After Jhajjar district, Jat-dominated Sonipat witnessed the maximum deaths in the February 19-21 Jat agitation in Haryana. Protesters snapped both the road and railway networks from the national capital to many parts of Haryana, Punjab and Chandigarh by blocking the National Highway-I and the New Delhi-Chandigarh railway line passing through Sonipat.
The Indian Express tracked down seven of the eight persons killed in Sonipat. Of these, six were Jats who allegedly died in action by armed forces while the seventh was a member of the Balmiki Dalit community, who was lynched by a mob reportedly comprising Jats. The eighth was found in a charred building, and later identified as a 22-year-old Dalit, from Muzaffarnagar in UP.
Families of most victims struggled to understand last month’s violence, saying there was no tension among the communities in villages and that it was confined to towns.
While the Sonipat Lok Sabha seat is represented by BJP, of its six Assembly seats, five have Congress MLAs. Jats dominate most parts, but areas like Kharkhoda, Baroda and Rai have significant Scheduled Caste populations.
Panchi Jattan village
A daily wager, Dilbag provided for his widowed mother, wife and three children with his earnings of Rs 200-300 per day. He was a Class VIII dropout. The Jat family owns just 0.7 acres of land. His mother, Premo, 70, says Dilbagh was out on some work and got caught in the protests. He was struck in firing by armed forces.
Says Dilbagh’s cousin Satbir, “He was a labourer. He had no interest in any agitation or reservation. There is no conflict among castes in our village. All the 36 biradris (communities) are living in peace in our villages.”
Sandeep Pahal, 26
Enrolled in BA, Sandeep was taking coaching for civil services in Delhi. The family of five, including his parents and two sisters, survive on Sandeep’s father’s monthly income of Rs 7,500. The Jat family’s landholding is limited to 0.5 acres.
Sandeep was killed reportedly in firing by security forces at Ladsauli on February 22. His cousin Arun Pahal, an advocate, says, “Sandeep was chased by armed forces and shot in the head at a spot about 700 metres from where the agitation was on. Agitation is the right of a common man, will you shoot him for that?”
The family is planning to approach the high court for action against the government for opening fire on the protesters. Police have named Sandeep among rioters.
Rajesh Khokhar, 30
Having cleared the Junior Basic Training course for teachers, Rajesh was posted at a government school in Indri, Karnal. His wife Mukesh, a sportsperson, is employed with the Railways and lives in Mumbai. Rajesh’s brother is also a JBT teacher, and the family together made around Rs 60,000 a month. They also own 1.5 acres of land.
On February 22, Rajesh was killed in the armed forces firing at Ladsauli. His uncle Ranjit Singh says, “He was going to meet his sister in Badli, when he got stuck in the jam (caused by the protesters). The bullet pierced his throat.”
Ranjit adds that Rajesh couldn’t have been a part of the protest. “Why would he? He already had a government job.” Police records list Rajesh as a rioter.
Sanjeev Kumar, 32
The Class X dropout worked as a security guard and sold milk to earn Rs 5,000-7,000 a month, on which his family, including wife and six-year-old son, lived. The family has a 1.5-bigha land.
On February 21, the Jat youth was returning home when he died during police firing about 2 km from home. Says Sanjeev’s father Maha Singh, “He had no role in the agitation. He was coming back from a bhandara (feast). He got stuck in the protest and was shot.” An ex-serviceman, Maha adds, “I know how firing orders are given. The same Army has now taken my son’s life. This is a ridiculous government which gave orders to open fire on people who were only demanding their legitimate right.”
Police have named Sanjeev among the protesters.
Mallah Majra village
A Class VIII dropout, Sumit was unemployed. The family, including his parents and a brother and sister, both of whom dropped out of college, is dependent on Sumit’s father Jai Bhagwan’s income. He earns Rs 5,000-Rs 7,000 monthly. The Jat family also has a 2-acre land.
Sumit was shot dead allegedly by forces about 3 km from home on February 21. “He had gone to the agitation spot with other boys of our village. A bullet pierced his abdomen,” Jai Bhagwan says. Sumit’s uncle says it was natural for the youths to have been there at the agitation. “There are no jobs for them in these parts. That’s the reason they are seeking reservation.” Police say Sumit was one of the protesters.
The Class X pass used to drive a rented auto-rickshaw to provide for himself and his widowed mother with a monthly income of Rs 5,000-7,000. His wife lives separately with their two daughters, and has filed a case of dowry and harassment against him.
He was killed allegedly in firing by forces on February 19. His family got to know about his death on February 22. Mother Omwati says, “He was going to visit his sister in Jhajjar. I don’t know how he was part of the protesters.” Police say Ajay was among the Jat protesters.
Balmiki Mohalla, Gohana town
Vikram, who had dropped out of school in Class V, used to work as a butcher for Rs 200 per day. He is survived by wife and three children. On February 20, Vikram was brutally attacked by a mob allegedly comprising Jats, just 700 metres from his residence. Vikram’s brother Sukhdev says, “It was on February 21 that we complained to the police. Next day, we were asked to come to the mortuary to identify a body. It was Vikram.” While police have listed Vikram’s death as murder, no accused is identified in the FIR.