10 September, 2005
Arya nagar, house no….. Just 15 days back one could see a full fledged family residing here with the grannies and the grandpas resting on the beds and looking back towards the days gone by with a feeling of satisfaction. But today that particular house of Arya nagar, Gohana, Sonepat is a haunted place. Nobody lives there right now. All the occupants of the house have left and one is not sure when they would return. The house is completely open. Anybody can just walk in and look at the broken ceiling and the planned manner in which arsonists attacked the house.
A visit to Gohana, hardly 75 kilometres away from the national capital one can come across many such stories where overnight many such happy and bustling families have not only been rendered homeless but a dark future is awaiting before them. On that day (31 st August) the town witnessed burning of 50-60 houses belonging to Valmiki community in broad daylight. As it has been reported in the media a 1,500-2,000 strong of mob of upper caste people mainly belonging to the Jat community attacked their houses in a systematic manner. The perpetrators had come fully armed with spears, batons, axes, petrol and kerosene oils. They broke TV sets, Refrigerators, Washing Machines, looted the valuables and burst LPG cylinders.
For that matter Arya nagar is a mixed locality where Gujjars, Jats, Brahmins as well as other castes including Valmikis live in the same area. Ofcourse for a two thousand strong mob it was not difficult to identify the houses of the ‘others’ – the dalits. It appears that for the rest of the people the pucca houses of the Valmikis adorning that colony were rather an ‘eyesore’. How come dalits could ‘compete’ with the varna people in matters of housing. Will it not affect the edicts of the Manusmriti. And the crowd went on its ‘business’. It looted whatever could be looted and then set fire to the remaining items. And ultimately much on the pattern of Gujarat 2002, the organised crowd opened the knobs of the LPG cylinders, let the gas fill inside the house and just blasted the ceilings. And all the while police remained a mute bystander to the happenings. Not far from the place more than 200 strong police force was just busy controlling the onlookers who had reached there to see ‘live’ the burning down of houses of dalits while their seniors were taking rest in the nearby Gohana rest house. It is a fact that the police did fire into the air but according to independent eyewitnesses it was done only after the marauders had left.
Anybody can see that the ‘spontaneous expression’ of anger of the upper castes against the dalits was led by an organised and experienced team of houseblasters. Definitely even a layperson would be able to tell that the ‘task’ of burning, looting 50-60 houses which are spread over an area of three square kilometers cannot be accomplished within 15 minutes as the police wanted us to believe initially. The police is on record that only 5-6 houses were burnt and the rest caught fire because of winds.
The connivance of the police and the district administration in this gory incident is evident also from the fact that they had full information about the impending attack and instead of taking proper steps to avert any untoward incident they rather asked the residents of these houses to leave the city, threatening them that it would be impossible for them to ensure their security.
When a fact finding team formed by a few of us -Human Rights activists, intellectuals and writers – recently visited ( 4th September 2005) Gohana, we discovered to our dismay that contrary to the claims made by the higher ups the dalits belonging to Gohana, Sonepat ( Haryana) still feel terrorised and the administration appears to be callous towards their sufferings. The most disturbing part is that the lathiwielding policemen do not let the people stay in their homes in the night. Many victims shared their plight with the team members. They told that many of them do not have even food to it and have had to borrow even clothes to wear from their relatives. Many residents of the basti have still not returned out of fear and fearing further reprisal at the hands of the upper caste.
The team member were surprised to find that attempts are on under the supervision of the sub divisional magistrate to ‘clean’ the houses despite the fact that neither all the residents have returned nor a proper evaluation of the damages to the property has been done. These attempts smacked of planned coverup of the whole incident and despite facing lot of flak for its inaction and connivance the administration is not ready to mend its ways.
Another coverup is also on wherein the whole basti of Valmikis who have laboured hard and have moved up the ladder of social mobility are being charged with being criminals. A senior police officer is on record saying that ‘criminals thrive in the basti’. One is reminded of the colonial period wherein whole communities were notified to be ‘criminal tribes’ and were condemned to live a life of humiliation for decades together.
The immediate reason for the anger of the Jats might be the murder of a Jat youth allegedly after a scuffle with some Valmikis youths but the roots go deeper. The Valmikis (who have been condemned to the lowermost status in the Varna hierarchy) in Gohana had not only moved up a few ladders of social mobility, thanks to the efforts put in by the people coupled with the affirmative action programmes of the government, but had also started asserting for their rights. The Jats in the area who have dominated the polity and society in innumerable ways felt threatened with the new awakening among the Valmikis. The murder of the Jat youth could act as a rallying point for them. Definitely the compromising role of the political parties cannot be denied. It has been alleged that the close relatives of the local BJP MP were spearheading the operation. The impending elections to the Rohtak Parliamentary seat could also have been a factor in precipitating a crisis of such nature.
Much on the lines of Gurgaon incident where the police unleashed an unprovoked attack on the workers of the Honda factory, this incident has also created a national uproar. It has once again exposed the dirty Varna mindset which prevails in police as well as the bureaucracy who are ready to drop their constitutionally mandated duties and start playing the role of the defenders of their caste/community which they belong to.
The antidemocratic, anti dalit, anti gender role of the various caste panchayats has also come to the fore in no uncertain terms which did not mind take law in their hands and teach a ‘lesson’ to the dalits in typical medieval fashion. Ofcourse it would not be enough that the actual perpetrators of the attack are identified and tried according to the suitable provisions of the SC ST act but it is high time that immediate action is taken by the government under the Section 4 of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, against the responsible police officers and others for their willful negligence in providing protection to Dalits and their property and their complicity in the rioting incident.
It is a sign of changing times that the attack on Dalits in Gohana has witnessed an outburst of anger all over India. Not only dalit organisations but other parts of the civil society have raised their voice in unison to protest the attack. Reports coming in from different places tell us that many cities in north India also observed a complete bandh in solidarity with the dalits. Many places in Punjab and Haryana even witnessed pitched battles between the police and the protestors.
Any close observer of Haryana polity knows that Gohana is not just the name of a place. It is manifestation of the deeper malaise which afflicts Indian society in general and Haryanavi society in particular. Only a fortnight back Bathram near Gurgaon had reached headlines where Dalits were facing social boycott for more than a fortnight and were not even allowed to come out of their houses. But one could discover a strange commonality between the Bathram episode and the Gohana incident. Both the places the unprovoked reaction by the upper caste is rather a last ditch attempt by them to retrieve victory from the jaws of impending defeat since the dalits have finally stood up and have refused to obey their dictats.
Veermati one of the victims of the attack put it in poetic terms : She said, it is said in folklore that the flame becomes little big before getting extinguished. The restlessness among the upper castes especially among the Jats is a manifestation of this feeling of slowly getting marginalised only.