Thursday, October 17, 2002

AIDWA on dalit lynching

REPORT OF THE LEFT PARTIES DELEGATION TO DULEENA, JHAJJAR DISTRICT HARYANA ON OCTOBER 17 IN PROTEST AGAINST DALIT LYNCHING ATROCITY.

Following the report of the killings of five dalits, namely Sri Dayachand, Sri Virendra, Sri Tota Ram, Sri Raju and Sri Kailash between 9 and 10pm on October 15, in the police chowki of Duleena in the district of Jhajjar, Haryana a joint delegation of the CPI(M) and the CPI visited the affected area on October 17 along with leaders of the All India Democratic Women's Association to express solidarity with the victims and to register its strong protest and condemnation of the ghastly crime. It was the first delegation that visited the families. Shockingly, other political parties in Haryana have preferred to remain silent on the crime. The members of the delegation were Inderjeet Singh and Raghbir Singh Choudhary (Haryana State Secretaries of the CPI(M) and CPI respectively) Brinda Karat (Central Committee member CPI_M and G.Secy of the AIDWA) Dr. Harnam Singh (former MLA-CPI) Jagmati Sangwan, (President, AIDWA Haryana), Balbir Dahiya and Ram Chandra (CPI-M). The delegation visited the site of the killings and met the Superintendent of Police Md. Aqil, his deputy Narendra Singh, the SHO Rajendra Singh and other police personnel. The Deputy Commissioner Mahendra Singh was in Bahadurgarh and therefore unavailable to meet the delegation. The delegation met the family members of two of those killed, Dayachand and Virendra, in the village of Badshahpur and also a large number of people in the village. The delegation also attended a meeting of the residents in the village chaupal.

The reported incident:
On October 15, an animal skin trader, Kailash came to Badshapur village in Gurgaon district to collect a consignment of skins of buffaloes and cows from a licensed skinner Devendra. As is the usual practice some advance was given and the rest of the payment was to be made on delivery. Devendra's brother Virendra and his cousin Dayachand (both skinners) hired a vehicle to take the skins to Karnal and accompanied the trader so as to be able to collect the rest of the payment. The driver of the vehicle was Tota Ram and the conductor was Raju and they left the village at around 11 am. The first stop was in a place called Farroukhnagar where another consignment of skins was picked up. The Duleena chowki was en route to their destination. It is here that the killings took place. According to the police, the trader bought a dead cow from Farroukhnagar. The vehicle was stopped coincidentally quite close to the chowki and the cow was skinned on the main road. A group of people from a neighbouring village reacting to the sight got off their vehicle and started beating up the dalits accusing them of killing of cow slaughter and then dragged them badly injured to the police chowki. This was around 5 or 5.30 pm. At that time there were about five or six police personnel present. Later news spread that a cow had been killed and mobs returning from a Dussehra celebration, some of them drunk, surrounded the chowki, set up road blocks to prevent the dalits being taken out by the police and then beat them to death. According to the police the mobs numbered 4000-5000. The killings took place before three sub-divisional magistrates, the Deputy Superintendent of Police, the SHO and about 60 to 70 police personnel who had been sent there after urgent wireless messages from the chowki. Subsequently an enquiry committee has been formed comprising entirely of police officials, including those present at the site of the killings. At the time of writing this report there have been no arrests.


The preliminary findings of the delegation are as follows:

1. The police version and role is suspect and dubious. There have been earlier occasions when the personnel in the chowki had demanded bribes from animal skin traders, on the pretext of implementing the anti-cow slaughter laws in operation in the State. The charge made on the basis of past experience by the family members of those killed that it was the police personnel present who first beat the dalits because they refused to pay the police requires consideration and investigation.

2. There are many unresolved questions regarding the skinning of the cow that ostensibly triggered the violence. The police version that a dead cow was bought in Farroukhnagar by Kailash the trader and then skinned on the open road is highly unlikely. The trader was interested in getting his consignment valued at about Rs. 40,000 to the delivery destination, the two cousins were more keen to collect the payment and get back home, why should they suddenly buy a dead cow worth Rs. 200 and then stop in the middle of the road to skin it, that too near a police chowki ? Till today the police do not have the name of the person who supposedly sold the dead cow to Kailash. If the cow was being skinned then why do the police not have the knife that was being used? All these issues require investigation.

3. It is possible that a vehicle standing near the chowki filled with animal skins attracted the attention of passersby. It is the Viswa Hindu Parishad members and associated organisations who were directly involved in the spreading of rumours that a cow had been slaughtered and skinned on the open road by Muslims. The background is an ongoing "gou raksha' (cow protection) campaign in the area reminiscent of the one run by the notorious Dara Singh in Orissa, that is blatantly communal and directed against Muslims. The VHP was also directly involved in inciting mob violence as also in mobilizing their members to come to the chowki. They even tried to scratch out the name of a Muslim police officer on the board outside the chowki..VHP members rang up the police and warned them not to release those who had killed cows. A telephone call also came from Delhi from someone claiming to be a "Shankaracharya" to the police with a similar warning.
The involvement of the VHP is further corroborated by the congratulatory procession organised by it the following day in Jhajjar in defence of the killings and demanding that no arrests should be made. It is also necessary to investigate whether there are any links between this killing of dalits to the reported conversion to Islam of 33 dalit families sometime in August in two villages in Mewat.

4. The numbers of those mobilized however requires further corroboration. It is possible that the police is exaggerating the numbers to justify their lack of action. The chowki is a very small one open from all sides and it would not be possible for a small police force to protect it in the face of aggression from a large mob. However the police is unable to explain why it permitted the build —up for four hours and why they did not remove the dalits from the station before the situation became as ugly as it did.

5. The most shocking and disturbing aspect is the complete lack of concern of the state government. Not a single Minister has visited the site. No compensation has been announced for those so brutally killed.

6. It is very clear that the main concern of the police at present under orders from the Government is to "defuse' the situation, a euphemism for not taking action against those involved since it would cause a law and order situation. Thus the new code being set is that the protection of law and order is not by arresting those guilty of a heinous murder, but by not arresting them and bowing before threats of communal criminals.
It is our conviction that there has been a complete suspension of the law of the land as far as this case is concerned. If there have been no arrests in spite of ample evidence of those guilty, it is because of the Government's and the administration's soft approach towards the communalists as also because of the culpability of the police. We demand immediate arrest and prosecution for murder against all those guilty. A timebound CBI investigation into the atrocity must be ordered. The incident provides one more reason why the VHP with its highly provocative slogans and anti-national activities should be banned and its leaders arrested. Action should be taken against all those officials present who utterly failed in their duty to protect the innocent lives of the five dalits. Compensation of Rs. five lakhs should be given to the families of those killed.

Detailed report of the delegation

Solidarity with the families
The delegation visited Badshahpur in Gurgaon district where two of the victims, Dayachand and Virendra had lived. According to the large number of people who we met at the houses of the victims, the families had the support of the entire village regardless of caste. We also met people of different castes at the village who were angry at the incident. They all had the highest praise for the victims, as being extremely hardworking, helpful. There is a large jatav community in the village. Some of them, like the two victims, earn their living by skinning dead animals. The contract for such work is given on tender by the Block Development Officer. In this case it was Virendra's brother Devendra who had got the year long contract for Rs. 35,000 in April this year for 40 villages. The delegation saw the receipt number 035 issued by the BDO. The family were very particular to show the delegation the papers to establish that the entire profession was legal and there was no question of ever skinning a cow in the area outside the jurisdiction of the license, least of all near a police chowki like Duleena, an hour's drive away from their own area. Devendra also has the license for skinning dead animals from the Goushala. He told the delegation that he had accepted the work on a very low payment as a sort of donation to the gaushala. The dead animals are picked up by his team of workers, brought to the land allotted for skinning by the village panchayat, the carcasses are buried by the workers after skinning, the skins are treated with a salt-based mixture and then sold. It is hard, unpleasant work and it provides a crucial service to the community with low payments and even less in terms of social recognition.

Dayachand was working with Devendra for a meager amount. We met his old parents, his wife Saroj and his four children. It was very moving and sad to see the older daughters, Minu and Pinky aged eight and nine, helping their mother and grandmother, carrying their young brother and sister, even while wiping their own eyes that would constantly fill up with tears. This is an extremely poor hardworking family now bereft with the cruel killing. The victims brother Dulchand and his father Budhram, spoke of when at 3.30 in the morning of the 16th the police came knocking at their door to inform them of an "accident' that had involved their son. They as well as Devendra's family were informed that the young men had been admitted to the Jhajjar Civil hospital. No means of transport were provided to take the families to the hospital. Once they managed to reach there they shuttled between the chowki, the thana and the hospital, as there was no official to meet them and inform them of what had happened. Ultimately they were directed to the morgue. Stunned, grieved, shocked they saw the brutalized, wounded bodies of their loved ones. Describing the terrible injuries his brother suffered, Dulchand broke down again and again. The police refused to arrange for a vehicle, leave alone an ambulance to take the dead bodies back to their village. "They treated us as though we were the families of the criminals not the victims", said Jogendra who was present with the other family members. The police did not give them any papers, no copies of the FIR filed.

The savagery, the cruelty of the caste system, the inhumanity, the arrogance of the "pure upper castes" against the "polluted dalits" was brought out in every word spoken by this young man, desperately trying to control his grief. "They gave us his body–naked. We are poor dalits that is why they did not think it necessary to cover my brother even with an old sheet." Young men in the crowd sitting next to us speak out. "These Hindus they make us do their dirty work and then deprive us of even a minimum of dignity" Another speaks "if they love their animals so much let them pick up the carcasses and bury them with full rites", yet another voice " we know this is the VHP and the Bajrang Dal. Why don't they arrest those who brought out the procession yesterday". There is anger expressed, there is protest. Talk moves to organising demonstrations, there is quick agreement. Among those present is Smt. Ramashree, Zila Chairperson. She is distantly related to the victims. She speaks of other cases of atrocities against dalits where the guilty escaped any punishment. She urges the women present to join the protests being planned. The delegation met Virendra's family. His father Rattan lal, his aged mother Ramvati, broken by grief, his wife Lakshmi Devi and their two young sons, his brothers Devendra and Rajesh. The mother kept repeating, but my son was so tall, so strong how could they kill him? She has not been told, that her beloved son was surrounded and beaten to death and his head smashed in by big stones.

No Government official has visited the village, no Minister. For the Government and administration, the incident might never have occurred, these young men might never have lived. The delegation joined a meeting taking place at the chaupal organized by local youth. They were planning how best to help the families and to ensure that those guilty are arrested.


Meeting with SP
Earlier the delegation had met the Superintendent of Police Mr. Md. Aqil in Jhajjar. He had not been able to reach the chowki because of road blocs. His assessment is that the dalits were actually "presumed to be Muslims" and that is why they were attacked. This was the opinion repeated by almost all the police personnel we spoke to. He gave us details of the police version, quoted in the earlier sections of this report. and admitted that has been no investigation about the reported buying of the cow in Farroukhnagar. He said that the police spent time trying to ascertain the truth from the dalits and then in trying to convince those villagers who had brought them to the chowki about the facts. According to him, the police at the chowki were not biased as it was the ASI Dharmendra who first stated that no crime had been committed by the dalits since it was a dead cow being skinned. He also said that the dalits had been beaten by the villagers and then brought to the chowki, but had no answer as to why they were then not taken to the hospital? He said he was first informed about the developing situation at around 7pm when he was at the residence of the Dy. Commissioner, Sri Mahendra Singh. They were both monitoring the situation and informed the SDMs and other police personnel to go to the chowki. Shri Aqil received a call from a VHP leader shortly thereafter informing him that "some cow-killers" had been caught and that the police should not release them. The delegation took this as a threat to him, but he said he took it at its face value. He also received a message from a "Shankaracharya" in Delhi but could not answer the call due to his preoccupation with the developing situation. When asked why the police had not protected the dalits by using their firearms against the mob, he said they were heavily outnumbered and it would have worsened the situation. He expressed concern about the congratulatory demonstration organized the following day. However on being asked what his instructions are from the Government he said to "maintain peace". We asked him directly if this meant no arrests: he indicated that at present his first priority was to defuse the situation, and the arrests would follow after proper investigation.

Clearly he is under tremendous pressure not to take action against those responsible for the violence. Others told us that the mobs were shouting slogans against him and accusing him of helping those who slaughtered cows. Perhaps it was this type of propaganda against him that prompted him to inform us that he had taken action against those responsible for a case of cow slaughter just a few months ago. He went out of his way to defend the police personnel and their version. He described how the SHO had tried to protect the dalits and got badly injured on his arm, but when we met the SHO and made it a point to look for the injury, it was barely a scratch. For whatever reason, he too is involved in trying to cover up the criminal negligence of the administration and police to prevent the killings.

At the chowki
The delegation went to the Duleena chowki where the incident occurred. This is a small brick building of two rooms in an open area. We took in the dreadful sight on the road just outside the chowki, of two separate big patches of dried blood that must have flowed from the bodies of the innocents as they were being brutally beaten to death. Present at the chowki were the SHO Rajendra Singh and other constables, Shri Naseeb Singh who owns a petrol pump in the area and who is the President of the Jhajjar Bar Association Later the Dy. Superintendent Narendra Singh also came to the chowki.

They repeated what the SP had already stated. They added that they kept telling the growing crowd that "the men are not Muslims but Hindus." This was stated by them several times. Finally we had to ask them "do you mean of they were Muslims the behaviour of the crowd would be justified?" There was no answer. However the statement does reveal the anti-dalit attitude of the VHP leaders masterminding the incident. We asked if they had identified any of the killers. 'It was too dark" the SHO said. The delegation was shocked at this answer because it spells freedom for the killers. It is an ominous indication that there will be no witnesses to identify the killers. We questioned him further " but surely the police recognize those who had beaten up the dalits in the first place. Have you filed FIRs against them?" No we have not was the reply. What about the others? It was not a sudden hit and run incident, the crowd was here for several hours, how could you not know at least some of them?" He remained silent. Naseeb Singh then spoke " I was here too. I can tell you it was a very difficult situation to control the crowd. The police also were attacked." So the police have enough witnesses to substantiate their theories, but none who will speak out for the murdered men.

Interestingly, the SHO and others present made some rather scathing comments about the cow-protection platform. They said that there are at least 2000 cows abandoned in the area, that wander around "eating polythene bags"–why don't those who shout about cow protection protect these cows, they asked.

The police took us around the chowki pointing out marks on the walls made by stones thrown by the mobs. The wrought-iron window bars have also been damaged However in our opinion if a mob as large as the one described by the police had really been aggressive then the damage would have been far greater. The Dy. Superintendent who has recently been the recipient of a police award further elaborated on the theory of big crowds. According to him if the police had fired they would all have been killed in retaliatory violence by the mob. But was not firm action the only chance to save the dalits, we asked. We lathi-charged them twice he answered, eight of our men got injured. We did not see a single injury on him or any of the others present. As far as arrests are concerned, we were told, "information is being gathered" from the villages to identify the guilty.

In discussions with those present at the chowki, it was clear that the main concern was to "defuse" the situation. We were informed that five teams of police had been deputed to visit villages to "gather information." The inquiry set up by the administration consists of police officers under the leadership of DSP Narendra Singh whose own role was questionable. There is absolutely no chance of justice for the victims families unless an impartial timebound investigation under the CBI is not set up.

Conclusion

The silence of mainstream political parties in Haryana and indeed at the national level against the terrible atrocity against dalits shows how the communal agenda of the VHP has so distorted politics that the concern for vote banks takes precedence over the defence of minimum human rights. In Haryana, since the "mandir movement" did not get the response sought by the sangh parivar, the symbol for communal mobilisation is "cow protection.' The incident and the subsequent activities of the VHP provide more evidence of its deeply manuvadi, casteist, anti-dalit outlook and actions. We call upon all sections to express their anger, their protest against this terrible atrocity against dalits and to espress solidarity with the families in every way possible.

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