Another Khairlanji: Rajasthan's Nagaur district is the new dalit slaughterhouse

 

Bhanwar Meghwanshi and Janani Sridharan

The following is a detailed account of the happenings leading to and on the 14th of May 2015 at village Dangawas, describing an attack by the powerful Jats on dalits – murdering 4 of them by the use of tractors, molesting their women, seriously injuring several others and setting to fire their homes. This report has been prepared after intensive fact finding exercises. Currently Rajasthan is seeing several protests and demands of an independent CBI inquiry and compensation for the affected dalits families of what is perhaps the most serious and massive attack on Dalits in recent history, reminding one of the Khairlanji massacre.

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Less than 250 km away from the capital city of Jaipur, the Jat - dominated Nagaur is home to several recent Dalit atrocities. If one were to examine the kind of atrocities perpetrated in the last year alone, one's heart would scream out. It is hard to believe that independent India is host to such crimes today. Such brutality and cruelty of unimaginable proportions inflicted by one community on another might even put terrorist groups to shame! Is this even possible in a democratic state? Apparently yes, with the political and administrative system that initially refused to even take notice of the happenings.

Nagaur: The epicenter of this calamity

In Baswani village of Nagaur district, just a month ago, the hut of a Dalit family was burnt down by the Dewasis – a community belonging to the Other Backward Classes (OBC) category. An old dalit woman was burnt to death in this fire and two others seriously injured, who were then sent to the government hospital in Jodhpur for treatment. In Langod village of Nagaur, another incident of a Dalit being buried alive has recently surfaced. In Mundasar, a dalit woman was allegedly pushed over the hot silencer of a tractor and in Hirdoda village, a dalit bridegroom was pushed off the horse during his 'bindoli'- a practice common in weddings - and beaten up for daring to adopt the savarna tradition of horse-trotting.

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The Jat-land of Rajasthan is home to such inhuman treatment of dalits that can put even khap panchayats and Tughlak's diktats look tame in comparison. It is home to such lawlessness, the vacuum of which is occupied by the will of the powerful Jats who set all the rules here!

Dangawas: the laboratory of experiments for atrocities

District Nagaur, tehsil Medta, village Dangawas. Houses 120 dalit families and 1600 Jat families. Only 2 kms away from the tehsil headquarters. In this same village, there have been 4 recent instances of dalit atrocities, the most brutal of which is this recent one.

A year ago, the Jats of this area had allegedly murdered Madan Meghwal, son of Gabru Meghwal, and not a sound escaped the village – the case was buried right there! Thereafter, 6 months ago, Chenaram, son of Mohan Lal Meghwal was attacked due to which he lost both his legs. Every one of these cases has been weak although the offenses have been grave, with little or no police investigation.

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The local Dalits of the area say that those who set the Dalit woman on fire in Baswani village could not be identified. The other cases could not be proceeded against either because in all cases the perpetrators of these crimes were powerful Jats of the area. To make things worse, the administration too is composed of mostly Jats. Here the police thanedar, the tehsildar are Jats and the politicians too serve the Jat interests. How would these people in office act against members of their own community? Over years this subordination continues, and nobody dares to raise a voice against the Jats. If someone does, their voice is quickly silenced.

How about we take your life in return for your land?

In spite of the existence of Rajasthan Tenancy Act Section 42(b) which governs land laws for Dalits, most of the Dalit land continues to be in the actual occupancy of Jat land mafias, who rampantly carry out fake transactions. Whenever a Dalit asks for land rights, he is silenced by the mafia.

One such case is that of the atrocity-specialist village in question - Dangawas - where Dholaram Meghwal, a Dalit, owned 23 bighas, 5 biswas of land. Bastiram, his son, mortgaged the land in 1964 at merely Rs. 1500 under the condition that Chimnaram Jat would cultivate and take the yield from this land at no payment of land rent. Within 4 years, as Bastiram's financial condition improved, he repaid the loan of Rs. 1,500. However, the Jats refused to move from the land as they contested that Bastiram had sold the land to them, and not mortgaged it for money. For over 2 decades, Bastiram and his family tried to get back what was legally theirs only to realize that their voices wouldn't be heard. In the span of the next 20 years, Dholaram Meghwal died and the land title was transferred to Bastiram Meghwal. The Jats would still not budge.

In 2006, Bastiram died and the land title was transferred to his son Ratnaram Meghwal. The Jats would still not budge. For 3 generations spanning nearly four decades the Jats occupied land which rightfully and legally belonged to the Dalit. The Jats would just not budge. Once the land title was transferred to Ratnaram – he started raising the issue of his land afresh. In 2006, the Jats filed a revenue writ in the Medta court claiming ownership of the land under the Rajasthan Tenancy Act 1955 - section 212 and 188. The case was in court for nearly 9 years, when finally, in March 2015, the court ruled in favor of the Dalits, of Ratnaram Meghwal. Finally, after a wait of over half a century – Ratnaram could live on the land that belonged to his family. Or, could he?

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After this legal victory, Ratnaram built both a pukka house and a kuchha hut and began living here with his family. On 20 April 2015, barely a month after the court's ruling, the two sons of Chimnaram Jat - Omaram and Kanaram began constructing a water reservoir on this land – now rightfully belonging to Ratnaram - and cut down a few Khejdi trees. When the owner Ratnaram objected to this, the two allegedly fled from the place after threatening him and his whole family. On 21st April 2015, Omaram, Kanaram and a few others attempted to sexually assault one of the Dalit women – a young widow - who they found sleeping in a hut. The police refused to register an FIR of this, but on pursuance, Medta Court issued an order to the station to register the case. In fact on 30 April 2015, this young widow even appeared before the SP of Nagaur district complaining of her FIR not being registered. Finally on May 1 2015 a case was registered at Medta thana (Case number 147/15) but again, no serious investigation or action was taken by the police.

At this point, Ratnaram went to the police station to file an FIR against the land encroachment, but the thanedar, a Jat himself, did not act on this complaint. On 11th May 2015, an application was submitted by the Dalits seeking protection to their lives to the police station, in light of the impending Jat caste panchayat due the next day, and the prevalent tensions in the village. But this request too seems to have been ignored by the police.

The inhuman massacre begins

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The Jats called for a panchayat on 12th of May to resolve the issue of land, but because Ratnaram and his brother Pancharam were not present this was annulled and postponed to 14th of May, with a stronger resolve by the Jats of reaching a decision on this day. At the meeting, the Jats decided to go to the home "to make them understand". This much is evident from the FIR that was registered by the Jats against the dalits. However, at what point did the Jats then get weapons in their hands? This remains unclear.

The dalits meanwhile were waiting to be summoned to this meeting at their respective lands / houses, but instead they saw that hundreds of people – mostly Jats - were approaching them with sticks in their hands, iron rods and even guns. The Dalits were soon surrounded and attacked. Some Jats came on their tractors and began demolishing the Dalit houses.

The bullets were NOT fired by the dalits

While the Dalits were being attacked by sticks, iron rods and other weapons of the Jats, one of the attackers aimed his gun to fire at Munnaram, the son of Ratnaram, but before he fired, Munnaram was attacked from behind by Rampal Goswami and Munnaram fell in the attack, so the bullet shot missed Munnaram and hit Rampal Goswami instead, who had come along with the Jat mob. With the death of Rampal Goswami, the Jats got even more infuriated and crossed all the limits of humanity, and what followed has been one of the most brutal attacks on the history of Dalits in India - perhaps worse than the Khairlanji massacre.

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The atrocity innovations: use of tractors to crush humans and the use of sticks to burn eyes and private parts

Tractors, normally used on fields for agriculture, were now employed to crush the unarmed Dalits, and in this demonic attack, 3 Dalits were crushed and died instantly. Amongst those who died was a labour leader Pokarram, who had infact come to the village that very day to meet his relatives along with his brother Ganpat Meghwal. Pokarram's assassination was perhaps the most brutal - he was crushed under the tractor, his private parts injured and burning pieces of wood inserted into his eyes.

The women were molested - their private parts were targeted and injured in this attack.

Overall in this attack, 5 people were killed (1 died subsequently on 23rd May at the hospital), 12 whose limbs were broken, 1 tractor-trolley and 4 motorcycles set to fire. One house attacked, another kuchha hut set to fire, property from these places stolen. For about an hour this war - this dance of death - raged on.

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The police station was a mere 4 km away, but the police arrived after the attack was carried out. An ambulance was called to rush the Dalits to the hospital and even these attempts were objected to by the Jats.

FIRs have been registered by both the communities

The Nagaur police and administration have been attempting to play down the crime by describing it as a bloody land dispute that ended in war. However, this is nothing short of a prolonged, a sustained and serious caste atrocity - why else were members of the Dalit community who were NOT involved in the land dispute attacked?

Both communities have filed FIRs. Both the FIRs provide us with much information.

Suresh Goswami, the son of Rampal Goswami who was shot dead during the attack, has filed an FIR accusing Govindram son of Pacharam Meghwal of both shooting his father and also of running the tractor and killing the other dalits. In this FIR, Suresh Goswami also seems to confirm that the Jats did occupy land that rightfully belonged to the dalits for decades. He describes the caste Panchayat held on 14th May, and states that the Jats went to actually "make the Dalits understand" the issue. However, this raises two important questions – if they indeed went to make the Dalits understand, what was the need for two hundred of them to go?

Secondly, why did they take weapons with them to meet the Dalits, for what they claim was a dialogue?

On the other hand, Arjun Ram's weak, diluted FIR on behalf of the dalits has been registered by the police. This FIR mentions neither the misbehaviour with Pokarram nor the sexual assault of the Dalit women.

Jats not ashamed of what happened!

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While some human rights organizations are beginning to take notice, the government did not visit this village for upto 3 days after the crime. Jats here are so powerful that few would dare to act against their wish. Shockingly, on the contrary, several of the Jats were found to be congratulating each other on social media, over Whatsapp and Facebook about their victory, discussing the need to show down Dalits their 'place in society', and that how after reservations and the SC ST Act, the Dalit voices had become too bold for the rest of the society to tolerate! They have been boasting to each other celebratory stories of victory - of how the brave Jats painfully massacred a Dalit, or of how the lowly Dalit women were taught a lesson, or how burning pieces of wood were inserted into the eyes of Dalits.

At Medta thana, an FIR has been registered about these hateful comments and an investigation is to begin soon.

CBI enquiry being demanded to bring out the truth

Given that the local administration is predominantly Jat, many protesting groups since the barbarous incident have been demanding an independent CBI inquiry in order to ensure a fair, free and impartial trial. Recently, a representation of the dalit activists met with the Home Minister Gulabchand Kataria to demand the same. In response, the case has been handed to the CID Crime Branch – which is again under the state department, under Rajasthan Police. One wonders - why would the government not give in to people's demands of an independent CBI inquiry, outside of the state's power and control? Given the sensitivity and gravity of the issue, independence of the justice dispensation process is absolutely important.

Rajasthan witnesses an outpouring of protests

In various parts of Rajasthan, people have been taking out silent protest marches to condemn the dalit attacks. Today at Barmer about 5000 people held protests. However it is equally important for the Jat community to condemn these attacks. Instead, the Jats seem to be reorganizing themselves – they held a meeting yesterday where far from condemning the attacks by their community members on the dalits, they have raised concerns over risks and threats to their community.

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 When one of the Dalits hospitalized – Ganpatram Meghwal – on 23rd May 2015 – succumbed to his injuries and lost his life, the thousands of people protesting at Ajmer gathered at JLM Hospital and refused to take his body until they were assured of a CBI inquiry. They have been in a sit-in since 48 hours.

A strong message must be sent out to protect the scheduled castes of the country

In Rajasthan, 34/200 MLAs are Dalits belonging to the BJP. Of these, 16 are in fact Meghwals – the very community attacked. Interestingly, not one of them has spoken up yet! In Parliament, out of the 4 Dalit MPs of Rajasthan, 2 are Meghwals. Neither of them has spoken up either. One wonders – who really are these Dalit political leaders answerable to, if they are not concerned with raising the question of their own community when it is under such brazen attack?

If we are to seek justice, we will need to take to the streets even more, and scream until our voices are heard, until the perpetrators are punished by law. Future generations must at least live without fear, if not with dignity yet. How many more lives would it take before the Dalits get justice, if at all? Is not death by tractors barbaric enough for everyone to sit up, take notice and pledge to never allow this to happen again?

(The writers are activists with the MKSS and TISS)

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