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Mirchpur: Assertion and Retaliation

A year and half later, national attention has shifted away from Mirchpur and its anti-dalit violence. This contribution from the states looks at the perseverance of caste domination and hegemony which has derailed the process of justice even after the judicial proceedings were shifted out of Haryana. In parallels eerily similar to Gujarat, the author finds a collusion between state power and the powerful accused.

FROM THE STATES

Mirchpur: Assertion and Retaliation

Bhupendra Yadav

group categories like caste and religion, not on acquired groupings like social class and secular communities. Yet, the extent of solidarity and collusion of elements in the government with the accused shook us up, most notably in the post-Godhra Gujarat carnage of 2002. In the case of

A year and half later, national attention has shifted away from Mirchpur and its anti-dalit violence. This contribution from the states looks at the perseverance of caste domination and hegemony which has derailed the process of justice even after the judicial proceedings were shifted out of Haryana. In parallels eerily similar to Gujarat, the author finds a collusion between state power and the powerful accused.

Bhupendra Yadav (byadav57@gmail.com) teaches history at Maharshi Dayanand University, Rohtak.

H
ell broke loose in Mirchpur village (Hisar district, Haryana) after Ruby, a dog belonging to Balmikis (a dalit caste), barked at 8 pm on 19 April 2010, offending some dominant caste Jat residents. Two days later, this dog-bark led to a premeditated arson and looting of the Balmiki basti by a 300 strong mob of young Jats. More than a dozen houses were set afire. Most Balmikis at Mirchpur had sensed danger and ran away to avoid physical harm. Yet, two Balmikis were burnt alive – a polio-stricken 16-year-old school student, Suman, and her 60-yearold father, Tara Chand who lost his life trying to save his daughter from the raging fires.

This is bad enough as it comes in the aftermath of the burning of 53 Balmiki houses at Gohana (Sonipat district, Haryana) on 31 August 2005. But what makes the event worse is the way the administration behaved after the incident. The government claims that Haryana is among the better governed states of India, yet the administration turned a deaf ear to forewarnings of reprisals and entreaties for help from beleaguered Balmikis of Mirchpur and a police party of 40 stood by watching when a mob of 300 attacked the dalits of Mirchpur.

What is most disturbing is that there are no clear answers from those in power to the question: why has the government failed to ensure protection for Balmiki complainants and witnesses after the event, so that they could depose fearlessly and truthfully in court? A searing indictment of the Haryana government’s collusion with the accused came when the Supreme Court, on 9 December 2010, ordered that the case be shifted out of Haryana (Sedhuraman 2010).

We know that one of the traits of Indian democracy is the continuance of group sentiment which rests mostly on ascriptive

july 30, 2011

Gujarat, the help of prosecutors to the accused was so blatant that Supreme Court transferred some important cases out of the state.

The same has happened in the Mirchpur case in Haryana as well. It is a shame that 42 khap organisations and some Jat Mahasabhas opposed the order of the Supreme Court to shift the case out of Haryana by jamming rail and road traffic for two weeks in January 2011. However, even when the evidence was recorded afresh after the case was shifted to Delhi, the complainant could not be persuaded to depose the truth in court. But the miscarriage of justice in Haryana does not end here.

Leave alone collusion by elements in the government with the accused, the kith and kin of the victims turned accomplices of the aggressors. It is a horrifying illustration of the everyday violence which pervades that 16 out of the 31 witnesses produced by the accused were Balmikis (Dainik Bhaskar 2011). The shocking fact is that a large number of the kith and kin of the Balmiki victims became accomplices of the aggressor Jats. Jats collectively seem to enjoy domination, hegemony and more over the lowest castes in the part of Haryana where Mirchpur is located. The recent events, therefore, prod us to ask what makes caste so special in Haryana? What makes the power of the dominant Jat organisations so totalitarian in this state? And what are the political implication of the events in Haryana since 21 April 2010?

Cultural Mess or Social Change

The making of Balmikis is a story of the lowliest seeking respectability through origin myths and image makeover. Valmiki, the legendary author of the epic Ramayana, is the godhead of the community. But, even though he scripted one of India’s two epics, his caste fellows were not considered

vol xlvi no 31

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Economic & Political Weekly

FROM THE STATES

intellectual workers. In the 19th century, the Balmikis were called Chuhras. They were largely landless rural workers. They worked as house menials, farmhands, looked after the cattle, made dung cakes and swept the area in which they worked. Declared non-agriculturists by the Punjab Land Alienation Act of 1900, the Chuhras got displaced and migrated to towns. Here instead of upward mobility, they experienced a downward decline. From a variety of jobs they performed in the countryside, now they were seen to have a monopoly over the odious task of sewage cleaning, scavenging and sanitation. It is considered odd if Balmikis aspire for, or actually enjoy, a powerful position, high social status or economic prosperity. Mirchpur has some of these odd Balmikis who arouse the jealousy of the so-called higher castes.

Some Balmikis of Mirchpur have done well. They own small businesses, work in nearby Jind and get fishing rights in the local pond. They have even bagged the contract to host the annual spring festival at the local Phoolan Devi temple. Previously, they were known to keep pigs whose help they took in scavenging and whose meat they ate. Keeping dogs as pets and naming them “Ruby” (whose bark triggered the carnage in Mirchpur) is a very new phenomenon. Yet, even a betteroff Balmiki would angle for a below poverty line card. In front of the Iqbal Singh commission, Pradeep (the son of Tara Chand) accepted that the family’s income was Rs 20,000 per month. On being asked if they had declared this information while acquiring a card, he replied in the negative (Mohan 2010).

Jats, on the other hand, were the first peasant caste to rise to prominence in north-western Indian society. Jats experienced upward mobility from pastoralists to peasants over a millennium, i e, from the 8th century CE till recently. To their status of able peasant proprietors the British colonialists added the tag of a daring martial race and recruited them into the army in large numbers. The green revolution added one more reason to the Jats’ ability to lord it over the rest of society. But a growing number of Jats are now angry at what they feel is the inability of their community to keep up with the globalised, post-industrial world. Some of them have been demanding the tag of “Other Backward Classes” (OBC).

While the size of the already small landholdings is declining in Haryana, there is a concentration of land in the hands of the bigger landlords. The number of government jobs – what Jats usually aspire to – have declined in the last decade and around half of these jobs are reserved. In these circumstances, the demand for OBC status is a sign of desperation of the Jats in Haryana. Prem Chowdhry (2009) encapsulates the fears of the dominant Jats regarding the “rising” dalits in the title of her research article – “First Our Jobs Then Our Girls”.

A few Balmiki families are ascending but a big section among Jats is declining economically. This has implications for the status and power enjoyed by these sections. But, more importantly, it is leading to strange assertions and odd contentions. A section of Jats leads in making delirious accusations against others. In April 2010, a visiting investigative reporter was told by a young advocate in Mirchpur, “Dalits set fire to their own homes for the sake of compensation. These Dheds will kill their own for the sake of money” (Anand 2010). In May this year, at a farewell party of management students at Hisar, one student stopped the dance and music. He claimed to hail from Mirchpur and, without any provocation, said controversial things about Balmikis (Dainik Bhaskar 2011). Caste prejudice appears to trump modern education, especially when confronted with such socio-economic upheavals.

Political Churning

As we have seen, the police and prosecution, instead of doing their job, have actually gone out of their way to help the accused. The modern associations which initiated protests against killings and arson in Mirchpur were the employees’ associations of Faridabad and Yamunanagar Municipal Boards, along with their federation, Haryana Sarv Karamchari Sangh (The Tribune 2010). This just proves that with the induction of dalits in government jobs through reservation, these employees’ associations have become a little sensitive to oppression of vulnerable sections.

One particularly worrisome aspect has been that some Jat women were seen in the forefront with aggressors at Mirchpur and many such women participated in the agitation to jam traffic in January 2011. The political activism of these women have turned them from objects to subjects of history but regrettably in parochial caste politics and is eerily similar to what we witnessed in Gujarat in 2002.

Caste, we know, unites and divides a people. Among the Jats it worked as an adhesive. But caste caused differences among the dalits. Why have the 350 households of another dalit caste, the Chamars, in Mirchpur not raised their voice in support of the 150 Balmiki families? The answer probably is to be found in the intricacies of inter-caste competition to bag the few reserved seats in government jobs and educational institutions, where the Chamars dominate.

Bahujan Samaj Party has some presence in Haryana politics but has drawn little support in elections. Balmikis traditionally vote for Congress and a government of this party rules Haryana since 2005. Yet, Balmikis have been subjected to two attacks on their life and property, viz, at Gohana in August 2005 and at Mirchpur in April 2010. Only time will tell whether this will produce anger against Congress among dalits, starting with the Balmikis. Haryana can go the way of Uttar Pradesh.

References

Anand, S (2010): “Mirchpur: A Dog Story”, Open, 1 May.

Chowdhry, Prem (2009): “‘First Our Jobs Then Our Girls’: The Dominant Caste Perceptions on the ‘Rising’ Dalits”, Modern Asian Studies, 43, 2, March.

Dainik Bhaskar (2011): Hisar, 4 May.

– (2011): Hisar, 2 June. Mohan, Raman (2010): “Mirchpur Case: More Witnesses Turn Hostile”, The Tribune, 4 December.

Sedhuraman, R (2010): “SC: Mirchpur Trial To Be Shifted”, The Tribune, 8 December.

– (2010): “Mirchpur Trial Shifted to Delhi”, The

Tribune, 9 December. The Tribune (2010): 23 April.

  • (2010): 27 April.
  • (2010): “Mirchpur: Complainant Refuses to Identify Accused”, 5 November.
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