By Raqib Hameed Naik, TwoCircles.net
New Delhi: “For our Muslim brothers, Ramadan comes once a year, but we have been fasting continuously for the past five years,” says Satish Kajla alias Abul Kalam, a leader of Bhagana Sangharsh Samiti spearheading movement seeking justice for Dalit victims of violence in Bhagana, Haryana.
The words of Satish alias Abdul Kalam may seem exaggerated to some, but he is definitely not lying. On May 21, 2017, the sit-in protest of Dalit families from Bhagana at Jantar Mantar completed five years. It all started on May 21 2012, when the ground where Dalit boys played was “acquired” by Jats in Haryana and a wall was constructed obstructing Dalits from accessing the village Chowk (community space).
“We have been on a dharna since last five years and none of our demands have been accepted yet. Our people are continue to protests outside the mini secretariat in Hisar and at Jantar Mantar in Delhi in extremely hot conditions. We are continuously being sidelined by our state as well as central government,” Abul Kalam told TwoCircles.net .
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.
The atrocities didn’t stop here, on March 23, 2015, 4 girls from 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.
“After the Khattar-led BJP came into power in the state, we were hopeful that our issues will be resolved but they still remain as they were in 2012. We met the Chief Minister few times where he acknowledged that injustice was meted out to us but he expressed his inability to intervene as Khap panchayats are powerful in those regions and his government has been newly formed,” Ramphal Jangra alais Rehmat Ali informed TwoCircles.net.
The recent cases cannot and must not be seen in isolation. Bhagana village has seen several clashes in the 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, for example, earlier worked as “bonded labours.”
“The atrocities are continuously being committed on us. In November 2016 our Dalit brothers were beaten by upper castes for asking about their rights on panchayat lands. On May 4 this year also, one Dalit boy was so badly beaten by upper castes that he had to hospitalized for days. This is all happening under the nose of the district administration and BJP government in the state. Dalits are being falsely implicated in different cases,” Ali claimed .
In August 2015, around 100 protesting Dalit families from Bhagana had 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 .Different right-wing groups had threatened them against conversion.
President of Bhagana Sangharsh Samiti, Virender Bagoriya, who converted to Islam but continues to use his older name said, “We didn’t budge to their (Hindu right wing) pressures and continue to live a Muslim way of life because we were only treated as Hindus during elections. We are just used as baits to win elections and pampered when polling is around but this drama is over after elections and our real worth is shown to us.”
A month before completing five years of sit in protest at Jantar Mantar, Delhi Police along with NDMC had dismantled their tents at Jantar Mantar.
“These tents used to give us little shade in this simmering heat,” said Jagdish Kajla. “We know how difficult it is to stand against the injustice. Sometimes we don’t have any water to drink; sometime there is no food at all. We are not able to go and work since last five years but what can we do, we have to struggle so that our coming generations don’t have to suffer,”he added.
The protesting families have decided not to go back to their village until and unless justice is delivered to them and their demands are met. “We have taken a vow to fight for justice and won’t move from here (Jantar Mantar) even if it takes our whole lives to assert our rights,” Kalia said.