It is grief that has united the different Dalit families and separated them from the predominant upper caste Thakurs in Haryana’s Sunperh village, situated less than an hour’s drive from the Capital. It is clear, grief has brought them together, while the politicians have polarised them.
Till two days ago, not many dared gather outside Jitender’s two-storey house in this village. With his family members held for murder, his was a Dalit family believed to be ‘rich, criminal and one best to avoid’.
But that was two days ago. On Wednesday afternoon, when an ambulance brought home the burnt bodies of Jitender’s children -- two-and-a-half-year-old Vaibhav and nine-month old Divya -- he was seen as a victim of injustice at the hands of upper caste Thakurs.
Dalit families (around 50 in this village of 450 houses) assembled outside his house. Youths spoke about revenge in whispers. Inside Jitender’s house, former AAP leader Yogendra Yadav listened to tales of injustice the Dalits have faced here. “His kids were burnt because they belong to a low caste. The police are also mixed up here. Jitender had approached the police chief with a complaint but police refused to believe him,” a youth told Yadav.
In another corner, a white kurta clad man spoke about Ambedkar and how the Dalits have always been marginalised. Next to the bodies of the two kids, village women heard him patiently, shook heads — their faces covered. A group of youths discussed how they are treated as untouchables. “When there is a function at a Thakur’s house and we are invited there is always a separate food tent for us. Such is the discrimination. They live in tall buildings and harass our women from their terrace,” said a youth.
Other men said that fights often break out between young boys when they are taunted about their caste or their sisters are harassed. “There are about 60 Dalit families here and everyone has come together. It is time for us to speak out. We have shown our strength now,” said Ram Singh, one of the elders from the Dalit families.
A few houses away, most of the 400-odd Thakur families chose to avoid the cameras. Their doors were locked. One could hear news channels reporting the VIP visits and heavy police security in the area.
“Yes the caste divide is clear, as has been since we lived here. But this is a case of two families who have fought for years because of their egos. But everyone has forgotten the history of these families. It is suddenly a caste war now,” a man from a Thakur family said.
Late in evening, hours after Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi , Yogendra Yadav and Brinda Karat had left, police managed to clear the crowd outside Jitender’s house. Television reporters sat huddled in another corner. It looked as if normalcy would slowly return to this village. An hour later, a red beacon car with his convoy of a seven cars drove in. The villagers immediately returned to Jitender’s house.
Stepping out of the car was Haryana minister Ram Bilas Sharma.