UP Chief Minister Mayawati and her officers may have heaved a sigh of relief at BKU leader Mahendra Singh Tikait’s decision to surrender at a Bijnore court, ending the three-day standoff over his arrest. But for Dalits in his village, the fear of a backlash from the Jats who constitute the bulk of BKU supporters looms large.
Sisauli, the BKU chief’s native village, has a population of over 2,000 Dalits. The Jats and the Dalits have been living together peacefully for years. But Tikait’s face-off with Mayawati has given rise to suspicion and put relations under strain.
Tikait’s son Rakesh said Dalits and Choudharys have lived together peacefully and neither community can survive without the other. He admitted the situation in many villages in Saharanpur was tense, but denied that Dalits in their village were in any kind of danger.
“We had no grudges against the Choudharys and both communities were living peacefully until the recent incident,” said Rohtash, a mason. “We have not gone to work for three days.”
His wife Kusum, a labourer, has also avoided going to work in the fields of her Choudhary landlord. The worried couple hopes the situation will return to normal soon. “We are daily wage earners and cannot survive too long without work,” said Kusum.
Like Rohtash and Kusum, many other Dalit families are dependent on village Choudharys for their livelihood. Most of the land is owned by them and Dalits work as labourers.
Some Dalits work in brick kilns, also owned by Choudharys. Others who keep cattle for additional income bank on the Choudharys for fodder.
Fear has also gripped 50-year-old Ilmo. She has stopped reporting for work in her Choudhary landlord’s fields. She used to earn Rs 50 a day and this was sufficient to sustain her and her blind husband Jagram. Ilmo insisted that peace should be restored immediately.
Sohan and his two sons who work in a brick kiln have not gone to work for three days. “Due to the prevailing tension, we fear for our lives and are thus, forced to sit at home with no work,” said Sohan, adding Dalits in the nearby villages of Mundbhar, Bhura and Bhaurakhurd are facing similar problems.
Most Dalits feel “dialogue” would be the best way to resolve the crisis. Jagat Singh, senior vice-president of the Rashtriya Lok Dal, feels Mayawati’s autocratic style of functioning may cause problems for Dalits, leading to their being ostracised. “Misuse of power has polarised the upper castes and OBCs against Dalits in the region,” he said.