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Bhagana Dalits get open death threats from Haryana Khap Panchayats for converting to Islam

By Raqib Hameed Naik, TwoCircles.net

New Delhi : Death threats have started pouring in for protesting Bhagana Dalits by the Khap Panchayats of their village, nearly a week after 100 families of the Dalit community from Haryana’s Hisar district converting to Islam.

Courtesy: IndiaTomorrow.net

The protesting Dalit families from Bhagana village, Hisar accepted Islam during protest demonstration at Jantar Mantar in the National Capital as what their leaders termed as mark of “protest” against “perpetual persecution and torment at the hands of the upper-castes Hindu Jats”. The Protesting Dalits had recited ‘Kalma’ and later offered ‘Namaz’ in congregation .

“The Khap Panchayat of our village has told us that we will be slaughtered if we try to go back to our villages as Muslims. We have been asked to abandon our property in the village after our conversion to Islam,” President of Bhagana Sangharsh Samiti, Virender Bagoriya told TwoCircles.net.

About 100 Dalit families from Bhagana village in Haryana’s Hisar district are sitting on dharna since April 16, 2014 at Jantar Mantar demanding justice in the alleged gang rape of four minor girls.

On March 23, away from the media glare, as the election campaigns were in full swing four girls, belonging to the Balmiki community in Bhagana village were allegedly kidnapped by a group of Jat boys and gang-raped. They were dumped at Bhatinda railway Station, about 170 KM away, where they were found in “almost unconscious state” by the village head and their relatives a day later.

Pertinently the Dalit families from Bhagana have been holding sit-in at the Hisar district headquarters since March, 2012. When the ground where Dalit boys played was “acquired” by Jats and a wall was constructed obstructing Dalits from the village to have access to the Chowk, (community space), Dalits in the village protested and filed cases. Over 130 families sat on dharna outside the District Headquarter (Mini Secretariat) in Hisar. It’s been almost two years and many of them are still sitting on Dharna.

Since April last year, most of the protesters gradually shifted to the national capital hoping that their voices would be heard. Dalit families from the village allege that the dominant Jat community have unleashed atrocities on them on several pretexts.

TCN File Photo taken on May 10, 2014.

According to the Bhagana Sangharsh Samiti, the Haryana Khap Panchayats had boycotted 250 Dalit families, declared a social and economic boycott against them and forced them to flee the village in 2012. The Jats had “illegally” occupied 280 acres of land and stopped Dalits from using them. “When we went to lodge a complaint with the administration against their atrocities, the local police, under pressure from the upper-caste Jats, registered a case of sedition against the victims themselves and sent them to jail. They were even attacked and their minors were gang-raped,” claimed a Samiti member.

These cases cannot be seen in isolation as the Bhagana village has seen several clashes in last couple of years between dominant Jats and backward Dalits of Balmiki and Kumhar community. The “benefits” of Constitutional guarantees and reservations have impacted in “empowering” the backward community as several of their wards could study and even join forces or find jobs outside. When the members of the backward communities started asserting themselves and demanded equal rights, they had to face the “backlash” from the land-holding community in the village. Many of these Dalits earlier worked as virtual “bonded labours.”

Meanwhile, the protesting Bhagana Dalits at Jantar Mantar have alleged that Delhi Police let lose a “reign of terror” on them after their conversion to Islam. On the evening of August 8, a dozen of converted Dalits were bundled in police vans and detained at the Parliament Street Police station.

“At around 5 pm on August 8, we were taken to the Parliament Street Police Station where Police Personnel said that we should not have held this conversion ceremony at Jantar Mantar. Police even accused us of converting in lieu of getting Rs 5000 which was a blatant lie,” said Satish Kajla alias Abul Kalam of Bhagana Sangharsh Samiti to TwoCircles.net, adding, “We countered every allegation and were released after about 5-6 hours.”

On the morning of August 9, some members of Bhagana Sangarsh Samiti were again called to the Parliament Police Station where they were asked to give in writing that the religious conversion which took place was without any force or coercion.

“We were asked by Police to give in writing that the conversion took place without any force or coercion and we won’t organize any religious activity again at Jantar Mantar, to which we willingly obliged,” says Kajla.

TCN File Photo of Dharna site outside Hisar district headquarters.

On the intervening night of August 9 and 10, however, Delhi Police lathi charged on the protesters with the intention of dispersing them, while they were sleeping at the dharna site, leaving many people injured. In the melee, claimed Bhagana Sangharsh Samiti , two persons suffered fractures and were later admitted to a hospital.

“Some 16-17 policemen along with 5-6 persons in civil dress came and told us to vacate the venue.When we told them that it was quite dark and we don’t have any place to go, the Policemen without any word started manhandling us and hit us with baton which caused injuries to many of the protestors and two injured persons suffered fractures,” Kajla claimed, adding when we went to lodge an FIR at the Parliamentary street police station against the police officials , they didn’t entertain our request and told that they will enquire into it.

He also made it clear that these kinds of oppressive tactics won’t work and they will continue to hold protest until their demands are met.

After intense highlighting of Conversion issue by media, the BJP Schedule Caste (SC) Morcha, National President, Dushyant Kumar Gautam visited the protesting Dalits on the afternoon of August 9 and assured them redressal of their grievances at the earliest.

The Bhagana Dalits, however, termed his words as political gimmicks as they claimed that their earlier letters addressed to the him for justice were never replied.

“We had written letters to him 3-4 times to readdress our grievances but he never replied. Now after conversions he came to us and assured that he will speak to higher authorities but we don’t expect anything from him,” Kajla informed TwoCircles.net, adding, except Dushyant Kumar, no one from any other mainstream party have visited us.

Yogendra Yadav of AAP used to visit us but after his expulsion from party he too hasn’t come back, he said.

On the other hand, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), maintains that the real issue at hand was the continued exploitation of the Dalit families by those who wanted to convert them. “The VHP demands action against the culprits, irrespective of who they are. But the real issue at hand is the fact that the agony of these suffering families is being exploited by those who want to make this a religious issue. The VHP will take action against this and ensure that at least in Delhi, this can’t happen,” VHP Delhi spokesperson Vinod Bansal told media persons.

The Bhagana Sangarash Samiti has also claimed that members of VHP, Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena are repeatedly making rounds of the protest venue and holding deliberations with them to revert back to their pervious religion for favours ranging from taking up issue in Parliament and getting their demands fulfilled.

“Since the day we have converted to Islam, every day we get visitors from Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Shiv Sena. They tell us that our move to convert was wrong and we can’t do it. They ask us to revert back to Hinduism by assuring us that they will take up our issue to the Parliament and will get our demands fulfilled,” Virender Bagoriya told TwoCircles.net.

“We just ask them that if they want to help us then do that on humanitarian grounds but not on communal lines and regarding reverting back to the pervious religion, we have made it clear to them that we won’t revert back and they are wasting their time in discussing these things,” he added.

Rohit Bokda, a young Dalit boy from the village who has been at the dharna site since last year has renamed himself as Reyaz Khan after conversion. He too says that they have no plans of reverting back to Hinduism.

“Some reporters and people come here and asked us if in near future our demands are met, will we convert back to our previous religion? My answer to them is a Big No! We were born Hindus but now we will die Muslims. Our grievances have nothing to do with our conversion to Islam. We have voluntarily converted to Islam after we gained understanding about Islam that this religion doesn’t discriminate on the basis of caste,” Rohit told TwoCircles.net.

He had earlier told TCN about how he felt discriminated in the village. “When I was 15 years old there was a fight between Dalit boys and those from the Jat community. Although the fault was theirs, Dalits were forced to apologise in the Panchayat,” he had shared with TCN last year, adding that since then he did not like living in the village a lot, and moved to his uncle’s place in Rohtak. “We live in a free country, why should we still remain slaves?” he had tersely remarked then.

The converted dalits are firm in their stand to fight for justice even if they have to spend their whole life at Jantar Mantar toiling with harsh summers and chilly winters of Delhi.

“When we had started our protest in 2012, we had taken a vow to fight against injustice till end, even if we had to give our lives for this cause. We will continue to hold protest in Jantar Mantar until and unless our demands are met. Either we will die or the atrocities on Dalits will die,” said Varendra Bagoria.

Pertinently, on August 8, some 100 male members of the Dalit families gathered for demonstration at Jantar Mantar, followed by brief speeches of community leaders and converted to Islam. Maulvi Abdul Hanif from Jharna Masjid near Qutub Minar completed the formalities in a ceremony where the converted Dalits recited ‘kalma’ and offered ‘namaz’ in congregation.


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