Mirchpur, Haryana: “Crush The Poor, And Everyone Is Happy”

There’s no caste-based violence in this village in Hisar district, say local Jats. It’s just a coincidence that Dalits are consistently attacked and reduced to living like refugees.

WrittenBy:Ishan Kukreti
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People in Mirchpur, in Haryana’s Hisar district, will tell you this is a peaceful village and everyone is content. Almost everyone we met when Newslaundry visited Mirchpur last week echoed the same sentiment — apart from the Dalits. At least those that still live there. Mirchpur, around 180 kms from the national capital, is a village marked by upper caste pride and the helplessness of the lower castes. It’s a microcosm of what is playing out all over the country.

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On January 30, 2017, nine Dalit boys were attacked in the village. The reason, according to one of the boys, was that they had won a cycle race.

Seventeen-year-old Shiv Kumar, a Dalit from the Valmiki community, won a district level race at his school last December. Ever since, he’d been taunted, but on January 30, the situation became serious. The village had gathered for a cycle-stunt show and there, a group of men confronted Kumar and his friends. “They said ‘tu dedh (racial slur for Dalit) phir jeet gaya (you won the race again)?'” Kumar’s brother, Somnath, told Newslaundry.

According to the First Information Report filed that day by Kumar’s cousin, Tejbhan Chauhan, the slurs were followed by an altercation in which a large number of upper-caste villagers attacked the boys. The FIR names 15 people and “40 others”. Somnath, along with five others, is still recovering in Hisar Civil Hospital.  

“In Haryana, we say strength comes from doodh dahi ka kahan ( dairy products). We don’t get that. They could not stomach the fact that they lost a race to someone from our community,” Somnath told Newslaundry.   

However, according to the local administration, caste had no part to play in the boys’ assault.

“The accused in the FIR are from different castes. There are Lohar, Khatis, Pandits included there,” Hisar Superintendent of Police Rajendra Kumar Meena told Newslaundry.

Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Jaipal Singh, the investigating officer of the case, reiterated the same point. He did, however, restrain and go through this reporter’s phone to delete the statements made by him, Meena and the Deputy Commissioner of Hisar, Nikhil Gajraj, that the accused were of different castes, including Khhatis, an Other Backward Class (OBC) in the area. Rajat Kalsan, the advocate for the Dalit community, told Newslaundry, “The FIR mentions the accused by name and there are no lower castes in it. It also mentions 30-40 others who are Jats.”

Nobody, however, denies that all the victims are Dalits. They are the ones hospitalised.  

In Mirchpur, an unspoken antipathy to Dalits runs through the administration. The law enforcement machinery, for instance, seems particularly keen on finding minute details to disprove the claims of Dalits and avoid enforcing The SC And The ST (Prevention Of Atrocities) Act, 1989.

This is nothing new for Mirchpur. The administration had responded in much the same manner in 2010 when a barking dog and a drunk Jat man shone the media spotlight on the village. Angry Jats torched 18 Dalit-owned homes, killing an elderly man, Tara Chand, and his disabled daughter. The Justice Iqbal Singh Commission, constituted by the Haryana government in 2010 to probe into the incident, had noted in its report:

“Implementation of laws relating to atrocities on Scheduled Casts is characterised by apathy, indifference and even bias and hostility on the part of enforcement machinery.”

In 2014, an inspection team of sessions judge AK Jain and Tata Institute of Social Sciences assistant professor Shamim Modi submitted their 10-page report on Mirchpur. It said that a separate settlement should be created for local riot victims. The Haryana government rejected the suggestions claiming that it would add to the segregation. The government has also not provided rehabilitation to the victims of the 2010 attack.

This time around, a company of Haryana police with 85 policemen and home guards have been deployed to maintain law and order in the village. Thirty-five CCTV cameras have been placed in and around the colony. So far, six of the accused have been arrested.

Being Dalit

Travelling to Mirchpur from Hisar city the countryside changes. The haphazard construction of urban Hisar gives way to mustard fields in yellow bloom and green acreage of wheat, with small patches of woodland scattered here and there. The Kaithal thermal power plant is the only industrial set up in this area. This is an agrarian country where land ownership is crucial to prosperity. The Dalits own none of this land. They work as labourers on fields, mostly owned by Jats.

Even the common village land is being encroached by the socially dominant communities. “There is some village common land which is cultivated by the Jats. We never get the tenders to cultivate it,” Bhan said. He was one of those injured on January 30 and has returned home from the hospital.

As one enters Mirchpur, the houses are large with enclosed verandas. Some are covered in shiny tiles. This is the upper caste and Jat area. In the Valmiki colony, on the southern end of the village, the walls aren’t pucca. Some are just bricks placed one on top of another.

In the absence of land, working on other’s fields is the only option for the landless, but even that has been taken away from the Dalits as punishment for the 2010 incident.

“Since 2010, they don’t let us work in their fields,” Bhan told Newslaundry. “They even deny us milk.” The milch animals are owned by the upper caste. The local place of worship is out of bounds and the Dalits have built a smaller temple to avoid confrontation. “The job given to me after the 2010 incident at the civil hospital under the SC/ST act was taken away last year,” said Bhan. “Since then I am not working.” Twelve more people who were given jobs under the Act were fired from Hisar Civil Hospital, citing lack of funds.

Although The SC/ST Act is aimed at dismantling prejudice and traditional power hierarchies, in Mirchpur, no one seems to be bothered about how Dalits are being discriminated against at an institutional level.

In the Dalit part of Mirchpur, the houses are vacant, some have locks hanging on their front doors, some have busted doors and windows. Of the original 250-300 Dalit families that once lived here, only 35-40 remain. A few have moved in with relatives elsewhere, but most live in shanties on a farmhouse owned by Ved Pal Tawar, a local Dalit activist in Hisar. The families have been living there for seven years, with no rehabilitation offer from the government.

The Jats

Meanwhile, the Jats feel that they have been wronged, yet again. Thirty-five local communities — Dalits were not invited — called a panchayat on February 7. They demanded that the arrested Jats be released. They are also opposing the grant of arms licence under Section 3 (v) of the Act to Dalits. (Recently, there has been a rise in the demand for arms licences by Dalit residents of the area.)

“They have got more than 100 licenses. No other community is given the license. If there is a fight, then both sides are scared,” a local member from the Jat community Master Dayananad said. According to him, a fight between “children” is being given casteist colour by the administration and the Dalit community. “They are using it to gain benefit from the government. They are leaving because they are given huge grants. In 2010, they were given Rs 25 lakh. Even now, the nine families will get Rs 1 lakh,” he said. Only the family of Tara Chand was given a reimbursement sum of Rs 25 lakh. Other victims were given Rs 1 lakh. That the bulk of the Dalit families also left Mirchpur after the 2010 episode is a detail that Dayanand doesn’t dwell upon.

Another member of Jat community, Rajesh Gill,said, “Hamare upar koi aarop lage, usko kuch nahi aata. Woh ek sarkar ka keeda ban gaya, usko kuch nahi aata, usko naukri de di. Batao woh sarkar ke liye kya paida karega? (We were blamed. They don’t know anything. [Dalits] are a parasite on the government and are given jobs. What will he do for the government?)” He went on to say, “Ek majdoor ko khet me kaam karna chahiye, tab hi kisan majdoori dega. Inko nithalla baith kar khane ki aadat pad gayi hai (A labourer should work on the field and only then will the farmer give him wages. They have got into the habit of lazing around).”

“They have a lot of money,” said another Jat man, who wouldn’t identify himself. “The other day, we went to hire labour and one of them offered to hire us on wages,” he claimed.

The Socio Economic and Caste Census of 2011 data, however, doesn’t back the Jat community’s grouses. Of Hisar’s population, 27.28 per cent households belonged to the scheduled caste. Of them, 20.51 per cent earned less than Rs 5,000 per month, 4.81 per cent between Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000 and only 1.95 per cent earned more than Rs 10,000. With recurring caste-centric crimes like the gang-rape in Bhagana in 2014 and this most recent cycle-race incident, there is no reason to think their circumstances have improved.

On the contrary, Kalsan alleged that the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), deployed in 2011 was taken out of the area because of pressure from the Jat community. “CRPF has policemen from all over the country,” said Kalsan. “The Jats wanted them gone so they could be replaced with Haryana police officials. The administration has also taken away my security (around the same time the CRPF were recalled).” Kalsan has received threats thrice since then

Indifferent administration

In the aftermath of the 2010 incident, the Justice Iqbal Singh Commission compiled an extensive report. The report recommended state, district and village level suggestions, at various levels including judicial and educational. The commission observed that there wasn’t even a billboard anywhere which mentioned the SC/ST Act mentioned, which was, for all practical purposes, absent.

The report also said that at the village level, the Sarpanch should provide information to the local administration about crimes against SCs and STs. In Mirchpur, Sarpanch Satyavan Singh — who, incidentally, owns the biggest house in the village — echoed the SP and DSP. “The fight was among kids,” he said.

The Justice Iqbal Commission had also suggested a district level vigilance and monitoring committee with adequate representation from human rights activists, journalists, lawyers, non-governmental organisations and members of the Dalit community. “They formed the committee and filled it with government officials. They don’t do anything, just drink tea and cash their salaries,” Kalsan said.

On February 9, the victims of the 2010 and 2017 attack met the Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar. “We were verbally told that we all will be rehabilitated soon,” said Shiv Kumar’s uncle, who was present at the meeting. Words are all he and other Dalit victims have to hold on to when faced with persistent caste prejudice. Their options are to either stay in the village — where something as commonplace as a cycle race can turn lethal — or stay at Ved Pal Tawar’s farmhouse, like refugees.

But as far as Mirchpur is concerned, it’s peaceful here. As Awaseen Sangharsh, a tea stall owner who is among those protesting the Bhagana incident, said, “Crush the poor and the backward, and you have peace. Everyone is happy.”

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