A wall runs through the middle of Bhagana,put up by its Jat-dominated panchayat in this Haryana village. Two months after it came up,all that the Dalits who have been protesting against the wall in Hisar and Delhis Jantar Mantar have managed are gaps to pass through and advice from the government to go back and live in harmony.
The wall separates the Dalits from the chowk (square) that they have been using for more than 30 years. In May this year,after Dalits formed a Dr Ambedkar Welfare Committee and claimed possession of the chowk,the panchayat declared it village land and said it could not be given to them.
On Tuesday,the National Commission for Scheduled Castes directed the Haryana government to ensure the safety of the Dalit families. It has been decided that all families belonging to the Dalit community shall return to their homes in the village, the commission said. Till the situation gets normal,the Haryana government shall ensure proper arrangements of security in the village; a separate police station shall be set up. A magistrate shall also camp in the village and ensure that the affected families are not barred from taking water and using transport facilities.
While the order vindicates their stand,the Dalits are not yet ready to call off their protest. Hisar Deputy Commissioner Amit Kumar Agarwal,who is trying to broker peace,admitted he had been unsuccessful so far.
We cant force the panchayat to demolish the wall. At the same time,the protesters will not return until that happens, he said. Following the raising of the wall,the Ambedkar Welfare Committee filed a suit in a local court but lost. Immediately after that,the panchayat built a wall around the square claiming encroachment by neighbouring Dalit houses.
In the process,entry to many Dalit houses got blocked. They broke our latrine connection. We had spent Rs 5,000 to build it. They have dumped bricks at our door, said Himmat Singh (58).
Following intervention from district officials,the panchayat cleared an 8-foot wide path next to the wall to allow the families entry to their homes. Gaps were also created to allow free entry to the square. The Dalits approached a revenue court which ordered a status quo.
Our community has always lived around the chowk and conducted marriages and celebrated festivals here. We have a moral right to the land, said Virender Singh Bagoriya,head of the Haryana Kumahar Mahasabha,who is leading the protesting families.
Two months ago,50 Dalit families from Bhagana began a protest at the Hisar mini-Secretariat. The situation got further complicated when Raj Kumar (45),a Dalit,died under mysterious circumstances on June 17.
Towards the end of last month,the Dalit families finally moved out of the village after the Jats reportedly called for a social boycott. Bagoriya and over two dozen supporters,who organised protests and sit-ins outside the district administration headquarters and elsewhere in Hisar,were booked by police for obstructing government officials performing their duties.
Bagoriya said the community was being targeted for daring to speak out. Both sides admit they have stopped talking to each other. With no resolution in sight,some hundred men marched towards New Delhi on June 27 and began a dharna at Jantar Mantar on July 1. Sarv Samaj Sangharsh Samitis Vedpal Tanwar said they met Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi. He said he would call us again soon.
When The Indian Express visited Hisar last week,on the 60th day of their dharna there,the Dalits of Bhagana said the protest was beginning to take a toll. However,they added,it was risky to return to Bhagana,16 km away. When we go to fetch grain and fresh clothes,the Jats threaten and abuse us, said Naresh Kumar (23) who used to work as a plumber before joining the protest.
At the same time,there is a group of Dalits who stayed behind in Bhagana. They maintain there is no tension or strife. We are living in peace with the Jats, said Santro (60),wife of former sarpanch Kitab singh,a Dalit.
Villagers accuse Bagoriya of provoking the protests for personal gins. His motto is to spread discord between communities, said Karanbir Singh (52),a Jat farmer. Bagoriya,however,countered that the Dalit families who have remained behind are being suppressed by the Jats. They want to join us but there is no one to lead them. They are weak-willed and owe money to the Jats, he said.
Tejvir Malik,a Jat leader from a neighbouring village,has his own take on the row. Age-old customs and practices in the village prohibit Dalits from certain areas. The Dalits never protested earlier but now their leaders are telling them not to keep quiet, he said.
Independent inquiries conducted by Deputy Commissioner Agarwal and City Magistrate Reagan Kumar called it more of a land dispute than a caste row. In a note on his findings submitted to the NHRC,Kumar said: In my opinion,it is definitely not a case of ostracisation or atrocity against SC families,rather it is a case of dispute between two heterogeneous groups. Had it been a case of mass ostracisation or atrocities against SC families,250-odd SC families still residing in village Bhagana would have protested.
In its order,the National Commission for Scheduled Castes also urged the state government to provide the affected Dalit families employment under MNREGA,without the 100-day time limit. Nobody shall be allowed to raise any construction or encroachment on the villages common land (Shamlat) and there shall be no restriction on the movement of affected families in the common area of the village. Suicide victim Rajkumars family members shall be provided employment and his children shall be given monetary support for pursuing their education, the commission said.
Jagdish Kajla (28) disputes this. The Dalits are cornered,he says. The Jats say the khap is ours,the government is ours,what will you do?
(Srinath Rao,who studied at EXIMS,is on an internship with The Indian Express)