27 years on, Rudayan dalits to celebrate Holi
In 1990, a dalit, Data Ram, was burnt alive for applying colour to an upper caste villager. On Feb 15, the sessions court sentenced the guilty
About twenty-seven years ago, on March 11, 1990, a dalit of Rudayan village in Hathras district applied colour to an upper caste villager on the occasion of Holi. The mistake cost him not just his life but the ruination of other fellow dalits. Data Ram was burnt alive and the houses of 42 dalit families residing in the village were reduced to ashes. They never dared to celebrate Holi again.
But this year, the dalits of Rudayan village will play with colours just like the rest of the country.
The reason: On February 15, 2017, the court of the third additional district and sessions judge SN Tripathi in Aligarh awarded death penalty to one Kunwar Pal and life imprisonment to 13 others accused of the 27-year-old carnage in the village. The jubilant dalits will celebrate the judgement by playing Holi. They have demanded protection from authorities so that they can enjoy the day without any fear of reprisal.
Hari Shankar, Data Ram’s brother said, “For 27 years, the villagers have not celebrated Holi or Diwali. But after the court’s order, our confidence has returned. This year, we will play with colours. We have demanded security from the administration.”
Located just 2km from Sasni town, with a population of 5,000, Rudayan village has three government schools, electricity supply, roads as well as a primary health centre. But, even today, one can sense the caste tension in the area. The March 1990 incident tore apart the social fabric of the village. However, with time, the hatred between upper castes and dalits slowly began to abate. Until now, when tension has again raised its ugly head after the sessions court judgement.
The dalits are keeping their fingers crossed that nothing untoward would happen to disrupt the fragile peace of their village. Ramwati, a villager, told HT, “In 27 years, the memories of the incident have blurred. In this time, our village has seen quite a bit of development also. Now, after the court’s judgment, we are hoping that the social fabric of the village continues to remain intact.”
After the ghastly incident, Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati had staged dharna in the village. The caste politics was at its zenith at the time. Mayawati’s involvement gave the issue the attention that it deserved and also helped speed up action against the injustice that had been inflicted on the dalits. However, there were allegations that after ‘Behanji’ (Mayawati) became the chief minister of UP, she did not extended any further assistance, especially financial help, to the victim families.
With all the dalit families having lost their homes, taking the fight to the court was an uphill task. However, they collected donations and managed to drag the accused to the court.
As far as compensation was concerned, a meagre Rs 10,000 was given to Data Ram’s family, while only Rs 2,000 each were granted to those who lost their houses.
Today, the villagers are happy with the sessions court verdict. But at the same time, they are fearful of any possible revenge from upper castes. They are also worried about the possibility of the legal fight being taken to high court. “With passing years, interaction between us and the Brahmins and Thakurs has resumed. However, we carried on with legal proceedings against the accused and refused to make any compromise. Now, justice has been delivered. But we will be unable to plead the case in high court,” said Hari Shankar.
Prime accused’s wife refuses charge
Meanwhile, Saroj Devi, wife of Kunwar Pal, the only accused to have been awarded the death penalty in the case, said that her husband was innocent. “Police have accused the wrong man. Those who actually committed arson and murder are safe. My husband has been very ill for a long time. He cannot even walk.”