Outside the Jind district’s mini secretariat complex, in the open parking lot, two protests separated by about 30 yards present a telling irony. One is by Dalits, the other by Jats, both against Haryana’s Manohar Lal Khattar-led BJP government.
The Dalits pitched their tent here on February 9. Today is the 116th day of their protest. Banners of their demands and posters of victims of atrocities flutter in the hot June wind. The protesters include 120 men who converted to Buddhism on May 31 at New Delhi’s Ladakh Bhawan after a three-day march to the capital, where they handed over a memorandum of demands to Khattar’s nominee at Haryana Bhawan.
Nearby, Jats, smoking hukkas, sit in protest, demanding reservation in educational institutions and government jobs. After protesting in Siwani in Bhiwani district, they moved to Jind and have been camping here next to the Dalits’ camp since May 7.
Among the Dalit protesters demanding justice are a fruit and vegetable vendors, masons, daily wagers. Jat protesters include a retired civil surgeon, a professor, a college principal, an excise inspector, a bank manager.
Two years ago, at least five Dalits were murdered allegedly by Jats during February 2016 Jat reservation agitation across Haryana. But today, they together pose a problem for the Khattar government as it gets closer to the final year of its five-year term – two important communities in Haryana, both angry for their own reasons.
Shiv Charan is one of the Dalit protesters who converted to Buddhism. In 1985, he alleges, his father Head Constable Sube Singh was crushed to death at a police check post by members of a liquor mafia. “I was 18 months old. Government gave us a compensation of Rs 35,000 and promised that once I became 18 year old and possessed the requisite educational qualification, they would recruit me in police department. I am a matriculate and have turned 34. There is no door in the government that I did not knock. But I continue to earn my living by doing daily labour.”
Another Dalit from Aasan village in Jind too converted to Buddhism. His niece was kidnapped while she was on way to her college. She was raped and murdered on May 2, 2017. The accused were arrested and the case was yet on. But, the victim’s family allege they had been receiving threats from the accused to withdraw the case. Government promised government job to one member of the victim’s family, but nothing has been done to date.
A CRPF jawan, Satish Kumar of Chhatar village in Jind, lost his life battling terrorists in Kathua on March 20, 2015. “What could be more ironical for a family of a soldier? The Chief Minister visited our village and did not even bother to utter a word on my brother’s sacrifice, what to talk of meeting us,” Satish’s brother Sudesh Kumar, who also converted to Buddhism, told The Indian Express.
The list of crimes against Dalits is long, be it rape and murder of a girl from Jhansa village on January 7, 2018, or the alleged framing of Jind resident Ishwar Singh in a corruption case after which he committed suicide.
“Even for registering of an FIR, we have to sit on protests. Then only it is realised that we also exist on this land. Chief Minister doesn’t have even a minute to spare for us. We kept Ishwar Singh’s body outside civil hospital and demanded action against those who abetted his suicide. It took five days for the government to wake up and give us assurance of a CBI probe. Nothing substantial has happened in the case to date,” said Dinesh Khapad, who is spearheading Dalits’ protest in Jind.
“We embraced Buddhism, because it follows principle of equality. We are agitating against BJP because this is the party that is shouting its agenda of promoting Hinduism. Are we not Hindus? Why is this government discriminating between rich and poor Hindus? If we don’t get justice till August 15, we shall mobilise Dalits across the state and go in for mass conversions,” Dinesh says.
However, Dalits don’t want to say anything about the nearby protest by Jats. “ Whatever they do is none of our business. They have their own reasons to fight. We have ours,” says Pirthi Singh Bhadana, a 72-year-old man who observed a hunger strike for 31 days in his protest against government.
Jats, on the other hand, say if government does not protect Jats, Dalits will naturally get affected. “Who gives these people [Dalits] jobs? It’s we the farmers, the landlords. If the government is ill-treating us, how can we protect them [Dalits]? We provide them [Dalits] employment and they [Dalits] run their homes with the money we give them. But when a Jat, a farmer is committing suicide, how can a Dalit survive?”says Suresh Singh, a Jat protester.
Balwan Singh, a retired professor also sitting on the protest, says, “This government has only given us fake promises and assurances. They cheated us by assuring reservation during the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha polls, came to power and turned their backs towards us. We shall give them a befitting reply next year.”
Rajiv Jain, media advisor to the Chief Minister, said, “It is not that the state government has turned its back towards any section of the society. We have already accepted the legitimate demands raised by Dalits. There are a few like demand for a CBI probe in a criminal case, which is yet pending. But we are looking into their concerns. Whatever issue they have, they can always approach the state government.”
“As far as Jat reservation issue is concerned, the matter is pending in courts. The state government is trying its best,” Jain said.