Saturday, September 13, 2003

Inter-caste love forces Dalits to flee village

HARSOLA: Seven months after they fled their homes, hundreds of poor Dalits have been living in the open following tensions sparked by an inter-caste love saga in this village.

Many of the nearly 270 Dalit families are living in shanties they set up along a highway in Kaithal district, 150 km from state capital Chandigarh.

Others have sought refuge in a temple.

They all worry about their homes, crops and animals that they left behind in haste in February-March. The place where they now stay is 20 km away from their village.

Trouble started when a Dalit girl started living with a boy of the upper caste Jat community in Harsola.

The Dalits, who claim she did not marry the boy, asked the girl's parents to complain to the police. They claim the girl's father refused because he thought she had moved up the social ladder.

Alleged Balbir Singh, a Dalit farmer, "We asked the girl's father to lodge a police complaint as the girl was being forced by the Jats to stay with that boy. When the girl's father refused, we boycotted him socially."

"Then an angry mob of armed Jats attacked us during one of our meetings, and we had to flee with our family members."

Added another Dalit farmer, Bidama Singh, "After the attack in February, in which 19 Dalits were seriously injured, police arrested 14 upper caste men and some of us were told to return to Harsola.

"But the arrested men came out on bail in March and attacked the village again. That's when most Dalits had to flee."

They fled their homes, leaving behind their crops, which were ready for harvesting.

Bidama Singh said, "We were about to harvest the wheat and mustard that we cultivated as sharecroppers. The rich landlords harvested the crops, depriving us of our share. Our animals either died or were taken away by the Jats."

Ladoo, an 85-year-old Dalit woman, said she and the others were now forced to long distances to fetch water.

"Being women, we cannot sleep in the open and at least 15 of us take shelter in small shanties at night. It's unbearable when it rains and water trickles in."

Another woman, Nanni, who has five sons and four daughters, said tearfully, "I do not know how long we have to stay here and how to feed my children. How long can the temple afford to feed us?"

Nearly 30 children of these families are also suffering because they have not been able to attend school for seven months. Said Sushil, a Class 8 student of Government High School, Harsola, "I could not appear for my yearly test. We left our books when we fled and cannot study here." Some Dalits are trying to make leather footwear, while others look for work on farms. But the going has not been easy.

Said Pritam, "There is hardly a market for footwear here. Getting casual jobs at farms is also difficult as we are considered outsiders in this area."

The villagers said the district administration was turning a blind eye to their plight.

Complained Karamveer, president of the Haryana unit of the Confederation of Scheduled Castes and Backward Classes: "Officials blames the Dalits for leaving their homes, but is not prepared to ensure their safety."

A police official, however, said, "We have repeatedly tried to convince these villagers to return in vain.

"The situation in Harsola village is totally peaceful now. During the last seven months no untoward incidents were reported.

"Many villagers are willing to go back but their leaders, who want to politicise the issue, are preventing them."

Source: Newindpress.com, September 16, 2003

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