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Bhagana Dalits' protest losing steam

With two worn-out charpoys, a few utensils and dirty sacks of clothes - all lying in the open - a protest site here bear the sign of a struggle losing steam.

india Updated: May 20, 2013 23:29 IST
Surender Sharma
Surender Sharma
Hindustan Times

With two worn-out charpoys, a few utensils and dirty sacks of clothes - all lying in the open - a protest site here bear the sign of a struggle losing steam.

Some 15 to 20 Dalits from Bhagana village, 18 km from here, are sitting on a dharna outside the deputy commissioner (DC) office. The thin presence is in contrast to last year when nearly 125 families of Dalit agricultural labourers camped outside the DC office.

On May 21 last year, landless Dalit agricultural labourers packed their bags, locked their homes and sat on protest in the city in protest against the "grab" of 'shamlat' land (village common land) by land-owning Jats of the village and social boycott they were subjected to. One year hence, there seems to be no end to their problems. "We have been left to fend for ourselves," said Ram Kishan Kajla, 68.

Then why are they still hanging on? "It is a do-or-die situation now. If not us, let's get something for our coming generation so that they can lead a respectable life," said septuagenarian Jogi Ram.

The one year of social boycott has robbed Dalits of their means to livelihood. Most of them sold off their cattle, whose milk is Dalit's source of income, to make ends meet. This was not all. Nearly 200 students from the community either had to drop out for one year or appeared as private candidates. "Most of the families could not dare to go back and send their children in Bhagana's schools, fearing violence," said Satish Kajla, , who has completed post-graduation in Sanskrit and had to leave his studies to join the protest.

Since May last year, Dalits have petitioned all and sundry but to no avail. They have also protested near Jantar Mantar in New Delhi for more than two months last year. "We have approached officials of the district administration and political bigwigs in Delhi but nothing came out of it," Kajla said, adding that some state leaders tried to resolve the issue but could not.

On the administration's promise that things would turn for good, nearly 50 families had returned to the village in September last year. "They are still victims of social boycott," Kajla said. "They (Jats) keep on creating problems for us. My eldest son was booked in December last year in a false case. We face problems in fetching water for daily needs," said Jaiveer, 44, who went back to village with his family.

Those who returned to the village were given temporary jobs under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) but were not allowed to take up work in their own village, Dalits at the protest site said, adding that majority of them walked up to 10 km from the village to find work.

"Nothing has changed. The administration's promise was a hogwash. Sometimes, I think why we came back," said Kunal, 22, who lives with his mother in the village.

The "indifferent" attitude of the district administration and the Haryana government towards their plight forced many protesters to shift base to another village. "It became difficult to feed all of them here (at the protest site). Of those who live here, some work as rag pickers in nearby colonies," said Kajla.

For those who are still sitting on protest, returning to the village is not an option. "If we go to the village now, they (Jats) will not remain silent. We will be tortured like before," said Virender Bagoria, Haryana Kumhar Mahasabha president, who has been leading the agitation.

They are still resolute on their demands. "Register cases against Jats under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities Act) and fulfill the state government's promise of giving 100-yard plots of Dalits so that our people can lead a dignified life," he said.

He has lost hope that the state government will meet their demands. "Now, our only hope is judiciary. We are going to approach the Supreme Court," Bagoria added.

ML Kaushik, who is holding the additional charge of deputy commissioner, said that he was looking into the matter. "I learnt about the issue a couple of days ago, when I took the additional charge of the district. I have been trying to ascertain different dimensions of the issue," he said, adding that representatives of the both communities should come forward to resolve the issue.

First Published: May 20, 2013 23:28 IST