A wall runs through the middle of Bhagana village in Haryana,put up by its Jat-dominated panchayat and protested by Dalits in Hisar and at Delhis Jantar Mantar. Two months after it came up,all that the Dalits have managed are gaps to pass through and advice from the government to go back and live in harmony.
The wall separates the Dalits from the chowk (square) that they have been using for more than 30 years. In May,after Dalits formed a Dr Ambedkar Welfare Committee and claimed possession of the chowk,the panchayat declared it village land and said it could not be given to them.
On Tuesday,the National Commission for Scheduled Castes directed the Haryana government to ensure the safety of the Dalit families. It has been decided that all families belonging to the Dalit community shall return to their homes in the village, it said.
The order notwithstanding,the Dalits are not yet ready to call off their protest. Hisar Deputy Commissioner Amit Kumar Agarwal,who is trying to broker peace,admitted,We cant force the panchayat to demolish the wall… the protesters will not return until that happens.
The panchayat built the wall citing encroachment by neighbouring Dalit houses and ended up blocking these from the chowk. District officials intervened and the panchayat cleared an 8-foot-wide path next to the wall,besides creating gaps to allow free entry to the square. The Dalits approached a revenue court which ordered status quo on the property.
Our community has always lived around the chowk and conducted weddings and celebrated festivals here, said Virender Singh Bagoriya,head of the Haryana Kumahar Mahasabha,and who is leading the protesting families.
Two months ago,50 Dalit families began a protest at the Hisar mini-secretariat. Raj Kumar,45,a Dalit,died on June 17 in mysterious circumstances. Towards the end of last month,they moved out of the village after the Jats reportedly called for a social boycott. Bagoriya and over two dozen other protesters were booked by police for obstructing government officials on duty. On June 27,some hundred men marched towards New Delhi; on July 1,they began a dharna at Jantar Mantar. The Sarv Samaj Sangharsh Samitis Vedpal Tanwar said they met Rahul Gandhi.
When The Indian Express visited Hisar last week,Dalits said it was risky to return to Bhagana,16 km away. Yet another group of Dalits,who have stayed behind in Bhagana,say there is no tension or strife. Villagers accuse Bagoriya of provoking the protests for personal gain. His motive is to spread discord between communities, said Karanbir Singh,52,a Jat farmer. Bagoriya countered that the Dalit families who have stayed behind are being suppressed by the Jats.
Independent inquiries by Deputy Commissioner Agarwal and city magistrate Reagan Kumar called it more of a land dispute than a caste row. Kumar has submitted a note on his findings to the NHRC.
In its order,the National Commission for Scheduled Castes has urged the government to provide the affected Dalit families employment under MNREGA,without the 100-day time limit. Suicide victim Raj Kumars family members shall be provided employment and his children shall be given monetary support for pursuing their education, the commission said.
Jagdish Kajla,28,says the Dalits are cornered. The Jats say the khap is ours,the government is ours,what will you do?
(Srinath Rao,who studied at EXIMS,is on an internship with The Indian Express)