The dalits of Mavikala in Uttar Pradesh’s Baghpat constituency are living in fear. They have complained to the police that they are being pressured not to vote, but the police aren’t taking them seriously.
“We have asked for extra security on polling day, but nothing has been promised yet,” said Gulab, who uses only one name, a resident of the harijan choupal or Dalit enclave of the village, located barely 60 km east of Delhi.
He was surrounded by a host of neighbours, who all nodded emphatically as he spoke, but refused to reveal their names to HT.
“We’ve all been told not to vote,” said Gulab. “I know I could be victimised for speaking out. Hamare mein unko challenge karne ka dam nahin hai (we aren’t capable on taking them on).”
He was referring to the Jats, who, despite being a mere 15 per cent of the population in the constituency, dominate the political process. Until a decade or so ago, Baghpat was notorious for the ‘peaceful rigging’ it practiced — there were no clashes on polling day, no complaints to the election commission, simply because the Dalits hardly ever stepped into the polling booths. They were told to stay away while the Jats cast votes on their behalf — and most of them obeyed.
With the rise of the Bahujan Samaj Party, the tradition is no longer strictly followed, but as Mavikala, with a population of 8,000, demonstrated, it has not died out altogether.
“It is a conspiracy by the Dalits,” said station officer Phul Singh of the Baleni police station, which is investigating the complaint. A Jat himself, his mind is made up. “They are spreading these rumours to pressure the administration,” he added. “There is a land dispute this Gulab and his friend Kallu are involved in. They want it settled in their favour.”
He was considering booking Gulab under sections 107 and 116 of the Indian Penal Code for spreading rumours.
There were will be three polling booths at Mavikala when Baghpat votes on May 7. “In past elections there have always been Jats waiting on the route we take to the booths,” said Gulab. “Their expressions tell us clearly what they expect us to do — return home.”