Mirchpur: A Dog Story by S. Anand
“Two Dalits were torched alive and 18 homes gutted in Hisar, Haryana, apparently over a dog. So what really happened?
“In Mirchpur, the official story is that a dog belonging to a Dalit, repeatedly referred to as a bitch in First Information Report No 166 filed at Narnaund police station, barks at some drunk Jat youth driving through the Balmiki colony. Rajinder Pali, son of a Jat zamindar, hurls a brick at the dog, Ruby. Yogesh, a young Dalit, objects, and an argument follows. They come to blows. Threatened with dire consequences, two Balmiki elders, Veer Bhan and Karan Singh, apologise to the Jat elders. They are beaten up badly. The Jats are baying now. The fact that the Narnaund’s Station House Officer (SHO) Vinod Kumar Kajal is close to a prominent Jat of Mirchpur, emboldens them. The stage is set for carnage.
“I spoke to Ruby, and wagging her tail, she denied that she had any role to play. She cited Namdeo Dhasal’s poem, ‘Song of the Dog and the Republic’: Chained dog being dog he whines and sometimes barks / This being his constitutional right. She even recounted a more bizarre case, reported in 2004, from Tamil Nadu’s Shanmugapuram village in Tuticorin district, where Reddiyars had issued a diktat barring Dalits from rearing male dogs since they could mate with bitches from the ‘chaste’ Hindu colonies.
“The Balmikis of Mirchpur have done well for themselves. Many have small businesses, work in the neighbouring district headquarters Jind, have contracts for fishing rights in the local pond, like Karan Singh whose pet Ruby is. In the past two years, they have even won the contract for conducting the annual spring festival at the local Phoolan Devi temple attended by people from all over Haryana. It is at this festival, which began in March this year, that trouble began brewing. The local Jat youth, Balmikis say, sexually harass Balmiki women, almost as a matter of right. This happened a bit too often in the crowded temple festival, to which they objected. Ruby is right. Her barking at Jats was just the pretext.
“Fearing the worst, Mirchpur’s Dalits begged for police protection. None came. On the morning of 21 April, as SHO Kajal and the local tehsildar hustled the Balmiki men to attend a compromise meeting, a mob of 300-400 Jats, men and women, encircled the Balmiki colony. They were armed with jerry cans of kerosene and petrol, agricultural implements and lathis. The SHO and the naib tehsildar apparently told the gathered Jats they would have one hour to do whatever they wished. Sounds exactly like what someone in Gujarat said in February 2002. What followed was targeted burning of 18 houses of relatively prosperous Balmikis. Before the Jat men set the homes ablaze, their women ransacked jewels, cash, clothes. Modest TV sets, DVD players, refrigerators and air-coolers lay twisted, singed by the heat. The skeletal remains of a motorbike, belonging to Amar Chauhan, brother of Suman, bears witness. A fan’s twisted blades droop eerily. [...]
“Outside the khap, Arjun Singh, a young Jat advocate, confronts me: ‘Please make sure you write that the Dalits set fire to their own homes for the sake of compensation. These dheds [dhed means something like ‘slave’; as a reference to the traditional servitude of untouchables it is an extreme casteist slur] will kill their own for the sake of money.’
“I rummage the charred remains of the house where Suman was locked in. She was affected by polio, and the tricycle provided to her stands outside the now-roofless house. Suman’s crumbling English textbook is called English with a Purpose. On the last page, it says in big type, ‘Together Make it a Better World.’”
Reign of Terror (Frontline, May 8-21, 2010):
“‘They call us dhed. They object to our sitting on charpoys [a type of cot used in villages],’ said Ram Kumar, a retired principal. Almost every Valmiki family in the village had a matriculate, he said. Back in 1995, in order to defuse the tension in the village, those like his father had accepted the humiliating terms set by Jats–such as removing his turban in front of Jats. But the Valmikis are in no mood to take such insults any more.
“The benefits of reservation and the legal safeguards have empowered the Valmikis. There are teachers, engineers, army men and gazetted officers from among them. But a good number of educated Valmikis work as daily wage labourers. With few government jobs and no agricultural land to fall back on, this section depends on construction and agricultural work on land owned by Jats.”