AN 8-FEET statue of Bhimrao Ambedkar marks Jatav Basti, home to several thousand Scheduled Caste families in Hindaun city, in Rajasthan’s Karauli district. A day after an upper caste mob tried to attack the settlement, groups of angry men are gathered around the statue vowing to “convert to Islam” if similar incidents continue.
“They checked our identity cards to make sure we were Dalits before they thrashed us. They were all from upper castes and didn’t even spare the women,” said Ashwini Jatav, taking off his shirt and showing his bruised back.
The mob, provoked by the Bharat Bandh held by SC/ST outfits on Monday, attacked houses of two Dalit politicians — Rajkumari Jatav, the BJP MLA from Hindaun, and the Congress’s Bharosi Lal Jatav, who represented the seat earlier — located near the Jatav Basti. The politicians were not at home at the time of the attack.
A day later, a large number of police personnel were deployed near the burnt houses. Hindaun remained under curfew for most part of the day, with the Internet suspended. Armed police personnel patrolled the streets where debris of destroyed vehicles lay around.
While Ashwini claimed that many of the assaulters were members of Hindu fundamentalist groups, police denied this. “At this moment, there is no evidence to indicate involvement of Hindu fundamentalist groups. Preliminary investigation suggests there was an anti-Jatav sentiment among other castes who also accused the Jatav community of molesting a few women during Bharat Bandh. We are investigating all these accusations and counter-accusations,” said Additional Director General of Police, Law and Order, N R K Reddy.
He added that the mob wanted to proceed towards the Jatav settlement but was dispersed by police. But by that time, they had already torched the houses of the two politicians. The Dalits say they were beaten up near Station Road, the main road in the city, with several shops on both sides of the road.
Other members of the Jatav community said “anti-social” elements were behind the violence.
In statements given to the local media, BJP MLA Rajkumari Jatav appealed to people to cooperate in maintaining law and order.
Pushpendra Jatav said while they had participated in the Bharat Bandh, “ours was a peaceful protest”. “We were specifically targeted by the upper castes, who united against us… If this goes on, we will have no choice but to convert to Islam,” said the 47-year-old.
“We are anyway not counted as Hindus. We are still ignored,” added Chandramohan Jatav, 40, another resident of the settlement,
Ashwini said they were afraid to talk too much. “If they can burn the houses of the MLA, who are we? Upper caste people have police, administration… even most of the media tells their story.”
While Monday’s Bharat Bandh too had seen violence, with protesters uprooting railway tracks and damaging public property, Nathilal Jatav, a community elder, said they had only wanted a peaceful demonstration and “anti-social elements” were behind what happened. Appealing for calm, he added, “There was no intention to resort to violence or to damage property.”
Karauli District Collector Abhimanyu Kumar said the situation was under control now. About Tuesday’s violence, he said, “A rally was called in protest against Monday’s violence where protesters tried to force traders to close their shops. The situation went out of control.”
Additional DGP B L Soni, who came to the spot after the violence, said, “Curfew was relaxed between 1 pm and 6 pm on Wednesday and further decision will be taken after reviewing the situation. We have appealed to all the communities to restore peace.”
However, before that, the relatives of the more than 40 people held for Tuesday’s violence are demanding that the accused be set free, insisting they are innocent. “My two nephews, Santosh and Ashok Khandelwal, were picked up from our house. They were just watching the protests from home,” said Lalita Mittal.
The brothers are in their 30s and while one works as an electrician, the other is a cloth salesman.
Rajendra Jain, who has also been arrested, is a painter. His elder brother Subhash Chand Jain said, “We have no idea when he will be released.”