Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Jhajjar: Rhetoric drowns out Dalit voice

Tuesday, April 15, 2003 (Jhajjar):

Ratan Singh and Budhram spend many hours each day sitting at home and mourning their dead children. Exactly six months ago, their sons were lynched outside a police post by a mob near the town of Jhajjar in Haryana after rumours that they and three other Dalits were caught skinning a live cow.

Each family who lost a member was given Rs 5 lakh and a job by the Haryana government. But money doesn't buy justice, they say. Each of the 31 people arrested for the murders is out on bail.

"The culprits are roaming free. The case against them was a weak one. So instead innocent villagers were arrested," said Ratan Singh, a victim's father.

The affected Dalit families say they have been let down by both the state government committee and the National Committee for SC/ST which did an independent inquiry into the incident.

In the inquiry:
  • No action was recommended against policemen who failed to protect the victims.
  • Local organisations which supported the lynching were given clean chit.
  • No effort was made to trace mob leaders involved in the killing.
  • No action has been recommended against the policemen who were present at the time of the killings and did nothing to stop the mob.
  • The organisations which held a celebratory procession in Jhajjar after the lynchings and rioted to protest against the arrests of the culprits have also been let off.
  • No effort has been made to track those who began and spread the rumours of the cow skinning and who led the communally charged mob.
With Dalit leaders swiftly moving onto other causes and the government investigation over, the five families find they have been left to fight their own battle. Their complete isolation has strengthened cow protection societies in the area, which backed by Hindutva groups are now emerging as the focus of a new Jat identity -- an identity that spills over beyond the confines of Jhajjar to the streets of the state capital, where the murders are still justified.

"People reacted out of anger. This incident has created an awareness about the need to protect cows all over Haryana. No one dare harm them now," said Acharya Vijay Pal, a cow protection activist.

But the Jhajjar incident has left its imprint on the Dalits in the region, many of whom are now keen to abandon their traditional jobs as tanners.

Ironically the disinclination to dispose of dead cows and buffaloes has caused a serious problem for Jat farmers who are now forced to offer as much as Rs 500 per animal where six months ago they paid Rs 20.

"They keep asking us to carry on with this work. If the upper castes do it they will become polluted like us. Then how will they call themselves Hindus. This is their worry," said Budhram, a victim's father.

This lynching could have become a rallying point for the Dalit fight for justice. But six months after political and caste leaders have come and gone, it's clear that the strident rhetoric of the cow protection movement has drowned out the voice of the Dalits.

Source: NDTV, April 15, 2003

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