IT WAS on September 5 that motorcyclist Makhan Singh accidentally rammed into 6-year-old Harjot. Son of Rantu Singh, a Dalit member of the Krantikari Mazdoor Union, little Harjot has been in coma ever since. Initially, Makhan, a Jat landowner, helped Harjot’s parents with funds as they took him to Rajindra Medical College, Patiala, and PGIMER, Chandigarh, before finally admitting him to Sangrur Civil Hospital, which is closer home. But in the second week of September, Rantu lodged a police complaint against Makhan.
Infuriated, the Jat community then made an announcement on the gurdwara public address system asking all landed castes to boycott Dalits. “Don’t get any work done by them…don’t visit their houses,’’ thundered a voice on the microphone.
This prompted the Dalits, who far outnumber the Jats in the village, to take out a protest under the banner of the Krantikari Mazdoor Union. Subsequently, an FIR was lodged against six villagers — Gadhur Singh (son of village sarpanch Baljeet Kaur), Buta Singh, Kaka Singh, Sukhpal Singh, Gulab Singh and Nirbhay Singh, all Jat Sikhs. Later however, it was quashed following a “compromise” between the two groups on September 17. However, Rantu Singh’s complaint stands.
On the face of it, all seemed well. The sarpanch’s son Ghadur Singh said they have ironed out their differences. Mansa SSP Narinder Bhargav said the matter had been resolved after the Jats apologised to the Dalits.
However, Rantu and many others say the reason for the boycott call is the first fair auction of the village shamlat (common) land. ‘’This year, we got 4 acres of shamlat land reserved for Dalits auctioned to us, unlike in the past when dummy Dalit candidates fielded by landlords would get the land. We were given this land for Rs 70,000 a year against Rs 1.45 lakh last year,’’ says Rantu.
Sixty Dalit families have pooled in funds to take this land and every family has got around 5 biswa on which they plan to grow green fodder for their animals. “Now we don’t need to beg landlords for fodder. There has been an uneasy calm in the village ever since the auction. Perhaps they found this a good excuse,” says Rantu.
Tejinder Kaur, chairperson of the Punjab SC/ST Commission, who has sought a report from the Mansa SSP about this incident, says this boycott is not a lone case. “We have hundreds of cases coming to us in which Dalits are boycotted or isolated, cases of atrocities also happen in the village as well as urban areas. We are helping them get justice.”
As per information available with the SC Commission’s office, a total of 1,148 complaints have come before the commission this year (so far), of which 419 have been decided, while in financial year 2018-19, there had been 1,685 complaints, of which 966 were decided. These complaints are related to atrocities by the Jats, inaction by police and miscellaneous matters. As per figures available with the SC/ST Commission’s office, since 2004, the department has received a total of 21,935 complaints, of which 19,829 have been decided while the rest are pending.
Lachman Singh Sewewala, president of the Pendu Khet Mazdoor Union, says there is a tangible divide between Dalits and upper castes is in many villages. Landlords of Jawaherwala village in Muktsar opened fire at some Dalits in July, killing one Kirandeep Singh and his sister-in-law, he adds. The reason — Lakhwinder Singh, the village sarpanch, is a Dalit and he wanted to run the village affairs his own way instead of heeding to landlords. This village has around 1,300 voters, of which nearly 800 are Dalits. Sewewala says they launched an agitation against the incident after an which FIR was lodged against 12 persons and some were arrested as well.
Sewewala says, “Like landlords who write ‘Putt Jattan de’ on their vehicles, the defiant Dalit youth have started writing ‘Putt chamaran de’. They have also made Facebook pages like ‘Ankhi putt chamara de’ in which they highlight the contribution of Babasaheb Ambedkar. A popular number ‘Bullet te aaye putt chamaran de’ can also be seen on some pages.”
Mukesh Malaud of Zamin Prapati Sangrash Commitee (ZPSC), who is a Brahmin, says police often ask him why he is leading the struggles of Dalits despite being a Brahmin. ‘’This shows the mindset of people and even the cops. ZPSC has been leading protests in Sangrur, Patiala and other parts of Punjab in fighting for shamlat land meant for Dalits.”
While the Dalits succeeded in getting land for three years in Dhandiwal and Mulowal village, the deadlock continues at Tolewal village where five acres’ land meant for Dalits could not be auctioned till now. There was a clash between Dalits and landlords in this village regarding their demand only.
Malaud says last year, the Jats of Dhandiwal village in Sangrur had boycotted Dalits when they demanded more price for paddy transplantation. The matter was resolved after police intervention.