Torching their homes

Published on: October 1, 2005
A fact-finding report into August’s anti-Dalit violence in Gohana, Haryana, reveals gross negligence, even complicity, by the police and state administration

The gory incidents that unfolded in Gohana in late August are testimony to the fact that social norms in India are still governed by the obscurantist ideology of the caste system, which has always oppressed the wretched of the earth – the Dalits. A fact-finding team of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, NCDHR, led by its national convenor, Mr. N. Paul Divakar, Dr. Vimal Thorat, Dr. Umakant, Rajesh Angral and Ms. Shabnam Hashmi from ANHAD, Ms. B. Curie from Human Rights Law Network, and some others visited Gohana on September 2, 2005. The team found gross negligence on the part of the district administration and police at Sonepat under whose jurisdiction Gohana falls. The wilful negligence and on many occasions the complicity of the police further abetted the inhuman acts on the helpless Dalits who were forced to flee from their houses as a large mob of Jats went on the rampage, ransacking, looting and burning Dalit houses in Balmiki Basti, Gohana.

The police’s version, that they were helpless before a mob of 1,500-2,000 Jats, is highly untenable, as they could have requisitioned additional police forces from the neighbouring district, not far from Gohana.

In recent times Haryana has witnessed many cases of atrocities on Dalits. Memories of Jhajjar are still fresh in the minds of human rights defenders. The terrorist attack on Balmiki Basti was a very systematic one. The perpetrators had come fully armed with spears, batons, axes, petrol and kerosene oil. They broke expensive appliances, looted valuables and burst LPG cylinders in the Dalit homes. The operation lasted for about three or four hours and took place in the presence of the police, who preferred to remain silent spectators.

The Dalits of Balmiki Basti, who have lost everything as a result of the mayhem perpetrated by the Jats, have also lost their faith in the Congress government in Haryana. It is very easy to pass the buck onto the opposition party, the BJP, for ostensibly creating a situation like this to settle political rivalries with the Congress. But the fact that so far only two persons have been arrested out of the 23 named in the First Information Report (FIR) (subsequent reports indicate that more culprits were arrested later) also shows that there is lack of political will on the part of the state government.

 

A preliminary fact-finding report

Dalit houses burnt down at Gohana in Haryana

Gohana is a small tehsil, a local administrative unit, in Sonepat district in the state of Haryana. It is situated about 60 km away from the national capital, New Delhi. It witnessed caste rivalry between Dalits and the dominant caste, Jats, culminating in a mass exodus of Dalits and finally the burning down of about 55 to 60 Dalit houses with full support of the local police from August 27 to August 31, 2005. A violent mob of about 1,500 to 2,000 Jats armed with spears, batons, petrol and kerosene oil went on a maddening spree burning down houses belonging to a particular Dalit caste, the Balmikis, otherwise called Bhangis or manual scavengers.

This is a preliminary report as a full report after assessing the damages is to be prepared shortly.

 

Particulars of the incidents

Ø On August 27, 2005 a Dalit named Shivpal, a resident of Balmiki Basti, went to a photo studio to get a photograph of himself clicked. At the photo studio itself, there was a quarrel between Shivpal, another person named Baljit and some others. After this minor scuffle, Shivpal was joined by some other Dalits from Balmiki Basti and in the fights which ensued Baljit, a Jat by caste, died.

Ø The dominant Jat community of Gohana took it as an insult to their caste pride and protested before the police on August 27 itself. Immediately, on the basis of their FIR in which seven Dalits were named, four Dalits were arrested by the police. A massive manhunt is still on for the remaining culprits.

Ø The case was lodged under Sections 148, 149, 302 and 323 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

Ø The names listed in