GroundXero | April 03, 2020
“Hello Namaskar friends, my name is Roshan Lal. I am very upset today. My only fault is that I stepped out (of the school where he was put in quarantine) to get flour because we did not have anything at my home to eat. A policeman named Anoop Singh has thrashed me so badly that my right hand has stopped working. Perhaps, it is broken now. Don’t ask how helpless I am feeling right now.”
“Despite this, nobody came forward to help me that is why I am taking this extreme step.”
The testimony above has been transcribed from the three recorded audio clips which Roshan Lal, a migrant worker, forwarded to his friend and family members on WhatsApp, minutes before he took the “extreme step” of killing himself by hanging. Roshal Lal body was found hanging from a tree in the school campus, where he was quarantined.
Roshan Lal was a22 year old dalit youth,who worked as a daily wage labourer in Gurgaon. He had returned to his native village, Pipariya under Maigalganj police station, on March 29, six days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the nationwide lockdown, and was kept in a local school under quarantine by village officials. He committed suicide on Wednesday, after he was allegedly humiliated and brutally beaten up by the UP police for breaking quarantine rules.
In one of the audio clips, Roshan Lal can be heard saying,
“My only fault is that I came back from Gurgaon two days ago. My mistake is that I was sitting in the school when I got a call that there was no food at home. My sister-in-law asked me to get some wheat grounded. And I went. That was my mistake – I should have stayed in the school. After that, a constable named Anoop came there and asked if I am Roshan. I said yes. He beat me up severely. My right hand is not working. Then he made me speak to the chowki in-charge. I asked him to help me get treated. He did not help me.”
In another audio clip, Roshan Lal can be heard saying:
“Friends, if there is anyone who does not believe me, they should see my pants. There is only blood. I don’t want to live now. Action should be taken against constable Anoop Kumar Singh. Because of him, I am killing myself.”
Roshan’s elder brother Bankey Lal narrated how his brother managed to reach the village. Bankey Lal said, “He [Roshan Lal] had to walk from Gurgaon till AnandVihar. From there, he boarded a bus to Lucknow. From Lucknow, he hitched rides before walking for the last-mile journey.”
The family members and villagers staged a protest and refused to cremate the body until a case was lodged against the constable. Bankey Lal said, the police had refused to lodge an FIR against the constable. He added, “Just because we are poor doesn’t mean we can be humiliated in the village and nothing will happen to those who are responsible for doing this.”
A senior police officer in the district said Roshan refused to follow quarantine norms. “He was roaming around. That is why he was stopped and maybe, he was slapped a couple of times by the constable,” Lucknow Range Inspector General S K Bhagat said an inquiry had been ordered and action would be taken on the basis of its findings within 48 hours.
Roshan Lal’s story, by no means, is an isolated incident. By now, most of us have seen the photographs and videos of the migrant workers being humiliated across the country by security forces as they trek miles along the highways to reach their homes. To us they are the nameless, faceless multitude – the carriers of the dreaded virus. They are the ‘vector’.
Roshan Lal provides us with a name and a face to this narrative. His story is also one of habitual public humiliation faced by millions at the hands of the state – actualized by the police – and the middle-class civil society. Class exacerbates such instances of humiliation. Caste intensifies it. The two combine together to create a circuit of public humiliation, which lies beyond the imagination of those of us who are participating in “sari challenges” and “quarantine cooking” on social media during the days of the lockdown.
We have more or less maintained ‘social distancing’ from the likes of Roshan Lal. This lockdown and the fear of the virus reaching us have forced us to take notice of them. We wanted them to be locked and quarantined, but in a more “humane” way. But, the visuals of their helplessness,public humiliation and plight haveindeed disturbed our sanitized morality, as theyhave trickled down our social media feeds. Yet, such visuals did not disturb our everyday material existences in anyway. At a time, when “solidarity” and “empathy” have become buzzwords in our social media posts, we did not even try to understand the ways in which such instances of public humiliation create long-standing trauma in those who have to go through them, let alone reach out to them. Because, after all, individuals like Roshan Lal are, for us, mere bodies — the invisible laboring bodies which provide us with the essential goods and services. And, obviously, dispensable. That is why, other than their capacity to perform labour, their stories do not matter.
Roshan Lal took us by our throats to challenge that invisibility. He forced us to see, how behind every instance of public humiliation by the police, there is a bruised, traumatized human ego and self. Yet, what does it say about us, as a society, when in order to communicate to us that every poor dalit youth has a sense of self, he had to kill himself? In our neoliberalized world, where words such as “trauma” and “PTSD” have become much over-used and abused buzzwords amongst a certain section of middle-class youth, what does Roshan Lal’s “trauma” mean? How we are to take into account his trauma, and those of millions like him, as a society? The truth is, in an inequality-ridden casteist, classistsociety like ours, even our notions of trauma must exist in conflict with each other. The truth is, there is no universal understanding of trauma anywhere beyond the inequalities engendered by class, caste, race and gender.
In a couple of days, as we, the obedient citizens, paying heed to the call of the Pied Piper will stand on our balconies, with candles in our hands to ward off the evil virus, the last words of Roshan Lal and Aldrin Lyndog – the marginalized youths – who were forced to take their lives during this lockdown, will come to haunt us. The lockdown, indeed, will leave behind ghosts which will not let themselves be exorcized that easily.