President & Group Managing Director: Dr.Shelly Ahmed | Editor in Chief & Group CEO: M H Ahssan

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Deprived Dalits Seek Refuge in Democracy

By M H Ahssan

In April, a Jat boy threw stones at a Dalit boy’s dog in Hissar, Haryana,. The Dalit boy objected, the Jats took offense at this impudence from one of the lowly Balmiki community and attacked them all, looting, vandalising and setting them on fire. Those who could, fled. Polio-afflicted Suman, 17, and her elderly father could not, and they were burnt alive.

In all, about 25 people were injured, 35 houses destroyed and dozens of homes looted and ransacked. The police saw it all and refused to register complaints till forced. The Jats threatened the Balmiki community with dire consequences if they didn’t withdraw their police complaint. Finally, 152 families were forced off their land. They fled to Delhi and are camping in a Dalit temple, hundreds of them, with babies and children and the old and the ailing. They live on alms, with very little food and water in the blazing heat. Their lives have been put on hold, but at least they are alive. If they returned to their homes, they would be killed by the Jats.

Now the Supreme Court has asked the Haryana government what the state had done to punish the guilty and rehabilitate the ousted. That would be interesting to see. In Haryana, caste equations are preserved like family heirlooms and Dalits are murdered, raped and denigrated with impunity.

It was in Haryana’s Jhajjar that five Dalits were beaten to death by the police and upper caste men in a police chowki some years ago, apparently for killing a cow. It should give us an idea of the value of a Dalit human life in Haryana.

Sadly for the Haryana government, the Hissar incident rolled swiftly out of Mirchpur village and onto the national platform. The Lok Sabha strongly condemned it, led by Speaker Meira Kumar, herself a Dalit leader. Rahul Gandhi zipped off to Mirchpur and met the victims. Sonia Gandhi sent a strong letter to Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda. Activists filed court cases. And now the SC wants an explanation.

Which is excellent. But my fear is that we will look at this incident as an isolated case of mob fury triggered by an argument, blaming hot-headed, hot-blooded youngsters. The larger issue of atrocities against Dalits will not be examined enough. Even if those immediately guilty are punished, the guilt of society and the continuing caste bias will not be addressed definitively. In effect, we will refuse to look at our own failures, at the failure of governance and the apathy of civil society. We will not look at this as a failure of democracy.

Just as the verdict for the murder of Surekha Bhootmange, her daughter and two sons in Maharashtra’s Khairlanji in 2006 held the murderers guilty, but not the system. By not invoking the Prevention of Atrocities against SCs and STs Act, the verdict — which sentenced six to death and two to life imprisonment — refused to look at the larger picture. The CBI invoked the Act, among other submissions, to appeal against the acquittal of some and the final verdict is expected this month.

But at least there are eyewitness accounts both in Khairlanji and in Mirchpur. Bhaiyyalal Bhootmange, Surekha’s husband, hid and watched the horrific torture and killing of his wife, daughter and sons, and fled for his life thereafter. In Mirchpur, Suman’s brother Amar hid and watched the mob set his father and sister on fire, and ran for his life. So we have eyewitnesses. Those who were so dreadfully disempowered that they had secretly watched their loved ones being brutally murdered, then turned around and fled.

The father, the husband, the son, the brother who could not protect their dear ones from medieval savagery are now putting their faith in the justice system, and in our democracy. And it must not fail them again.
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