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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 37

Anatomy of Atrocities on Dalits in Haryana

Wednesday 3 September 2008, by Ranbir Singh

It has been widely reported that there has been an increase in the incidents of atrocities on Dalits in Haryana over the years. This is evident from the media coverage of the happenings at Jhajjar, Dulina (Sonipat), Harsola (Kaithal), Gohana (Sonipat) and Salwan (Karnal) Therefore, it becomes essential to trace the factors behind the rise of this ugly phenomenon. It is equally important to suggest the ways and means for controlling such attacks.

These have to be ascribed to factors such as the breakdown of the Jajmani system, implementation of the 73rd Amendment to the Indian Constitution, (1992), affluence of a section of the Dalits, the role of Khap Panchayats, the lack of representation of Dalits in the police force, disunity among them, the absence of a Dalit leadership in the State and the weakness of the progressive forces in Haryana.

The Jajmani system, in which there existed the traditional interdependence between the landowning families from the peasant castes and the landless agricultural labourers’ families from the Dalit castes, broke down after the advent of the Green Revolution in the 1970s. This happened, in the first instance, on account of the increased mechanisation of agriculture and the consequent decrease in the demand for farm labour. Secondly, it was the availability of cheaper migrant labourers which enabled the landowning families to jettison their traditional farm labourers from the Dalit castes. This in a way liberated the Dalits from the bondage of the landowning castes. Hence they began to exercise their vote in the parliamentary and assembly elections in an independent manner instead of remaining captive vote-banks of the landowners. This has led to the emergence of a conflict between them which, at times, assumed the form of atrocities on the Scheduled Castes.

The problem has been further aggravated by the implementation of the 73rd Amendment by the Haryana Panchayat Raj Act 1994. As a result, the membership and chairpersonship of the Gram Panchayats, Panchayat Samitis and Zilla Parishads were reserved for the Dalits in accordance with their one-fourth share in the population of the State. The traditional leaders of the rural society from the landowning castes, who had been having hegemony over the rural power structure, found it difficult to come to terms with this changed situation. They viewed it as a threat to their authority and started resorting to, at some places, atrocities on Dalits for re-asserting their supremacy.

Another factor that has contributed to the rise of this phenomenon is the creation of new affluence in that section of the Scheduled Castes which was able to take advantage of reservations in government jobs due to its relatively superior position among these castes. Besides, some of the enterprising Scheduled Caste persons were able to acquire affluence by switching over to the non-traditional vocations. This neo-affluent section of the Dalits began to emulate the life-style of the land- owning castes. A segment of the land-owning castes having a feudal mindset found the adoption of their life-style by the castes perceived by them as low intolerable. This, in turn, culminated in the instances of atrocities on Dalits such as were committed at Gohana in 2005.

The role of the Khap Panchayats (the traditional clan councils) of various gotras of the Jats too has to be held responsible for the increase in the atrocities on Dalits. The traditional and neo-feudal leadership of these institutions has been consistently taking an anti-Dalit stance. It may be recalled that the decision to burn the houses of Dalits in retaliation to the murder of Baljit Siwach at Gohana was taken at a meeting of a Khap Panchayat. This body had also strongly opposed action against those responsible for that ghastly action.

The persistence of this unhealthy trend has also to be attributed to the lack of representation of Dalits in the police force which is dominated by the dominant land-owning peasant castes. The numbers of Dalits is rather small in it. Their share in key postings like that of the SHOs of the police stations, DSPs of various sub-divisions and SPs of different districts too is rather inadequate.

One of the main factors for the continuation of this phenomenon is the lack of unity among Dalits. What to speak of unity of the genuinely backward castes and Scheduled Castes, even the Scheduled Castes are a divided lot. This division was sharpened by the decision of the Haryana Government in 1994 to divide them into ‘A’ and ‘B’ categories for giving them the benefits of reservations. This created both vertical and horizontal divide in them. The decision of the Punjab and Haryana High Court to set aside that decision has further sharpened this divide instead of closing it because the Balmikis feel that all the benefits of protective discrimination shall be grabbed by the Ravi Dasias (Chamars) who are better of than the other Scheduled Castes in all walks of life.

THE absence of a Dalit leadership too is responsible for the repeated atrocities on them. Chand Ram, the former Union Minister of State (1977-79), had been the only Dalit to emerge as a Dalit leader in his own right. After the decline of his leadership in 1980 owing to his political acrobatics, no Dalit has been able to acquire that status. Neither Dalbir Singh, the former Deputy Minister in the Union Government, nor his daughter, Kumari Selja, could acquire that position. Even Suraj Bhan, the former Deputy Speaker of Lok Sabha and Chairman of the SC/ST Commission, could not attain it. Although Phool Chand Mullana has been recently appointed by the Congress President, Sonia Gandhi, as the President of the Haryana Pradesh Congress Committee, it is too early to say whether he will be able to emerge as a Dalit leader in his own right or not.

Last but not the least, this retrograde trend may also be ascribed to the weakness of the progressive forces in the State. The Leftist parties remain very weak in Haryana owing to historical, sociological, cultural and economic reasons. The peasant and trade union movements also lack strength in Haryana due to the same reasons. The civil society too remains in a poor shape due to the same factors.

This leads us to the question: what can be done to check the malady? This requires a change in the mindset of the rural society in general and of the peasant caste in particular. They need to be liberated from the neo-feudal culture through the inculcation liberal and democratic values. This task will have to be performed by the civil society—the media, the academia, and the NGOs. The administration in general and the police in particular will also have to be sensitised for acting in a pro-active manner for preventing these atrocities. The Panchayati Raj Institutions will also have to perform their role of promoting social justice for this purpose instead of remaining confined to the agenda of construction of streets and drains. The illegal activities of the Khap Panchayats in general, and their anti-Dalit stance in particular, too will have to be banned by the Haryana Government. Hard decisions are needed for this purpose. The Dalits will also have to be given adequate representation in the police force. Priority will have to be given to the Dalit officers in the posting of the SHOs of those police stations which are prone to violence against Dalits. It is equally essential to unite the Dalits. The emergence of a Dalit leadership is also the need of the hour in this context. Besides, efforts will have to be made for strengthening the progressive forces and civil society in the State. This is equally essential for taming the menace of the neo-feudal and conservative elements by bringing about a change in their approach and view of developments.

The author is a former Professor and Chairman, Political Science, Kurukshetra University; UGC Visiting Pofessor, HP University, Shimla and UGC Visiting Fellow, GND University, Amritsar. Presently he is a Consultant, HIRD, Nilokheri.