1 May 2010
Mirchpur: A Dog Story
Two Dalits were torched alive and 18 homes gutted in Hisar, Haryana,
apparently over a dog. So what really happened?
BY S Anand EMAIL AUTHOR(S)
Tagged Under | caste politics | Haryana | Dalits | Hisar
atrocity A maha-khap panchayat of Jats in progress in Mirchpur village
on the premises of the animal husbandry department. The police said
they were unaware of this meeting of over 2,000 Jats though it was
held within earshot. (Photo: S ANAND)A damaged TV and DVD set in a
gutted Dalit household. (Photo: S ANAND)A perpetual war is going on
every day in every village between the Hindus and the Untouchables. It
does not see the light of the day —BR Ambedkar, 1943
An old Shiva temple. Massive wells with arched facades where women,
colourful ghunghats pulled down, draw water. Buffaloes shimmering
black in a green pond. A group of Jat men in spotless white turbans
passing around a hookah whose brass glistens in the harsh April sun…
it's the kind of village where Ashutosh Gowariker would have set his
Swades. Welcome to Mirchpur, a village in Haryana's Hisar district. In
this picturesque setting, on the morning of 21 April, 18 Dalit homes
were torched and two Dalits—17-year old Suman and her 60-year old
father Tara Chand—were burnt alive.
Let us now turn our faces away, briefly. Pinch our noses and stop
breathing, briefly. The stink of two Dalits torched alive in Mirchpur
will go away soon. It does not matter, really. Not when the death of a
Dalit is so routine, not when there's violence reported against a
Dalit every 18 minutes, not when two Dalits are killed every day.
Apathy comes easily to those who are protected from everyday violence.
We have no time to waste on people who are not supposed to exist.
In Mirchpur, the official story is that a dog belonging to a Dalit,
repeatedly referred to as a bitch in First Information Report No 166
filed at Narnaund police station, barks at some drunk Jat youth
driving through the Balmiki colony. Rajinder Pali, son of a Jat
zamindar, hurls a brick at the dog, Ruby. Yogesh, a young Dalit,
objects, and an argument follows. They come to blows. Threatened with
dire consequences, two Balmiki elders, Veer Bhan and Karan Singh,
apologise to the Jat elders. They are beaten up badly. The Jats are
baying now. The fact that the Narnaund's Station House Officer (SHO)
Vinod Kumar Kajal is close to a prominent Jat of Mirchpur, emboldens
them. The stage is set for carnage.
I spoke to Ruby, and wagging her tail, she denied that she had any
role to play. She cited Namdeo Dhasal's poem, 'Song of the Dog and the
Republic': Chained dog being dog he whines and sometimes barks/ This
being his constitutional right. She even recounted a more bizarre
case, reported in 2004, from Tamil Nadu's Shanmugapuram village in
Tuticorin district, where Reddiyars had issued a diktat barring Dalits
from rearing male dogs since they could mate with bitches from the
'chaste' Hindu colonies.
The Balmikis of Mirchpur have done well for themselves. Many have
small businesses, work in the neighbouring district headquarters Jind,
have contracts for fishing rights in the local pond, like Karan Singh
whose pet Ruby is. In the past two years, they have even won the
contract for conducting the annual spring festival at the local
Phoolan Devi temple attended by people from all over Haryana. It is at
this festival, which began in March this year, that trouble began
brewing. The local Jat youth, Balmikis say, sexually harass Balmiki
women, almost as a matter of right. This happened a bit too often in
the crowded temple festival, to which they objected. Ruby is right.
Her barking at Jats was just the pretext.
Fearing the worst, Mirchpur's Dalits begged for police protection.
None came. On the morning of 21 April, as SHO Kajal and the local
tehsildar hustled the Balmiki men to attend a compromise meeting, a
mob of 300-400 Jats, men and women, encircled the Balmiki colony. They
were armed with jerry cans of kerosene and petrol, agricultural
implements and lathis. The SHO and the naib tehsildar apparently told
the gathered Jats they would have one hour to do whatever they wished.
Sounds exactly like what someone in Gujarat said in February 2002.
What followed was targeted burning of 18 houses of relatively
prosperous Balmikis. Before the Jat men set the homes ablaze, their
women ransacked jewels, cash, clothes. Modest TV sets, DVD players,
refrigerators and air-coolers lay twisted, singed by the heat. The
skeletal remains of a motorbike, belonging to Amar Chauhan, brother of
Suman, bears witness. A fan's twisted blades droop eerily.
Pointing to a black water tank bobbing in the green waters of the
pond, Surta, a woman whose house was reduced to cinders, says, "The
first thing they did was to break the Sintex water tanks the
government had provided us with, so that we couldn't douse the fire."
Phoolkali Devi and her husband Chander Singh had built a one-storeyed
house in 1996. Chander ran a general store from his house. Everything
has been gutted. Phoolkali says jewellery worth Rs 25,000 and cash of
Rs 50,000 meant for their daughter's upcoming wedding were looted. By
24 April, many among the 200 Balmiki households in Mirchpur were
leaving for safer places. The few Dalits who remained told Buta Singh,
chairperson of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes who was on
a visit, that they no longer wished to live in the village.
In 1943, Ambedkar had strongly advocated separate settlements for
Dalits. He had argued, 'It is the close-knit association of the
Untouchables with the Hindus living in the same villages which marks
them out as Untouchables and which enables the Hindus to identify them
as being Untouchables… The Untouchables who are as a matter of fact
socially separate should be made separate geographically and
territorially also, and be grouped into separate villages exclusively
of Untouchables in which the distinction of the high and the low and
of Touchable and Untouchable will find no place.'
Within three days of the carnage, a maha-khap panchayat of Jats was
organised in the village. Representatives of 43 khaps met on the
premises of the animal husbandry department. They demanded the release
of the 29 Jats arrested and reinstatement of the suspended SHO. The
superintendent of police and deputy collector said they were not aware
of such a meeting, though it was attended by about 2,000 men within
earshot. Across Haryana, there's a war being waged on the Indian state
by khap panchayats, an open defiance of law far more serious than what
the country's Maoists are attempting. Mirchpur has to be seen in the
context of other Haryana milestones: the burning of Balmiki homes by
Rajputs in Salwan in 2007; the Gohana carnage of 2005 (where 60
Balmiki houses were set afire); the lynching of five Dalits in Jhajjar
in 2003. It's an everyday war, as Ambedkar said.
Outside the khap, Arjun Singh, a young Jat advocate, confronts me:
"Please make sure you write that the Dalits set fire to their own
homes for the sake of compensation. These dheds will kill their own
for the sake of money."
I rummage the charred remains of the house where Suman was locked in.
She was affected by polio, and the tricycle provided to her stands
outside the now-roofless house. Suman's crumbling English textbook is
called English with a Purpose. On the last page, it says in big type,
'Together Make it a Better World.'
Anand was part of a fact-finding team of the National Campaign on
Dalit Human Rights that visited the village.
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