the news regarding Vikas Dubey began flooding all media outlets, the names that crowded the descriptions seemed a little startling. Especially for those who might not be in the know of such things. It would have been too unrealistic to expect a Gaitonde in the Hindi heartland, but there was no Sardar Khan, Faizal or a Ramdhari Singh of the Wasseypur variety either.
Instead, there was a parade of last names such as Dubey, Chaubey (or Chaubeypur), Mishra, Pandey, Agnihotri and Bajpayi (Vajpayi/Vajpayee), all markers of the Brahmin caste. Suddenly, it seemed the entire clutch of Kanyakubj (Brahmins from Kannauj) and Saryuparin (those who crossed the Sarayu river) Brahmins -- the storied Brahmin gotras associated with a good part of the Hindi heartland -- were actors in a mahayuddha that was scarcely known outside that region.
Here were family-names associated with ancient rituals, like the Vajpeya and Agnihotra Vedic fire-sacrifices (yagna), playing with fire of a different kind in modern times.
It is not out of place to mention that Vikas Dubey was often referred to as Panditji and was also praised as a “Brahman sher (tiger)” by some. His killing was seen as a body blow by many Brahmins.
Maybe it is also not entirely irrelevant to mention that in the complicated twists of the narrative, Dubey claimed closeness to the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), describing it as “home” in an old video statement (“Baspa [BSP] mera ghar tha jahan 12 saal main reh chuka hoon…”). Notably, in BSP’s victory in the 2007 state elections in UP, its Brahmin candidate from Chaubeypur emerged victorious, as did a host of other Brahmin contestants.
What is crucial to note is this battle of  “political varchasva (clout)” being fought out in the Hindi heartland by the upper castes, often among themselves -- whether as part of more traditional political formations such as the Congress or even the BSP, when wooed by them.  
While Dubey was basically a free man in Bikru despite having racked-up more than 60 cases against himself, the Indian jails are filled with undertrials who are largely from so-called lower castes, adivasi communities and religious minorities (read Muslim) [references here and here]. 
Vikas Dubey was often referred to as Panditji and praised as Brahman sher. His killing was seen as a body blow by many Brahmins
This entire episode was not about the more common conflict between caste-groups that one often hears from UP; it was portrayed as a purely law-and-order and criminal justice issue, but it does give us some insights into the ground-level social realities:
  1. The criminal involvement of the upper castes, especially the Brahmins in the fabric of everyday life. So, let us all accept this openly that criminality is not a monopoly of any one caste; rather, one should realize that the upper castes can be as brazen as anyone else, maybe more so because of the impunity they can bank upon.
  2. The domination by the so-called upper-castes in the local administration. This is a larger story -- that of the over-representation of the higher castes in most positions of power. 
  3. An indication of landholding patterns by the “dominant castes” in those areas (Dubey claims his father was a ‘zamindar’). As the scholar RS Khare noted in his study of Kanyakubj Brahmins, “the gazetteers (1903-27) of such districts as Kanpur, Hardoi...and Lucknow consistently indicate that these Brahmans owned a sizeable part of land and managed them in ruler-style, 'even if they did not plough the land themselves.’” It is also well known that Brahmins throughout India were given generous land-grants and the “biswa-scale,” is a traditional marker of the amount of land granted to Brahmins. 
  4. Villages like Bikru/Bikroo (which fall under the Shivrajpur block), have a Scheduled Caste population of around 30%. We do not have too much information about the treatment of Dalits and OBCs in the region, but the Economic Times (ET) reports the following: “A youth hailing from a backward community said that Dubey helped only people belonging to the ‘upper’ caste while the others were insulted by his men.” The same report tells us that, “The caste divide was pronounced. A woman belonging to one of the Scheduled Castes said she was ‘ineligible to even comment’.” 
While most of the media has quickly moved on to other news, having viewed the incident from various lurid lenses, there have been some voices that have questioned the impunity with which the UP police dispatched Dubey in an encounter. 
All such calls for scrutiny of police procedure, the protection provided to the likes of Vikas Dubey by vested interests etc. are urgently needed. But like so much else in India, and especially in its heartland UP, one cannot ignore the aspects of caste positionalities that were visible in the background.
One is used to criminality being pinned on certain communities and castes and the swift punishment meted out to them. Most of the media and the public almost seemed to pass this incident over as an anomaly, not really trying to bring unfavorable attention to the caste and religion factor here. 
This was probably because it did not know how to deal with the issue, what with those from the so-called top-rung of the society standing exposed, neck-deep in all manner of criminal activities. Brahmanism is evidently alive and well.
---
*Writer based in Delhi

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