Ground Report by Anil Kumar
Casteist oppression and boycott is not new to India. No government has the right to boycott any section of the citizens. Nor are governments expected to do so – not even in a monarchy. Not only the theory of social contract but modern Constitutionalism also insists that the modern state is born of a contract between society and government and no state can deny basic civil rights to its citizens, much less deprive them of the ones they already enjoy.
Even the British government never denied the status of citizens to any section of the people of India. But what happened with the residents of Mirchpur, Jhajjhar and Gohana in Haryana shows that both the state and the central governments have refused to treat these hapless, deprived and exploited peoples as citizens. The same is the case with the Tribals of Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. They central and state governments don’t consider them citizens and they have abdicated their duty of securing their basic civic rights to them.
Here, our focus is on Mirchpur village in Haryana’s Hisar district. The Jat community has been boycotting the Valmiki residents of this village, about 140 km from the national capital. They do not own any land. They earn their livelihood by working the fields of the Jats. Whenever they try to break free from this bonded labour, the dominant communities react in a violent manner. They face economic boycott, which includes not hiring them or paying them low wages or offering them work on impossible terms.
Jats and other well-to-do castes are landowners in this area and they ensure that even if a member of the Valmiki community acquires education, gets a job and starts earning, he is not allowed to purchase land. This is also a part of their social and economic boycott. The same pattern is visible in Punjab and in the tribal-dominated states. In Punjab, the Scheduled Castes (SCs) had to wage a long struggle for securing their right to own land and the Tribals are still engaged in a bitter and arduous battle for saving their lands. In 2016, the Samajwadi Party Government of Uttar Pradesh abrogated the law that allowed only SCs and STs (Scheduled Tribes) to purchase land from members of these communities. The BJP government of Jharkhand has proposed amendments in the law that would allow SCs and OBCs to buy land from the Tribals in some areas of the state. These two instances show how ownership of land is linked to dignity and social status in rural India.
It is not that only Jats or other dominant castes boycott Valmikis or other SCs. The prosperous SC castes also boycott the extremely exploited and deprived SC castes. This social boycott sometimes assumes the form of ignoring the problems of the deprived communities. The displaced residents of Mirchpur told us that the parties and individuals doing politics in the name of Dalits and describing themselves as their well-wishers also did nothing for them. They just came, saw and vanished. Among the visitors were Kumari Selja and Ramvilas Paswan. Mayawati promised to meet them in Delhi but backed out later. I was also among those who tried to meet Mayawati on this issue. As far as I know, all these leaders are SCs but belong to the relatively prosperous sections of the community. They are neither from the Valmiki caste nor are as oppressed as them. No prominent political leader in the country hails from the Valmiki community. If there is one person who has given voice to the voiceless Valmikis it is Vedpal Singh Tanwar – and he is a Rajput!
2010 and after
The tale of horrendous, inhuman excesses of the Jats on the Valmiki community began on 21 April 2010.
The Jats burnt down 18 Valmiki houses, killing a man and a daughter in one of the houses. The Jats mercilessly thrashed the young boys of the Valmiki community, urinated in their mouths and forced them to eat human faeces. The women and girls were molested and gang-raped. When I visited the village two days later, I was told that the Jats routinely abducted Valmiki girls and entire families rape them. In many cases, the Jats abducted their girls and then abandoned them completely naked two or three or four days later. The students of social sciences are taught that while conducting research, they should be completely neutral and objective and should not allow their emotions or feelings to come into play. But I could not remain “objective” and “neutral”. I switched off my camera even as they broke into sobs.
I again met them on 5-6 April 2017. Despite offering stiff resistance and putting up a valiant struggle, ultimately, they had to give in. They left Mirchpur and took sanctuary in Vedpal Singh Tanwar’s farmhouse in Hisar. It seemed as if Mirchpur is not in India and that the writ of the governments of India and Haryana do not run there.
Tanwar told us that the Valmiki victims of casteist violence have been living in his farmhouse since April 2011. He meets all their expenses incurred on power and water supply, medical treatment, marriages, childbirths and last rites. All those seeking refuge here we talked to said that Tanwar is their government. Obviously, when society has deprived them of their social rights and the government has taken away their citizenship rights, someone else will become their government. The elected governments are doing nothing for them – neither for their security nor for their healthcare and education. In fact, for them, the governments do not seem to exist.
Sometimes when a person flees one country and moves to another after committing a crime, the former demands that the person be handed over to it. If the demand is not complied with and if the country seeking repatriation is powerful, it could even launch an invasion on the other. Ditto with Tanwar. The Haryana government did everything possible to harass and intimidate him. When that did not work, he was accused of treason and a case foisted on him. If giving sanctuary to victims of casteist violence is treason, then we will have to redefine patriotism. Whose country is this? And hurting exactly whose interests makes one a traitor to the country?
During Congress’ rule in the state, a couple of gun-toting cops were deployed in Mirchpur for the security of the Valmikis. When the Valmikis moved the Chandigarh High Court demanding their rehabilitation, the Haryana Government told the court that it had spent crores on providing security to them. The Court sarcastically asked the government whether the guns would fill the stomachs of the Valmikis. The case is still dragging on in the court.
The victims told us that, as the Jats had run amok during the Congress rule in the state, they had voted for the BJP in the last Lok Sabha and Assembly polls. The BJP government has completed almost half its term but has done nothing for the Valmikis. However, they have not lost hope, not yet at least.
Meanwhile, the rise of a non-Jat political leadership in Haryana, including the likes of Rajkumar Saini, inspires some hope. Rajesh Kashyap, a Rohtak-based journalist, told us that non-Jat social and political forces are on the upswing in Haryana. The battle lines have been drawn. On one side are the Jats and on the other side are 35 non-Jat communities. The Valmiki community of Hisar has great hopes from this new sociopolitical equation. They are also planning to meet Union Ministers Ramdas Athawale and Upendra Kushwaha. Whether they would get justice is anybody’s guess.
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