Hisar: Just over a decade ago, Haryana’s Mirchpur village had hit the headlines for caste violence when a large group of Jats burnt down 18 Dalit houses and killed an old man and his physically challenged daughter.
The incident took place on 21 April 2010, and soon after, 258 families of Valmikis, a Dalit community, fled the village fearing for their lives. About 100 of these families took refuge at social activist Ved Pal Tanwar’s farmhouse on the outskirts of Hisar city, while others went to other parts of the district and state in search of livelihoods.
The families who continued to live in makeshift tents/hutments at the Tanwar farm have since continued to hope for rehabilitation, and there has finally been some movement on that front. On 15 October, Krishan Bedi, political secretary to Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar and former state social justice minister, handed possession letters for plots to 102 Dalit families.
The plots are situated in a new colony settled on eight-and-a-half acres of land near Dhandoor village, about 4 km from Hisar. The BJP-led government named it after its ideological icon Deendayal Upadhyaya — calling it Deendayal Puram.
But the land isn’t free of cost — the government is charging each family EMIs ranging from Rs 820 (for an 85-square-yard plot) to Rs 5,788 (for a 600-square-yard plot), according to the ‘collector rate’ or ‘circle rate of Rs 1,770 per square yard and 4 per cent interest. This means each family will have to pay a total of between Rs 1,50,540 to Rs 10,62,000.
ThePrint travelled to Mirchpur and the Tanwar farm to see what is the state of the tensions, and if the Dalit families are indeed happy about the government’s move to charge them for plots.
What happened in April 2010?
Dalit families still feel the horror of the violence unleashed on their homes a decade ago. Om Prakash, 60, who was witness to the violence, recounted to ThePrint: “It started with the barking of a dog. A few drunk Jats tried to hit the dog with a brick, but this escalated, and the next day, Jats called in hundreds of people to unleash violence on us.”
Om Prakash added: “Hundreds of them came running towards our houses and torched them. A 17-year-old physically challenged girl Suman and her 70-year-old father were set on fire. The smoke from the houses was like a coal-powered train was passing through. We all ran — children, women and men; some without slippers, and some even without clothes.”
Another affected individual, 50-year-old Naro, recalled: “When one of my neighbours told me that my house was set on fire, I fainted. I never had the courage to see my burnt house, even though later, I heard that the Hooda government (Congress government led by Bhupinder Singh Hooda) had rebuilt a part of it.”
Legal case and simmering tensions
The trial court in the case had convicted 15 members of the Jat community and acquitted 82 in 2011, but seven years later, in August 2018, the Delhi High Court upheld 13 convictions and reversed the acquittal of 20 others to make for a total of 33 convictions.
The high court remarked: “After 71 years of independence, instances of atrocities against Scheduled Castes by those belonging to dominant castes have shown no sign of abating.”
This trend has continued to the present too — National Crime Records Bureau data for 2019 shows that crimes against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes have increased by 7 per cent and 26 per cent respectively over the previous year.
The tension between the communities has simmered throughout the last decade. Soon after the violence, the government had permanently deployed 75 CRPF personnel in Mirchpur to keep the peace, but when they were removed after six years, a caste-related comment was passed against a Dalit youth, leading to violence in which 20 Dalits were allegedly attacked.
Since then, the government has set up a police chowki near the Dalits’ neighbourhood in the village, where about 50-odd families have stayed back.
These families are hoping to see a sarpanch from the community for the first time. Thirty-five-year-old Sandeep said: “The probability of the sarpanch seat going to the Scheduled Castes is high this time. The election is going to be held in January 2021.”
But he added that the upper castes might not accept this socially, even though they would have to legally.
A Jat resident of Mirchpur who did not wish to be named said his community was ready to accept Dalits as equals only to the extent that they “work in our fields and get paid”. “But if they want to sit on our cots, then no,” this resident said.
Rs 4.56 crore rehabilitation project
The Haryana government allocated Rs 4.56 crore for the rehabilitation of the 258 Dalit families who left the village. The new colony for them, Deendayal Puram, is currently no more than some marked land, with a few metalled roads and a community centre having been built. Officials in the local administration told ThePrint that the work of laying electric poles and water pipes will be done in the coming weeks.
Krishan Bedi, who, as minister of social justice and empowerment in Khattar’s previous government, has been the force behind this project, said: “We have distributed the plots according to the land these families have in their native village. So, we have plots of 85 yards, 100 yards, 120 yards, 150 yards, and so on… even 600 yards.”
Bedi hailed it as the end of a story of oppression, injustice and cruelty that “happened under Congress rule”.
However, the Dalit families aren’t satisfied, because many of them have been excluded from the list of allottees.
Naro, whose husband managed to get a plot, complained: “When we left our village, my daughter was 12 years old. Now, she is of a marriageable age. My sons also got married. How are we all going live in an 85-yard house? My sons are not being allotted a plot.”
Kailasho, 60, is grateful but also angry. Speaking from behind a veil, she said: “Justice will be served when all of us get plots.”
The government has said the omission of some families’ names must’ve occurred at the local level, and Bedi has asked the Hisar district commissioner to revise the list.
Ramesh Kumar, 51, said he was glad that this government “at least acknowledges that we exist”. “The Hooda government was so casteist that it left us on our own. It sided with the Jats,” he alleged.
Paying for the plots
But for someone like 60-year-old Ramphal, there’s no end to the woes. Ramphal is the sole breadwinner of his family, and his eldest son has been bedridden since he was hit by a brick in the 2010 violence.
“I sold some of my wife’s jewellery — that she got on her wedding day — to pay the instalment of Rs 820 per month. But now, we are not left with anything that we can sell in order to build a house. We will probably have to carry the same tent that we live in now (at Tanwar farm) to the new plot,” Ramphal said.
Bedi, however, assured the families that to build the houses, they would be provided grants under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana and the B.R. Ambedkar Awas Yojana of the Haryana government.
At the Tanwar farm, women came out of their tents to show ThePrint how they have been living in inhuman conditions.
“We gave birth to our children here. Our daughters were married here. Old men passed away while waiting for justice. We had to make temporary bathrooms by putting a few clothes on a line,” Kailasho said.
“Whenever the government tried to rehabilitate us, gram panchayats refused to give us land. The Covid virus has hit the world now, but the virus of humiliation and discrimination has been forced on our generations,” she added.
Kamal, a Dalit activist whose relatives suffered in the Mirchpur violence and its aftermath, questioned why the government had named the locality after Deendayal Upadhyaya, and not a Dalit icon like Dr B.R. Ambedkar. He pointed out: “When the government uses this as a political tool, it indicates it gave us this land for free. But these 258 families have paid collector rate for this land.”
Asked why the families were asked to pay for the plots, Bedi responded: “If we provide free plots to the victims of Mirchpur, this will set a wrong precedent — victims of all caste violence across states will demand the same. If any violence happens in the future, people will simply migrate, thinking they’ll get free plots.”