Sunday, September 07, 2003

Driven out by Jats, Harsola Dalits too scared to return

RAJENDRA KHATRY

KAITHAL, SEPTEMBER 6: Chased away from their homes by Jats seven months ago, the Dalits of Harsola village are too scared to return, preferring to live on alms within the Guru Ravidas Mandir here.

Assurances from the administration and the newly set up police post at Harsola have not changed their mind. ''We dare not go back or else the upper castes will maul us,'' says Pritam.

Interestingly, the government's official position is that what happened at Harsola wasn't a caste dispute. Denying that the Dalits were attacked by upper caste people, a Haryana government official says: ''It was an internal fight that led to the situation.''

Balbir Singh, who has also taken refuge at the temple, has still not forgotten what happened. ''We had gathered at the chaupal to discuss preparations for the coming Guru Ravidas Jayanti last February when we were attacked by a gang of upper-caste people from our own village, apparently over a previous dispute with one of their youths. Many of us were mercilessly beaten up, our houses ransacked and shops destroyed. We had no option but to flee to Kaithal,'' he says.

Another Dalit from the same village, Birbhan, a daily wager, says: ''Our crops were ready for harvest...we fled the village leaving everything, including our wages. Later we heard the Jats had taken possession of the crops. We have no hopes of ever recovering our money,'' he laments.

For children of the Harsola victims, it has meant an end to school as their parents don't have the resources to get them re-admitted. ''Sometimes we feel guilty for spoiling the future of our children, but we are helpless,'' says Balbir.

A few of the Dalits have set up a shoe-making workshop behind the temple, but they find it difficult to market their products. Others are still struggling for an occupation.

Haryana Congress president Bhajan Lal, former Union home minister Buta Singh and ex-Haryana minister Kripa Ram Punia have submitted a memorandum to the Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission demanding rehabilitation of the 270 Harsola Dalit families, and punishment for the culprits. The National Commission for SCs/STs had called for a report from the Kaithal district administration and compensation for the Dalits for their damaged property.

The Dalits, however, say they have not been provided any relief. ''Living in perpetual fear, they have little or no hope of ever returning home,'' regrets Karamvir Singh, president of the Haryana unit of the All India Confederation of SC/ST/BC Organisations. Pritam nods: ''We don't want to die.''

Source: The Indian Express, September 7, 2003

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