LAST DECEMBER, Shiv Kumar won the 1600m race organised in the last week of every month at the Mirchpur government school in Narnaund of Hisar in Haryana. The 17-year-old was the first Dalit from the village to win the race, which had 35 participants, mostly upper castes from 10-15 villages nearby. The victory, with a cash prize of Rs 1,500, was celebrated by the Valmiki community, to which Kumar belongs.
But the revelry didn’t last long. On January 30, Kumar and eight of his friends, all Dalits, were assaulted, allegedly by a group of upper-caste men at a cycle-stunt show. The reason, Kumar claims, was his race win. “They couldn’t stomach the fact that a Valmiki boy had won. Four Jat boys had tried to sabotage my race by taking turns to pick up the pace at each lap before dropping off. They have been mocking and abusing me since,” alleges Kumar, who completed his Class 12 last April.
On Thursday, Mirchpur, 140 km from Delhi, was turned into a fortress with close to 100 policemen in place, in scenes reminiscent of the riots that rocked the area in 2010. Back then, two Dalits — a 70-year-old and his disabled daughter — were burnt alive and the houses of 18 others were torched by upper caste men. In September 2015, the one-man Justice Iqbal Singh Commission set up by Haryana to probe the violence blamed police for acting as “mute spectators” and “failing” to prevent the rioting. Of the 100 named in FIRs, 15 were convicted and three handed life imprisonment.
The latest incident is a culmination of the tension that had been simmering for over a month, ever since paramilitary forces, who had been stationed here since 2010, were withdrawn. The village has over 8,737 residents, 17.81 per cent of whom are Dalits.
Pulling out a bunch of certificates, all for different athletics events in the NCR region, Kumar says, “I didn’t want to become a daily wager like my father. I spent all of last year training for the race at the Hanuman Akhada nearby,” he says. Kumar’s father, Ajmer Singh (46) and mother Bubbly Devi (38), work as daily-wage farmers. His elder brother, Somnath, 20, was injured in the assault and is still in hospital. Kumar sprained his right shoulder.
“It was planned. Who comes to watch a stunt show with rods? They hit me on my leg repeatedly,” says Kumar’s friend Tej Bhan, who was also injured in the attack. A day after the attack, an FIR against 15 people and “40 others” was registered at the Narnaund police station, based on Bhan’s complaint. Eight people have been arrested since.
“There have been a few skirmishes in the past six-seven years but the atmosphere was largely calm. This wasn’t a case of caste violence,” says head constable Nehra Singh, stationed outside Kumar’s house. Ashwini Chauhan, Kumar’s uncle, counters the claim: “Haven’t you seen the discrimination all these years? We didn’t speak out earlier because Dalits feared losing their jobs in the fields of the Jats.” The 40 Valmiki families of the village had threatened to leave after the incident but were persuaded by the state administration to stay back.
“It was a fight between youngters. The accused don’t all belong to the Jat community. There are Pandits, Lohars, Khatis… We are making arrests,” said Hisar SP Rajender Kumar Meena.
In another part of the village, a few metres away from from the Dalit homes, are the houses of the Jats and other upper castes. There are very few people on the streets and most of the homes, including those of the men who have been arrested, are locked.
“In the 2010 case, 15 people were convicted but over 50 men lost two-five years of their lives in jail. All residents now fear being arrested,” says Satyavan Singh, the village sarpanch, a Jat. Singh has been urging the 15 men named in the FIR to surrender. “We want our boys to come forward and and tell their side of the story,” he says.
“The claims are all false. My nephew never mocked anyone,” says 70-year-old Gita Pandit, the aunt of Ram Prasad, 22, who has been arrested.
“The other night, we got together to urge families to hand over their sons to the police. Someone called the police and told them we were planning an attack. We are the ones who are scared, not them,” says Jagdish Chander, an ex-Army jawan.
Back at the Valmiki basti, Shiv Kumar hopes to resume running practice soon. “I want to join the Army,” he says, collecting the medals and trophies spread out on the cot.
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