The gang rape of four girls, including two minors from Dalit community of Bhagana village in Hisar district, which recently caught the nation's attention after the Dalits held a protest at Jantar Manter in Delhi, has further strained the relations between the upper and the lower castes of the village.
The hostility between two castes—Jats (upper) and Dhanuk and Chamar (lower) is such that youngsters from both communities do not see eye to eye, while elders who used to solve complex issues in a joint panchayat till recent past, no longer share speaking terms.
As per details, the police had arrested five persons from Jat community on March,29, after they were charged with abducting and raping girls aged between 13 to 19 from Dhanuk community on March,23 night when they had gone to relieve themselves in the agriculture fields after sunset.
Based on a DSP-level probe after the complaint, the police arrested the accused after rape was confirmed with two of the girls (one of who was minor), out of four who were found missing from their home and were later recovered at Bathinda railway station.
However, Virender Bagoria, one of the residents, who has been playing a key role in raising the issue, charged the police with hushing up the matter for serving in the interest of the dominating caste. He said that the village head Rakesh Panghal from the Jat community connived with the accused arrested by the police. "He even threatened the rape victims not report the matter," said Bagoria.
However, Panghal, 31, had a different story to tell. He claimed that it was he who put up efforts in recovering the victims from Punjab. He charged Bagoria and Satish Kajal, leaders from the Dalit community, for playing up the rape issue to settle old score with him. Infact, an assistant superintendent of police probe gave him a clean chit, saying Panghal wasn't involved in the case.
A row erupted May 21, 2012 between Jats and Chamar community over the possession of Shamlat land. Vikram and Jaivir, both aged 25, from Chamar community said a Khap panchayat had issued a diktat to banish their entry at the common facilities like drinking water from wells, using pond for animals, grass from agriculture fields for animals and employment at their farms. He said that forced by circumstances, more than 100 families from lower caste had deserted the village and shifted to a base outside Hisar mini-secretariat for demand of land in urban area in wake of their safety.
Kitab Singh, former Bhagana sarpanch from Dalit community, said the issue was searing up between the two communities and could be solved at village level only after forming a consensus on common disputed issues. On existing atmosphere in the village, he said youngsters of both the communities weren't on good terms with each other. "They do not let elders take charge to settle the issue," he said.
Shamsher Panghal, 54, from the Jat community, rued that the media was giving their village and community a bad name by reporting that a particular caste members were not allowed to enter into the farms. He said most of them were working in a harmonious way as usual, while a section of them, who did not wish to work, were putting up protest in Delhi and Hisar.
The protesters are demanding compensation for the rape victims. They are demanding free education and rehabilitation for the victims. Apart, they are also demanding land, housing facilities and jobs for Bhagana village families who had left the village in 2012 after the land row.
Virender Bagoria said they did not think they could be safe in the village that was dominated by the Jat community. "Administration should take strict action against those who forced them flee their village," he said.
Hisar district social welfare officer Dalip Singh said the administration had extended giving monetary help to the Dalits as prescribed in the norms of SC/ST commission. "Compensation has also been entrusted for rape victims. Elaborate security arrangements were in place at the village to avert any untoward situation," he said.