Nearly 60 Dalit farmers of Baja Khana have been charged with the theft of their own crop that they harvested in the presence of the district police. Amid fears of arrest, the poor men guard their produce round the clock, and see political vendetta in their harassment.
The fight for justice is costing them their daily wages and jobs. The tillers are wary of the police taking away the yield as recovered.
On April 26, on the complaint of Prog Singh, who claims to be sole cultivator of the land, the Baja Khana police had charged the 60 men with stealing wheat crop. on records, the land belongs to the state government and the Dalits have been tilling it for the past many years.
The farmers want the police to cancel the first-information report against them and register a case against Prog Singh instead on a charge of making a false claim. The police officers, including the then station house officer Gurpreet Singh and ASI Baldev Singh, who were present when the farmers collected their harvest, made a case against 60 persons a day after.
The suspects included 35 charged under Sections 379 (theft), 447 (criminal trespass), 427 (mischief causing a petty amount of damage), and 149 (unlawful assembly) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
Complainant Prog Singh claims to have won the land-ownership case in the high court in July 2002. However, the judgment (COCP 1721, 1998) states only that "the contempt petition is dismissed as withdrawn". In April 2009, a lower court passed a verdict that the Dalits owned the land.
ASI Baldev Singh, who was investigating officer when the Dalit farmers harvested the crop in his presence, terminated the call when HT reached him on phone for comments. He took no further calls from the reporter.
Gurcharan Singh, station house officer of Baja Khana, appealed over telephone to ask his munshi about the case. "Complainant Prog Singh told us he had won the case in the high court, while the matter is pending in the court of civil judge Sushma Devi," said investigating officer ASI Daljit Singh.
"On April 26, we charged nearly 60 people in the case and a long time ago, have released on bail the four men we had arrested. We are looking forward to the cancellation of the FIR against all suspects."
"Our harassment is because of political vendetta," said farmer Veeru Singh. "Prog Singh has strong links with local leaders of the state's ruling party, so the police acted on his complaint without caring to see any proof of him winning the case. Besides compensation, we want the false FIR cancelled and the erring police officials punished."
In batches, the farmers guard their crop. "The harvest is almost damaged," said Veeru Singh. "The vigil has kept us from earning our daily bread."