ON Tuesday, two children of a Dalit family in Sunpedh village in Haryana were burnt alive and their parents suffered injuries allegedly after a group of upper-caste Rajputs set fire to their house while they were sleeping. From all accounts it was a revenge killing. A year ago, there was a violent clash between a group of Dalits and a group of Rajputs in the village in which three Rajputs were allegedly stabbed to death by some Dalits. The most disturbing aspect of Tuesday’s revenge is that a police camp that had been set up in the village precisely to prevent any revenge attack by Rajputs on Dalits failed in providing security to the Dalit family. What were the policemen doing when the Rajput group arrived at the house of the victim family at 2.30 a.m, locked the door from outside, poured petrol inside the house through the window and hurled a burning ball of cloth inside? Five policemen, including inspector Anil Kumar, the in-charge of Sadar Ballabgarh police station, were deployed to maintain law and order in Sunpedh and provide security to the Dalits. Were they sleeping? Or were they paid off?
Seen in the light of abject police failure, the assurance of Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh that he has asked Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar to ensure the security of the Dalits in the village may sound hollow and rhetorical. How can the Dalits of Sunpedh trust police when a five-member team of police failed to protect them? It has been common knowledge that police in Haryana are prejudiced against Dalits and take action that favour the upper castes. Assistant commissioner of police of Sadar Ballabgarh sub-division Vishnu Dayal admitted that it was not the policemen posted there but the local residents who noticed the flames in the victim’s family and alerted the Dalits of the village who were observing ‘jagrata’ as a part of the navratra celebrations. It was the Dalits attending the jagrata programme who rushed to the victims’ house and took the members of the family to hospital. Vaibhav, who was two-and-a-half years old, and his sister, 11-month-old Divya were completely charred and dead as the inflammatory object the attackers flung to light the petrol they poured into the house fell directly on them. Their mother Rekha received thermal burns on her upper body and face. Their father Jitendra received burns on his hands and fingers.
How can Dalits believe that posting of another team of police would secure them from any further attack? Tuesday’s attack demonstrates the gross indifference of the Rajputs to police presence. They have shown they can do whatever they like in total disregard of the rule of law. The last year’s case is pending in the court. In that case, which relates to the alleged murder of three Rajputs by some Dalits, the Dalit accused were arrested, investigated and are being prosecuted. Rather than waiting for the court judgement, the Rajputs decided to settle their score by themselves. They have thrown a challenge to the state administration.
Can we hope the situation to be peaceful in the village? The answer cannot be in the positive. For, the upper castes and Dalits in the Sunpedh village have been living in segregated quarters. They do not take the roads and lanes located in each other’s quarters when they go out of or return to the village. The Rajputs are economically much better off; they live in double-storey ‘kothis’; and they wield influence over local politicians and police. Although the Dalits consider themselves as Hindus and observe Hindu festivals such as navratra they have to hold celebrations among themselves, and are not allowed to do it together with the Rajputs or mix with them during the festivities. With the educational and economic opportunities opening up, a section of Dalits has come up a bit in life, which has raised their political consciousness. They have become assertive of their rights as humans and citizens. The assertion has attracted increased hostility from the upper castes long used to submission of Dalits. The clash between Rajputs and Dalits in the village last year in which three Rajputs were killed was a part of the social confrontation resulting from the re-assertion of the Rajputs’ power to dictate terms to the Dalits and the refusal of the Dalits to take things lying down.
Chief Minister Khattar cannot hope to establish peace in Sunpedh – and other villages of Haryana – unless he introduces measures that bridges the caste divide. Only a few months ago several Dalits of Bhagana village in Haryana embraced Islam to escape the oppression of the powerful Jat co-villagers. The Dalits of Bhagana were deprived of drinking water facilities and barber’s services. The Chamar Chowk meant for their social festivals was seized by the Jats and a wall was constructed to prevent their entry. Khattar knows Dalits in all villages are subjected to social and economic sanctions. He has to make it his top priority to engineer a social revolution in the villages of Haryana to establish real peace.