“The Dalit families that fled Hisar’s Mirchpur village after caste violence in 2010 today told a Supreme Court-appointed team they would not return as they feared for their safety. [...]
“‘How can anybody live under constant threat? The situation has not changed much in our village. The Jats are still as inimical to us as they were before. Move out the CRPF deployed in the village and you will see the consequences in two days,’ Ramesh Kumar, a middle-age Dalit man, told the team. About 135 families have been living at a farmhouse on the outskirts of Hisar since January 2011.
“Dalit settlements were targeted and torched in Mirchpur village by members of the dominant caste on April 21, 2010, resulting in the death of Tara Chand, 70, and his physically-challenged daughter. The court had convicted 15 persons and acquitted 82 in the case.
“Mincing no words, Gulab Singh, an elderly man, said: ‘Send us to other states or even Pakistan, but we will not go back to Mirchpur. There is no work for us in 20 adjoining villages. Nobody offers us even a glass of “seet” (left over after extracting butter from yogurt, “seet” is usually distributed by cattle rearing farmers free of cost to lower caste).’”
“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.’”
“‘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.”
“A fact-finding team on a visit last Saturday to Haryana’s Mirchpur village, where two dalits were burned to death and 18 houses gutted, reports that the arson wasn’t arbitrary.
“The attackers, allegedly from the Jat community, identified houses of the more well-off among the Balmiki community and set them on fire. A beauty parlour, kirana stores and a barber-shop were totally gutted, an obvious attempt to cower dalit prosperity, however limited.
“‘Any semblance of status symbol was attacked," said journalist Bhasha Singh, houses with motorbikes, televisions, fridges. And shops that dalits ran. ‘The mood in the village was that dalits “need to be taught a lesson.”’ The first thing the mob did, a woman ‘was to break the Sintex water tanks provided by the government, so we had no way of dousing the fire.’ [...]
“Located in Hissar district, Mirchpur has a handful of dalits: about 100 Balmiki families, 350 ‘Jatav’ families and 50 Doms to the 1700-odd Jat families. The team found that growing economic prosperity among a section of the minority dalits seemed to be the root cause this time around. [...]
“Most dalit households have packed off women and younger family members to other villages. Those who remain told chairperson of National Commission for Scheduled Castes, Buta Singh, also present in the village, they wanted to resettle elsewhere ‘far from the Jats.’ They called it ‘a pre-planned attack,’ the fight and barking-dog story only a pretext, what with a mob of 300 to 400 surrounding the locality on the morning of April 21, while the community’s men had been talked into attending a 'compromise meeting' to cool tensions.”
“1. It was a pre-planned attack with the connivance of the police. The row over the dog, highlighted by the media and police, was only a pretext.
“2. There was trouble brewing over Dalits managing a local temple festival. The prosperity and independence of a section of the Dalits was begrudged by the Jats.
“3. The village Mirchpur has a history of violence against Dalits as evidenced by the 2007 incident where five Dalits belonging to Dom community were paraded naked and abused. Also, the Mirchpur carnage is a sequel to Salwan (2007, Karnal district);
Gohana (2005) and the Jhajjar lynching (2003).
“4. There was, and continues to be, complete collusion between the Jat-dominated district police and the Jats of the village so much that Dalits have completely lost faith in the administration. Most Balmiki families have left the village and those left behind are demanding resettlement in a safer place.”
“When a dalit family had an argument with members of the Jat community in Hisar, 18-year-old Suman and her father Tarachand became the victims.
“The sprawl began when the some Jat men threw stones at Tarachand’s dog and later allegedly torched nearly 25 dalit houses.
“Suman, who was wheelchair-bound and her father died in the blaze.
“When around 20 young men came to attack the village, 18-year-old Suman was in her house. Since she was physically challenged and did not know what else to do, she locked herself in a room. Unfortunately, it was set on fire and her body discovered the next day.
“Dalits in the village say the Jats, who consider themselves superior were increasingly growing jealous as many dalits were relatively well educated.”
“‘We have seen members of our community being burnt. How can we live here? 200 to 300 persons were staying here, most of them have left and some youngsters are staying here. What have the authorities done when all this was happening?’ said Sunil.”