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A Portrait of the Indian as a Young Dalit Girl: Part 1 – The Playground

(Editor’s note: This was first published on Yahoo.com as a single piece. We are reproducing with due permission the long form report in parts for TwoCircles.net readers.)

You are 13, kidnapped from your street along with three friends, drugged, raped, and dumped 150 kms away. No one could possibly blame you, but they do. The authorities investigate you instead of the accused men. What appeal does a young Dalit girl from Bhagana, Haryana bring to a nation that thinks it has now become sensitive to sexual assault? Is it enough to live on the pavement at Jantar Mantar for months on end, hoping someone will notice your call for justice? How long will your fight for a new life last?

Dalits from Bhagana holding a candlelight protest in Delhi seeking justice for four girls from their community …

By Priyanka Dubey

You can, if you wish to, trace an almost direct line from the dispute over a playground in Bhagana village of Hisar district, Haryana, to the circumstances that have led to hundreds of Dalit families living in the open, outside a government building, for years. And an almost direct line from the playground to the circumstances that led to four young girls and their parents living for the last four months on the streets in central Delhi.

On the night of March 23, 2014, Janvi*, Sushma, Leela and Meena were abducted from Bhagana and raped. Since April 14, 2014, they and their families have been at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. While the whole country continues to obsess about sexual assault, the public eye has passed uncaring over the four girls sitting right in the centre of the capital. The seasons have changed – they came in blazing summer – but they have stayed, hoping that in Delhi they will find what their village never gave them their whole lives.

Janvi’s Playground

In 2011, the gram sabha of the Bhagana village panchayat headed by Kitab Singh, a Dalit sarpanch, decided to distribute 280 acres of village land, including common land, amongst its residents. As Frontline reported, this move came in response to the Haryana government’s announcement that it would distribute 100 square yards of land to every family living below the poverty line (BPL). The plan was scuttled by the new Jat sarpanch who came in, and land was instead distributed in proportion to the land that the village residents already owned. This meant that the landless Dalit families ended up with no land, or with less than 100 sq yards each. The Dalits protested. The Jats retaliated. As The Hindu reported, “Ponds which the Dalits used for drinking water and other purposes were dried up. A playground used predominantly by Dalit children was dug up. Access to roads for several Chamar households was blocked by erecting six-foot-high walls.” Things didn’t stop there.

In February 2012, the Jats claimed the playground altogether (even though as Virendra Singh Bagoriya, a Dalit activist from the village and the leader of the Bhagana Kand Sangharsh Samiti, says, the Jats had their own ground, which was much bigger). Next, a brick wall was built around the disputed land blocking the Dalit families’ access to their own homes. They could not take their buffalos to the common village pond anymore. The shopkeepers stopped giving them rations. The barbers stopped cutting their hair and the village flour-mills stopped grinding their wheat. The drinking water pipeline of the Dalit tola was blocked. Moreover, this boycott meant that the Dalits lost their livelihood, as the Jats would no longer employ them for any work.

In the summer of 2012, 138 Dalit families (mostly from the Chamar and Khanti communities) left for Hisar in protest. Since that day, for over two years, they have been sitting – men, women and children – in front of the Hisar mini-secretariat on an indefinite dharna. Around 150 Dalit families (all from the Dhanuk community) stayed put in Bhagana. And it’s from among those families that four girls were abducted in the summer of 2014.

In July 2014 in Bhagana when I was talking to Reetika, Janvi’s older sister, a few other women from the neighborhood gathered around us. Sixty-year-old Angoori Devi broke in and said, “The Jats did this to our girls because they are angry that Dalits in this village were fighting for their rights on the village common land and playground. They hate us because we were raising our voices against them.”

I asked if Dalit girls from the village had ever played on the playground. Fifty-year-old Teeja Devi laughed and the others’ grim faces broke into grins. A few minutes later Teeja recovered and said, “I am laughing because your question is like asking a child who has never seen a ball in his whole life to kick a ball properly! Dalit girls don’t step out of their doors. They’ve never stepped on this playground, forget about playing there! Arrey, when our girls stay inside their homes, even then these Jats kidnap them and rape them. Even small girls are teased and assaulted when they go to school. You can’t imagine what will happen if our girls stepped on the playground! They will be abused and tortured to give a strong message so that no other girl can dare to step out in future. So no Dalit girl of this village has ever been on a playground. We are too scared to even think about this.”

She adds, “Yes, old women like me, we used to go to the common village land to make dry gobar. But all our movements stopped after the Dalits were boycotted in 2012. These girls have paid the price of Dalit resistance while many others among us have been routinely paying the price of being born as a Dalit woman in this village for ages now. If we get our playground back, only Dalit boys will be able to play, exercise and keep fit for getting work in the army or police or anywhere. Anyways, these girls will never play on it. Because Dalit girls play inside homes, not on playgrounds.” After a moment of frozen silence, she added, “Ham to sirf maidan aur khel ki keemat chukayein hain, khelein kabhi na payein (We only seem to pay the price for wanting the ground and to play, but cannot play ever).”

*Names of all rape survivors and their relatives have been changed.

(Republished with thanks to Yahoo.com, Grist Media and Priyanka Dubey)