In the middle of a heated argument between Gujjars and Dalits on April 28, 22-year-old Rahul Kasana was the voice of sanity. The situation was fast getting out of hand, after his uncle Des Raj was attacked by a stone by a Dalit youth. But as Rahul tried to control the situation, shouting at his family members to keep calm, one among the many bullets being fired struck him. And in the violence that has followed his death, a Dalit school was attacked and several homes were emptied.
Many in the village believe that while there is no history of violence in Kanawani village, there have always been undercurrents of tension. “If you look at the village, we are surrounded by high-rise apartments. There are an equal number of Gujjars and Dalits in this village, with us perhaps even outnumbering the Gujjars. But all the land is owned by the Gujjars and, therefore, they have earned all the money. They have huge homes and big cars, while we languish either driving rickshaws or doing menial jobs,” Jagjivan Kumar, a Dalit, said.
But if the faultlines are still visible, with Dalits avoiding the Gujjar parts of the village, and most refusing to return home, there is ambiguity on Rahul’s shooting itself. “The difficulty in establishing the truth in this case is that the Dalits and Gujjars have diametrically opposite versions. The Dalits say Rahul was killed in accidental fire by the other side. Gujjars have animated stories of how Rahul was killed at point-blank range in the street,” a senior police officer said.
“There are many who have named people they have rivalries with in the FIR. We are trying to identify who were involved legitimately in the violence. But because of the fear of being arrested, many Dalits have thus far avoided coming back to Kanawani,” the officer said.
In their quest for “impartial witnesses”, police teams have been knocking on the doors of several apartments that overlook the field where the argument started. “We have made enquiries but nobody has come forward with any information, despite many balconies overlooking the place where the shooting commenced,” a police officer said.
For six days now, Kanwani has seen a slew of “outsiders” visiting the village – media crews, policemen, district administration officials and politicians. Sunday saw the visit of senior officers of the SC/ST commission, who spoke to many Dalits, asked questions and got requests for help. J N Chamber, Secretary of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, said his findings would find their way into a report filed with the commission.