(First published in September 2005)
A Preliminary Fact Finding Report
N. Paul Divakar, National Convenor, NCDHR, Dr. Vimal Thorat, National Co-Convenor, NCDHR, Ms. Shabnam Hashmi, ANHAD, Dr. Umakant, Secretary-Advocacy, NCDHR And Others
Dalit Houses Burnt Down at Gohana in Haryana
Gohana is a small Tehsil, a local administrative unit, in Sonepat District in the State of Haryana. It is situated about 60 kilometers away from the National Capital, New Delhi. It witnessed a caste rivalry between Dalits and the dominant caste 'Jats', culminating into mass exodus of Dalits and finally burning down of about 55 to 60 Dalit houses with full support of local Police from 27 August 2005 upto 31 August 2005. A violent mob of about 1500 to 2000 Jats armed with spears, batons, petrol and kerosene oil went on a maddening spree burning down hoses belonging to a particular Dalit caste 'Balmikis', who are other wise called 'Bhangis', the manual scavengers.
This is a preliminary report as full report after assessing the damages would be prepared very soon.
Particulars of the Incidents
• On 27 August 2005 one Dalit named Shivpal, a resident of Balmiki Basti, went to a Photo Studio to a photograph clicked for himself. At the Photo Stdio itself there were some quarrel between Shivpal, another person named Baljit and some others. After this minor scuffle, Shivpal was joined by some other Dalits from the Balmiki Basti and in the fights which ensued Baljit who was Jat by caste died.
• The dominant Jat community of Gohana took it as insult on their caste pride and protested with the Police on 27 August itself. Immediately on the basis of their FIR in which 7 Dalits were named, four Dalits were arrested by the Police. Massive manhunt is still on for the remaining culprits.
• The case was lodged under Section 148, 149, 302 and 323 of Indian Penal Code.
• The names listed in the FIR are: 1. Shivlal, S/o, Ram Kishan, 2. Gola, S/o, Ramesh, 3. Lara, S/o, Mangla Das, 4. Ponda, S/o, Mangal das, Biru Akom Balmiki, and 10-12 others whose name and addresses are not available.
• Not happy with the arrest of four Dalits, the Jats convened a Maha Panchayat on 28 August and gave an ultimatum to the Police and Administration that if within 48 hours the culprits are not apprehended and justice done to the Jats, the Jats would burn the entire Balmiki Basti.
• Fearing retaliation from the dominant Jat community and also harassment by Police Dalits in the Balmiki Basti started fleeing from their houses in search of security to their kith and kin in the neighbouring places like Sonepat, Panipat and others from 29 August 2005. It is also alleged that Police was also asking them to leave the Basti.
• Around 1500-2000 Dalits living in the Balmiki Basti left their houses by 30 August 2005.
• On 31 August, another Maha Panchayat of Jats took place and as it was still going on, a large group of 1500-2000 Jats fully armed with batons, axes, spears, petrol and kerosene oils entered the already deserted Balmiki Basti and started burning the houses. In the entire operation which lasted about four hours, around 55 to 60 Dalit houses were burned by the rampaging mass of Jats. They also damaged TV, Refrigerators, and other useful items in the Dalit houses. It is also alleged that valuables have been looted from the dalit houses. Even food grains were not spared.
• In the mayhem which lasted for about four hours, the rampaging mass of people were ably assisted by the local Police. The Police claims to have fired 12 rounds in the air to disperse the mob. They did not take any credible action to stop the mass of 1500-2000 from burning and looting of Dalit houses.
• There were only about 150-200 Policemen present on the scene and were merely a silent spectator and later on also alleged to have helped the perpetrators in many ways.
• It was a very planned attack on the Dalit houses as the attackers knew it very well that there would not be any retaliation from Dalits since they had already deserted their houses. The manner in which houses have been ransacked, valuables looted other useful items destroyed and finally the burning of the houses reveals a pattern which was aimed at destroying everything in front of their eyes.
• The Police filed an FIR under Section 148, 149, 109, 427, 435, 436, 307- 120B of IPC and Section 3(2) (IV) of SC and ST Act against 23 persons.
• The Police claims that Praddep Sangwan, S/o, Kishan Sangwan, the Member of Parliament from Sonepat, and Ranveer Sangwan, brother of Kishan Sangwan have played a leading role in this whole incident.
Background of the Present Crisis
As revealed by the Balmikis, the dispute over the construction of a Balmiki Ashram over the Panchayat land arose in August 2001. A case was filed in the local court by some Jats which later on was found to be fictitious. But in this crisis the Jats were ably aided and assisted by the then Deputy Superintendent of Police at Gohana, Mr. Kuldeep Sivach. The tension has been simmering since a long time. The Balmikis and other Dalit families in Gohana have refused over the years to do begars (forced labour) and also after getting educated have been working at various places engaged in Government jobs and some petty businesses too. The killing of Baljit Singh on 27 August 2005 gave an opportunity to the Jats to teach a lesson to Dalits especially the Balmikis about showing them their place in the society.
The Role of Police and Administration in the Present Crisis
• Inaction by the Police and the Administration finally leading to complicity resulted in to ransacking, looting and burning of Dalit houses in Gohana.
• Knowing it very well that the killing of a Jat by Dalits might see retaliation from the Jats on Dalits, no preventive measures were taken at all by the Police and the Administration.
• It is alleged by the some of the residents of the Balmiki Basti who have now returned to their burned houses that Police itself was forcing them to leave their houses.
• Without verifying the facts in the alleged killing of Baljit Singh on 27 August, the Police immediately arrested four Balmiki youth and launched a manhunt for the remaining alleged culprits.
• The argument by the Police that 8 -10 Dalit youth in the Balmiki Basti has a criminal past and were always engaged in anti-social work including drug peddling is highly objectionable. It clearly shows that in order to cover up their lapses, they are resorting to defame the Dalits by making such kind of allegations against them.
• Another argument by the Police and the Administration that it is very normal and it has happened in the past that Dalits generally desert their houses whenever any criminal activity takes place in Gohana also does not help in explaining that how around 2000 Dalit families were allowed to flee from their houses.
• The claim by the Police and the Administration that they have filed cases against 23 persons on charges of arsoning and burning of Dalit houses does not seem to be satisfactory as only two persons have been arrested till date. The thrust seems to be to treat this incident as a normal case and in the process also cover up their own lapses and complicity.
• The argument by the Police that they did not fire on the mob because that would have led to killing of people also does help in explaining that why it remained a mute spectator and on many occasion abettor of this crime in Gohana.
• The Deputy Commissioner of Sonepat, Mr. S.K.Goyal and the Senior Superintendent of Police at Sonepat, Mr. A.K.Roy, have failed to handle this crisis therby leading to large scale caste violence.
• So far no arrangement have been made to assess the damage to the property in the Dalit houses by the District Administration. Neither immediate relief nor any compensation have been provided to the Dalit families.
• Mr. Goyal says that Dalits in the Balmiki village are exaggerating the details of damage in order to claim high compensation.
• Mr. Goyal's behaviour was very rude and unapologetic when confronted over the question of their lapses and complicity in this grave crime. He said that only damaged property can be compensated and not the human lives. He went to say that do not try to accuse us and the same time do not try to be judgmental about our roles.
• The Police claims that the operation lasted for only 15 minutes is untenable as it is not possible to destroy properties, loot the valuables and burn the houses by exploding LPG cylinders on such a large scale in only 15 minutes.
• It is not enough to put the blame on the opposition parties especially the Member of Parliament from Sonepat, his brother, his son and others for inciting and committing this kind of heinous crime. If that is the only reason, then why they have not been apprehended so far and action taken against them.
• Immediate action by the Government under Section 4 of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, against the Deputy Commissioner, the Senior Superintendent of Police and the Deputy Superintendent of Police and other others for their wilful negligence in providing protection to Dalits and their property and their complicity in the rioting incident.
• The Government should create confidence in the Dalit communities as well as the wider society by:*Creating a safe environment for Dalits *Deployment of armed police in the Basti *making immediate arrangements for return of Dalit families who had fled from their houses.
• Accurate enumeration of damage and loss of property of the affected Dalit families.
• Ensure appropriate relief package reaches the all the affected Dalit families.
• Ensure complete rehabilitation package to compensate the loss not only to build their houses but also to provide financial assistance and other facilities to restart their livelihood.
• Immediate arrest of the culprits who indulged in ransacking, looting and burning of Dalit houses.
• A CBI Enquiry to know the true story behind the gory and terrorist attacks on the Dalit (Balmiki Basti). The terms of reference for the CBI enquiry should also include the role of the Police and the Administration.
• A White Paper by the Central Government should be tabled in the winter session of the Parliament on the growing atrocities, untouchability and other multiple forms of exclusion and discrimination faced by Dalits.
[Courtesy: NCDHR, September, 2005]