“Polling station Number 39-Chamar Chaupal,” reads the freshly painted words on the outer wall of a structure that has served as a community building for the lower castes in Mirchpur, part of Hisar, for some years now. On Thursday, when Haryana goes to polls, the polling party manning this booth will await 1,059 voters — all of them belonging to the scheduled castes.
All may not turn up. Most of the Dalits left the village after the 2010 caste violence between Jats and Dalits that left an old man and his daughter charred to death. Those who have chosen to stay back are still debating whether going to the Chaupal building in the Jat-dominated side would be a good idea.
Villagers say Chamar Chaupal, originally Harijan Chaupal, has served as a polling station for the scheduled caste voters for years. But they admit that while a few Dalits may have cast their votes in the four other polling stations in the village, none from the upper castes have had their votes registered in this particular polling booth.
Assistant returning officer Rajesh Koth says, “It is not as if an exclusive booth has been set up for the Dalits of Mirchpur”. “Proximity is the main factor, so that voters do not have to walk far to the polling station. It also creates voter confidence,” Koth says.
That the authorities are clearly worried about Mirchpur is evident. Government officials on election duty have been making regular visits to the village. Duty magistrate D L Hansu has also visited all the five polling stations in Mirchpur in the past few days. “Though the booths here fall in the hyper-sensitive category, things appear peaceful,” Hansu says.
The village, with a sizeable Jat population, has traditionally spilt its vote between Congress and INLD. The contest for Hisar this time is between incumbent Kuldeep Bishnoi from Haryana Janhit Congress, Dushyant Chautala from the INLD and Sampat Singh from the Congress. But for the Dalits of Mirchpur, Bishnoi appears to have emerged a preferred candidate not only because they think he has worked in the area but also because he is a non-Jat.
It’s been two-and-a-half years since a Delhi court sentenced three people to life imprisonment for burning Tara Chand, 70, and his 17-year-old daughter Suman to death following a clash between Jats and Balmikis (Dalits). Time, and even justice, doesn’t appear to have healed Mirchpur’s scars.
While everything appears quiet on the surface, the underlying strain between the two communities — despite assertions from Jats that everything is back to normal — is palpable.