Dangawas village in Nagaur district is calm. Three weeks after six people were killed when Jats brutally attacked Dalits over a decades - old land dispute, a police picket pitched in Meghwal mohalla is a stark reminder of the violence. Scratch the surface and social tensions in the village, 200 km west of Jaipur, are palpable.
There is a sense of unease among Meghwals or Dalits and the Jats, who are uncomfortable talking about the May 14 incident.
On that day, a group of 200 Jats on foot and riding tractors, armed with sticks and iron rods, attacked Ratnaram Meghwal’s family, which was camping on a piece of land about 4 km outside the village. According to the Jats, the Meghwal family had forcibly occupied their 23 bighas.
The police picket keeps an eye on the Meghwal area of Dangawas. Outside the house of Khemaram Meghwal, a small group of men sit on a dari to mark the 12-day mourning period for Khemaram’s son Ganesh, who died in an Ajmer hospital last week. Khemaram himself is still hospitalised.
Inside the modest brick home, Ganesh’s widow Malu Devi, 21, sits huddled in a corner. She cradles her four-month old daughter, her face covered with her pink odhni. Ganesh’s mother, Ram Kanwari Devi, sits next to her with other women around them, providing support and succour.
The photo shows Ganesh Meghwal's mother, his wife and child at their home at Dangawas. The women refused to talk but Ganesh’s younger brother Narendra said they were unaware of the incident. (Deepak Sharma/ HT Photo)
Ganesh’s wife met him only once in hospital before he died.
Asked if the Jats made any overtures or if the sarpanch took an initiative to hold talks, Ram Kanwari suddenly says in an angry tone, “The sarpanch stopped the police from coming to our aid on that day. What help was the sarpanch or the police? They are hand in glove.”
The Meghwals say the police, all of whom are Jats, deliberately arrived 45 minutes after the violence broke out even though the police station is just 5 km away.
Narendra, pursuing his graduation in nearby Merta city, says they are afraid the Jats might attack them again. “What will happen when they remove the police?” he asks. That seems to be the overriding concern.
Sugnaram Meghwal, another resident of the villages, too says they are still fearful: “We are anxious. We fear that the Jats might attack us again.”
According to a 2012 report of the Union ministry of social justice and empowerment, Rajasthan has the country’s highest number of cases of atrocities against Dalits, with 51.4 registered cases for every lakh people.
Dangawas is a reflection of the complex social and caste weave of India. There are around 500 to 600 Meghwals and about 1,800 Jats in the village. The Jats are the landlords while the Meghwals are farm workers.
The Jats provide employment and the money that the Meghwals are in desperate need of. Though the two groups are interdependent, it is not a relationship of equals. The Jats are socially, economically and politically dominant.
Near Ganesh’s house lives Hanuman Meghwal, whose younger son got married on May 25. The village’s former sarpanch, a Jat named Ramkaran Kamedia, proudly says he gave Rs 1 lakh for the marriage.
“Hanuman’s wife is the muh-boli behen of one of my nephews. Jats and Meghwals have (had) social relations since decades. We cannot survive without each other,” says Kamedia, sitting in his spacious house. His daughter-in-law is the current sarpanch.
Hanuman says Jat families traditionally give small sums of money to Dalit families for weddings. “He (Kamedia) sent money and gifts for the wedding. They would have also attended the wedding but we asked them not to as it would lead to more tension. Only one person came from their family,” he says.
But the ties are tenuous at best, and work as long as there is no challenge to the status quo or established social norms.
Hanuman denies any coercion by the Jats and says the two communities are interdependent, but his comment is telling: “Others (police, media and activists) will go. We have to live in this village only.”
Kamedia says, “Jats and Meghwals have lived together for ages. We can’t survive without each other. We are ashamed of the incident. But why did the Meghwals get aggressive and forcibly occupy the land when the matter is in court?”
The police and administration have faced stark criticism for mishandling the situation. Villagers, rights activists and Dalit groups question why police delayed in reaching the site of the clashes, and why superintendent of police Raghvendra Suhasa and collector Rajan Vishal did not act to prevent the violence or visit Dangawas after the violence.
Chief functionary of the Centre for Dalit Rights, PL Mimroth, says the state government attempted to downplay the incident under pressure from the police, local administration and Jat politicians.
“The collector visited only the day the National Commission for Scheduled Castes chairperson, PL Punia, visited Dangawas and questioned the administration’s laxity,” said Mimroth.
It was only after Punia’s visit and protests by activists that the state government suspended police officials in Merta and wrote to the Central Bureau of Investigation to take over the probe. A 25-member CBI team is now in Dangawas to investigate.