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Torching their homes

01 Oct 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 the FIR are: 1) Shivlal, s/o, Ram Kishan, 2) Gola, s/o, Ramesh, 3) Lara, s/o, Mangla Das, 4) Ponda, s/o, Mangal Das, 5) Biru Akom Balmiki and 10-12 others whose names and addresses are not available.

Ø Not happy with the arrest of four Dalits, the Jats convened a Maha Panchayat on August 28 and gave an ultimatum to the police and administration that if within 48 hours the culprits are not apprehended and justice done to the Jats, the Jats would burn the entire Balmiki Basti.

Ø Fearing retaliation from the dominant Jat community and also harassment by police, Dalits in Balmiki Basti started fleeing from their houses in search of security to their kith and kin in neighbouring places like Sonepat, Panipat and others from August 29, 2005. It is also alleged that the police was also asking them to leave the Basti.

Ø Around 1,500-2,000 Dalits living in Balmiki Basti left their houses by August 30, 2005.

Ø On August 31, another Maha Panchayat of Jats took place and as it was still going on, a large group of 1,500-2,000 Jats, fully armed with batons, axes, spears, petrol and kerosene oil, entered the already deserted Balmiki Basti and started burning the houses. In the entire operation, which lasted about four hours, around 55 to 60 Dalit houses were burnt by the rampaging mass of Jats. They also damaged TVs, refrigerators and other useful items in the Dalit houses. It is also alleged that valuables have been looted from the Dalit houses. Even food grains were not spared.

Ø In the mayhem which lasted for about four hours, the rampaging mass of people was ably assisted by the local police. The police claims to have fired 12 rounds in the air to disperse the mob. They did not take any credible action to stop the mass of 1,500-2,000 from burning and looting Dalit houses.

Ø There were only about 150-200 policemen present on the scene who were merely silent spectators and are later also alleged to have helped the perpetrators in many ways.

Ø It was a well planned attack on the Dalit houses as the attackers well knew that there would not be any retaliation from Dalits since they had already deserted their houses. The manner in which houses have been ransacked, valuables looted, other useful items destroyed, and finally the burning of the houses, reveals a pattern which was aimed at destroying everything in front of their eyes.

Ø The police filed an FIR under Sections 148, 149, 109, 427, 435, 436, 307- 120B of the IPC and Section 3(2)(IV) of the SC and ST Act (Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989), against 23 persons.

Ø The police claim that Pradeep Sangwan, s/o Kishan Sangwan, member of Parliament from Sonepat, and Ranveer Sangwan, brother of Kishan Sangwan, have played a leading role in the whole incident.

 

Background of the present crisis

As revealed by the Balmikis, the dispute over the construction of a Balmiki Ashram on panchayat land arose in August 2001. A case was filed in the local court by some Jats, which later on was found to be fictitious. But in this crisis the Jats were ably aided and assisted by the then deputy superintendent of police at Gohana, Mr. Kuldeep Sivach. The tension has been simmering for a long time. The Balmikis and other Dalit families in Gohana have refused over the years to do begaar (forced labour) and also after getting educated have been working at various places engaged in government jobs and some petty businesses too. The killing of Baljit Singh on August 27, 2005 gave an opportunity to the Jats to teach a lesson to Dalits, especially the Balmikis, about showing them their place in society.

The role of the police and administration in the present crisis

Ø Inaction by the police and the administration finally leading to complicity resulted in the ransacking, looting and burning of Dalit houses in Gohana.

Ø Knowing well that the killing of a Jat by Dalits might see retaliation from the Jats on Dalits, no preventive measures were taken by the police and the administration.

Ø It is alleged by some of the residents of Balmiki Basti who have now returned to their burnt houses that the police itself was forcing them to leave their houses.

Ø Without verifying the facts in the alleged killing of Baljit Singh on August 27, the police immediately arrested four Balmiki youth and launched a manhunt for the remaining alleged culprits.

Ø The argument by the police that eight to10 Dalit youth in Balmiki Basti have a criminal past and were always engaged in anti-social work, including drug peddling, is highly objectionable. It clearly shows that in order to cover up their lapses they are resorting to defame the Dalits by making such allegations against them.

Ø Another argument by the police and the administration that it is very normal and it has happened in the past that Dalits generally desert their houses whenever any criminal activity takes place in Gohana also does not help in explaining how around 2,000 Dalit families were allowed to flee from their houses.

Ø The claim by the police and the administration that they have filed cases against 23 persons on charges of arson and burning of Dalit houses does not seem to be satisfactory, as only two persons have been arrested till date. The thrust seems to be to treat this incident as a normal case and in the process also cover up their own lapses and complicity.

ØThe argument by the police that they did not fire on the mob because that would have led to killing of people also does help in explaining why they remained mute spectators and on many occasions, abettors of this crime in Gohana.

Ø The deputy commissioner of Sonepat, Mr. SK Goyal and the senior superintendent of police at Sonepat, Mr. AK Roy have failed to handle this crisis thereby leading to large-scale caste violence.

Ø So far no arrangements have been made to assess the damage to the property in the Dalit houses by the district administration.

Ø Neither immediate relief nor any compensation has been provided to the Dalit families.

Ø Mr. Goyal says that Dalits in the Balmiki village are exaggerating the details of the damage in order to claim high compensation.

Ø Mr. Goyal’s behaviour was very rude and unapologetic when confronted over the question of the police’s lapses and complicity in this grave crime. He said that only damaged property can be compensated for and not human lives. He went on to say do not try to accuse us and at the same time do not try to be judgemental about our roles.

Ø The police’s claim that the operation lasted for only 15 minutes is untenable, as it is not possible to destroy properties, loot valuables and burn houses by exploding LPG cylinders on such a large scale in only 15 minutes.

Ø It is not enough to put the blame on the opposition parties, especially the member of Parliament from Sonepat, his brother, his son and others, for inciting and committing this kind of heinous crime. If that was the only reason, then why have they not been apprehended so far and action been taken against them?

 

Our demands

Ø Immediate action by the government under Section 4 of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, against the deputy commissioner, the senior superintendent of police, the deputy superintendent of police and others for their wilful negligence in providing protection to Dalits and their property and their complicity in the rioting incident.

Ø The government should create confidence in the Dalit communities as well as wider society by:

Ø Creating a safe environment for Dalits.

Ø Deployment of armed police in the Basti.

Ø Making immediate arrangements for return of Dalit families who had fled from their houses.

Ø Accurate enumeration of damage and loss of property of the affected Dalit families.

Ø Ensure that appropriate relief packages reach all the affected Dalit families.

Ø Ensure complete rehabilitation packages to compensate the loss, not only to build their houses but also to provide financial assistance and other facilities to restart their livelihood.

Ø Immediate arrest of the culprits who indulged in ransacking, looting and burning of Dalit houses.

Ø A CBI enquiry to know the true story behind the gory and terrorist attacks on the Dalit (Balmiki) Basti. The terms of reference for the CBI enquiry should also include the role of the police and the administration.

Ø A White Paper by the central government should be tabled in the winter session of Parliament on the growing atrocities, untouchability and other multiple forms of exclusion and discrimination faced by Dalits. n

(National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, NCDHR, New Delhi. Email: ncdhr@vsnl.net; Website: www.dalits.org).

Torching their homes

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 the FIR are: 1) Shivlal, s/o, Ram Kishan, 2) Gola, s/o, Ramesh, 3) Lara, s/o, Mangla Das, 4) Ponda, s/o, Mangal Das, 5) Biru Akom Balmiki and 10-12 others whose names and addresses are not available.

Ø Not happy with the arrest of four Dalits, the Jats convened a Maha Panchayat on August 28 and gave an ultimatum to the police and administration that if within 48 hours the culprits are not apprehended and justice done to the Jats, the Jats would burn the entire Balmiki Basti.

Ø Fearing retaliation from the dominant Jat community and also harassment by police, Dalits in Balmiki Basti started fleeing from their houses in search of security to their kith and kin in neighbouring places like Sonepat, Panipat and others from August 29, 2005. It is also alleged that the police was also asking them to leave the Basti.

Ø Around 1,500-2,000 Dalits living in Balmiki Basti left their houses by August 30, 2005.

Ø On August 31, another Maha Panchayat of Jats took place and as it was still going on, a large group of 1,500-2,000 Jats, fully armed with batons, axes, spears, petrol and kerosene oil, entered the already deserted Balmiki Basti and started burning the houses. In the entire operation, which lasted about four hours, around 55 to 60 Dalit houses were burnt by the rampaging mass of Jats. They also damaged TVs, refrigerators and other useful items in the Dalit houses. It is also alleged that valuables have been looted from the Dalit houses. Even food grains were not spared.

Ø In the mayhem which lasted for about four hours, the rampaging mass of people was ably assisted by the local police. The police claims to have fired 12 rounds in the air to disperse the mob. They did not take any credible action to stop the mass of 1,500-2,000 from burning and looting Dalit houses.

Ø There were only about 150-200 policemen present on the scene who were merely silent spectators and are later also alleged to have helped the perpetrators in many ways.

Ø It was a well planned attack on the Dalit houses as the attackers well knew that there would not be any retaliation from Dalits since they had already deserted their houses. The manner in which houses have been ransacked, valuables looted, other useful items destroyed, and finally the burning of the houses, reveals a pattern which was aimed at destroying everything in front of their eyes.

Ø The police filed an FIR under Sections 148, 149, 109, 427, 435, 436, 307- 120B of the IPC and Section 3(2)(IV) of the SC and ST Act (Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989), against 23 persons.

Ø The police claim that Pradeep Sangwan, s/o Kishan Sangwan, member of Parliament from Sonepat, and Ranveer Sangwan, brother of Kishan Sangwan, have played a leading role in the whole incident.

 

Background of the present crisis

As revealed by the Balmikis, the dispute over the construction of a Balmiki Ashram on panchayat land arose in August 2001. A case was filed in the local court by some Jats, which later on was found to be fictitious. But in this crisis the Jats were ably aided and assisted by the then deputy superintendent of police at Gohana, Mr. Kuldeep Sivach. The tension has been simmering for a long time. The Balmikis and other Dalit families in Gohana have refused over the years to do begaar (forced labour) and also after getting educated have been working at various places engaged in government jobs and some petty businesses too. The killing of Baljit Singh on August 27, 2005 gave an opportunity to the Jats to teach a lesson to Dalits, especially the Balmikis, about showing them their place in society.

The role of the police and administration in the present crisis

Ø Inaction by the police and the administration finally leading to complicity resulted in the ransacking, looting and burning of Dalit houses in Gohana.

Ø Knowing well that the killing of a Jat by Dalits might see retaliation from the Jats on Dalits, no preventive measures were taken by the police and the administration.

Ø It is alleged by some of the residents of Balmiki Basti who have now returned to their burnt houses that the police itself was forcing them to leave their houses.

Ø Without verifying the facts in the alleged killing of Baljit Singh on August 27, the police immediately arrested four Balmiki youth and launched a manhunt for the remaining alleged culprits.

Ø The argument by the police that eight to10 Dalit youth in Balmiki Basti have a criminal past and were always engaged in anti-social work, including drug peddling, is highly objectionable. It clearly shows that in order to cover up their lapses they are resorting to defame the Dalits by making such allegations against them.

Ø Another argument by the police and the administration that it is very normal and it has happened in the past that Dalits generally desert their houses whenever any criminal activity takes place in Gohana also does not help in explaining how around 2,000 Dalit families were allowed to flee from their houses.

Ø The claim by the police and the administration that they have filed cases against 23 persons on charges of arson and burning of Dalit houses does not seem to be satisfactory, as only two persons have been arrested till date. The thrust seems to be to treat this incident as a normal case and in the process also cover up their own lapses and complicity.

ØThe argument by the police that they did not fire on the mob because that would have led to killing of people also does help in explaining why they remained mute spectators and on many occasions, abettors of this crime in Gohana.

Ø The deputy commissioner of Sonepat, Mr. SK Goyal and the senior superintendent of police at Sonepat, Mr. AK Roy have failed to handle this crisis thereby leading to large-scale caste violence.

Ø So far no arrangements have been made to assess the damage to the property in the Dalit houses by the district administration.

Ø Neither immediate relief nor any compensation has been provided to the Dalit families.

Ø Mr. Goyal says that Dalits in the Balmiki village are exaggerating the details of the damage in order to claim high compensation.

Ø Mr. Goyal’s behaviour was very rude and unapologetic when confronted over the question of the police’s lapses and complicity in this grave crime. He said that only damaged property can be compensated for and not human lives. He went on to say do not try to accuse us and at the same time do not try to be judgemental about our roles.

Ø The police’s claim that the operation lasted for only 15 minutes is untenable, as it is not possible to destroy properties, loot valuables and burn houses by exploding LPG cylinders on such a large scale in only 15 minutes.

Ø It is not enough to put the blame on the opposition parties, especially the member of Parliament from Sonepat, his brother, his son and others, for inciting and committing this kind of heinous crime. If that was the only reason, then why have they not been apprehended so far and action been taken against them?

 

Our demands

Ø Immediate action by the government under Section 4 of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, against the deputy commissioner, the senior superintendent of police, the deputy superintendent of police and others for their wilful negligence in providing protection to Dalits and their property and their complicity in the rioting incident.

Ø The government should create confidence in the Dalit communities as well as wider society by:

Ø Creating a safe environment for Dalits.

Ø Deployment of armed police in the Basti.

Ø Making immediate arrangements for return of Dalit families who had fled from their houses.

Ø Accurate enumeration of damage and loss of property of the affected Dalit families.

Ø Ensure that appropriate relief packages reach all the affected Dalit families.

Ø Ensure complete rehabilitation packages to compensate the loss, not only to build their houses but also to provide financial assistance and other facilities to restart their livelihood.

Ø Immediate arrest of the culprits who indulged in ransacking, looting and burning of Dalit houses.

Ø A CBI enquiry to know the true story behind the gory and terrorist attacks on the Dalit (Balmiki) Basti. The terms of reference for the CBI enquiry should also include the role of the police and the administration.

Ø A White Paper by the central government should be tabled in the winter session of Parliament on the growing atrocities, untouchability and other multiple forms of exclusion and discrimination faced by Dalits. n

(National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, NCDHR, New Delhi. Email: ncdhr@vsnl.net; Website: www.dalits.org).

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