FORTY-EIGHT hours after members of the Gujjar community attacked two Dalit teenagers of Kamala village in Baghpat, about a third of its Dalit homes stood deserted. All the young women had been sent away “as precaution”. Akash Khondwal, 19, a BA student, is on ventilator support at Meerut Critical Care Hospital. Doctors said that apart from a fractured leg and other injuries, his kidneys had been damaged in the assault, and his nails had been pulled out. The other victim, his 16-year-old nephew Manish, bears injuries all over his body. The Dalit villagers alleged that the attacks followed an order by the pradhan, Pramod Rana, at a panchayat in the Gujjar-dominated village. Of the village population of 5,100, Dalits number around a hundred. Both the pradhan and the police deny the allegation.
Police also claimed that the situation was calm after the arrest of the seven accused in the case, including Rajveer, Rajpal, Rameshwar, Pappu, Birendra and Raj Singh. An FIR has been filed under IPC Sections 307 (attempt to murder), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), 324 (causing hurt by dangerous weapon) and sections of the SC/ST Act.
The police believe the attacks stemmed from an affair between an 18-year-old Gujjar woman and a 20-year-old Dalit man of the village. Villagers say that on April 15, the woman’s parents married her off to a member of the community to break their relationship. But on April 27, the woman got together with the Dalit youth and eloped.
Police say that soon after the two were discovered missing, Gujjar villagers went out looking for them, and targeted the two Dalit teenagers as they are his relatives.
According to police, by April 28, the 18-year-old had been traced by her parents and returned to her in-laws. However, the 20-year-old Dalit man remains missing.
Manish told The Sunday Express, “They kidnapped Akash and me and took us to different places. I was taken near the fields, forced to the ground and beaten with an iron rod. I begged them to stop, but they said they wanted to teach everyone in my community a lesson.”
In his complaint, Akash’s father Dhanpal has said his son was kept in captivity, beaten up and tortured, before being abandoned near the village on April 28.
The Dalits say that pradhan Rana, up for elections this year, held the panchayat where an order was issued to attack Dalits and their homes, after the elopement.
Of the 43 Dalit homes in the village, residents of about 13 have fled fearing further retaliation. The Dalits say they have sent away the young women to homes of relatives in other villages.
Denying calling a panchayat or issuing an order to attack the Dalits, Rana said “there is no question of Dalits being afraid”. “All this is spice for the media. The seven accused are known trouble-makers and I helped the police catch them. This is an attempt to try and disrupt my politics. There is peace in the village.”
On Saturday evening, Pradhan called a meeting between the two communities where, in the presence of police, Rana pointed to members of the Dalit community who were attending as evidence of peace. However, as soon as Rana and police left, a 32-year-old Dalit farmer, who didn’t wish to be named, said, “We dare not say anything in front of them, but an order was issued to attack us. We are afraid they will go after our women now. There are not many of us. This is a bad time to be a Dalit in this country.” Each Dalit member at the meeting told The Sunday Express the same thing.
Omveer Gupta, SHO of Simbhavali Ahir police station, said, “Jhagda tha, bawal ho gaya (A dispute over the elopement became this big). But there was no panchayat. Think of it this way, if a girl disappears from someone’s house, they will ask around. Some people would ask meekly, others wouldn’t. Right now in the country, a lot of people are trying to portray that Dalit communities are being tortured, but that isn’t the case.”
Ashish Srivastava, Additional Superintendent of Police (Baghpat), said, “We have arrested all the seven accused. There is peace in the village and no tension at all.”