Even as Haryana burns in the wake of the ongoing Jat quota agitation, the panic-stricken residents of Rohtak district have decided to prepare themselves for the worst. Compounding their fears is the fact that even emergency helplines have gone dead.
“It’s scary. We hear that they are burning all the vehicles on the roads. As neither the police SOS number (100) nor the women’s helpline (1091) are working, we have little choice but to look out for ourselves,” said Rajesh Dutt, a resident of Sector-I who spent the previous night guarding his locality along with 20 co-residents.
The Jat agitation for OBC status in Haryana entered the eighth day on Sunday, even as the death toll rose to nine. Curfew was declared in several parts of the state, but incidents of violence continued to occur unabated.
With agitators targeting all the non-Jat communities in the state, including that of chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar, not many want to take the situation for granted. The worst-affected are Punjabi-dominated areas, where shops have been set ablaze and residents live in constant fear of home invasions.
“We have formed a group of 500 people to guard our market. Miscreants set some shops on fire yesterday, but fled as soon as they heard the sound of gunfire. However, before leaving, they threatened to come back and finish the job,” said Gaurav Pruthi, a shop owner at Rohtak Camp.
In other parts of the city, agitators ransacked and burned down many major commercial establishments – including Skytech Mall, McDonalds, Gulab Sweets and Pappu Bakery. As a result, many markets remained shut, causing a palpable resource-crunch among residents. While some faced shortage of milk, others ran out of grains and vegetables.
Meanwhile, paranoia ran hand-in-hand with actual fears; there were rumours that agitators had contaminated the district’s water reservoir with toxins. “Our relatives have been asking us over the phone to boil water before drinking it because there are reports of Jagdish Colony residents falling ill after consuming it,” said Sarika Arora, another resident.
Residents of the district allege that the agenda of the Jat movement has shifted from seeking reservations to indiscriminate looting and arson. Many commercial units, ranging from alcohol shops to garment showrooms and bank ATMS, have been robbed – resulting in losses extending over thousands of crores of rupees. However, the agitators faced local resistance in certain parts of the state.
At Dhigawa village in Bhiwani district, a few miscreants were attacked by villagers while attempting to destroy a State Bank of Patiala ATM machine. “When they couldn’t rob the ATM, they set it ablaze. Fortunately, we managed to get there on time and douse the flames. One of the villagers, Virender Kumar, was injured in the incident,” said Mahavir Prashad, a resident of Dhigawa village.
Certain parts of Rohtak district witnessed blackouts after agitators cut the power lines. And, with police and army personnel yet to make an appearance in the region, its residents have no choice but to sit tight and wait for the violence to abate.