Slaughter of the Dalits

Published : Nov 22, 2002 00:00 IST

Were the five Dalits killed in Haryana the victims of mob frenzy following the slaughter and skinning of a cow? Or did the police do it after failing in an extortion bid, as the victims' relatives allege?

EACH year on Dasara day, the triumph of good over evil is celebrated with ritual and symbolic splendour in northern India. The day marks the defeat of Ravana and his forces by Rama. But this year, for five Dalits of Haryana, it turned out to be the day of victory of evil. On October 15, the police, allegedly in connivance with communal elements, ensured that the young men, who had fallen into their hands, would not escape alive. They were lynched, their eyes gouged out and their bodies mutilated. The faces of two of them were burnt. Their alleged crime was that they skinned a cow on the road leading to Jhajjar town. Ironically, the carcass was sent for a post-mortem to ascertain the time of the cow's death.

The version of the Jhajjar police is that a mob of thousand people had found the Dalits skinning a live cow on the evening of October 15. The crowd, according to the police, was returning after watching the Dasara celebrations in Jhajjar town. On seeing the "cow slaughter and the skinning", the crowd dragged the five to the Duleena police post, 5 km from Jhajjar town. The police claim that they were helpless and could do little to control the mob. The police registered a first information report (FIR) charging the five persons with cow slaughter and then handed them over to the mob. The attack started at 6 p.m. and went on till 10 p.m. Senior officials, including the Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), who arrived at the spot even before the lynching had started, could do little. It is claimed that the police tried to convince the mob that the men were Hindus and not members of the minority community. A leading newspaper even mentioned that it was a case of "mistaken identity". There is at least one other version that contradicts that given by the police. That points to the insidious role played by the police and communal elements. This is not the first time that communal frenzy has been whipped up based on rumours of cow slaughter.

ON October 15, it was work as usual for Virender, Dayachand, Tota Ram, Raju and Kailash. While the first four belonged to villages in Gurgaon district, the fifth was a hide merchant from Karnal. Virender and Dayachand were merchants from Badshahpur village, Tota Ram was a driver from Aklimpur, and 16-year-old Raju, his helper, was from Teekli village. Around 2 p.m., Virender and Dayachand, both in their twenties, loaded the hides of buffaloes, calves and goats, collected over period of a month from various parts of Sohna block, onto Tota Ram's hired vehicle. They possessed licences from two agencies, the Sohna Panchayat Samiti and the State government-recognised Adarsh Gaushala of Teekli village, to skin dead animals and collect their bones. The panchayat samiti had given them, on payment of Rs.35,000, the licence valid for the period from Apri1 1, 2002 to March 31, 2003. (Frontline possesses copies of the receipts issued by both the agencies.) For the past 35 years, their families had been doing this job. All five men belonged to the Jatav caste.

The families of Virender and Dayachand were the only ones in Badshahpur village that skinned dead animals. The skins, which they sold at nominal prices to traders, seemed to fetch good prices when they reached the shoe factories in Karnal. The skinners had small godowns in their homes to store the skins which were salted to keep the smell away. These families have been living with hides in their midst for decades. Not many people belonging to the Jatav community prefer to do this work if they have a choice. With tears in his eyes, Rattan Lal, Virender's father, told this correspondent that their source of livelihood had been snatched away from them.

Information gathered from Rattan Lal and others revealed that Kailash had stayed for three days in the village and on October 15, around 2 p.m., he collected the skins stored in the homes of Virender and Dayachand. The skinning was usually done in the jungles, away from the roads. Tota Ram hired the vehicle from the adjoining Teekli village. The group left Badshahpur in the afternoon. That was the last time people of the village saw them.

Early the next morning, the families of the five persons were informed by the police that there had been an "accident" involving them and were told to rush to the Jhajjar Civil Hospital. The family members reached the hospital to find the mutilated bodies.

Relatives of the five men do not believe the police version. They appear convinced that the police personnel at the Duleena post tried to extort money from the men and an altercation ensued. The five, four of whom were well-built men, might have resisted the extortion attempt and might have been killed, they believe. The family members do not think that the villagers were behind the lynching. "I want justice, only justice. I don't want any money," says Virender's mother. The police are the main culprits, say the family members of the dead. They ask how the police personnel would know the identities of the dead unless the five had been interrogated and their statements recorded. The five had also been charged with cow slaughter. Rattan Lal said that if at all they had skinned the animal, the police would have found weapons on them. Inderjit Singh, Haryana State secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), told Frontline that it made little sense to skin a cow worth Rs.200 on the roadside, especially when the vehicle was already carrying skins worth thousands of rupees. He also ruled out the involvement of people from the villages as it was highly improbable that they would go all the way to Jhajjar town to watch Dasara festivities.

At the Duleena post, a structure with three small rooms, there were tell-tale signs of brutal killings. There were bloodstains on the road where the post is located. The stains on the porch of the police post were still visible. The badges on the uniforms of the three policemen on duty were conspicuously missing. All three denied that they were present on the day of the incident. One inspector, who identified himself as Virender, showed this correspondent the grills of the two windows that had allegedly been twisted by the mob. In fact, the frames were intact, and it was surprising how a 5,000-strong crowd could not break it. The garden in front of the building remained intact, with sunflower in full bloom. When asked how the plants and the flowers had escaped the wrath of a rampaging crowd, the inspector said: "We had to do a lot to get them in shape." He added that the police could not do anything as the mob had all kinds of implements. This also sounded improbable, for if the people were returning from Dasara festivities, they would not have been carrying farm implements. He said that the Station House Officer (SHO) was hurt, but it turned out that the officer had only a scratch on his arm.

The cruel deed was carried out in the presence of the DSP, the City Magistrate, the Naib Tehsildar and almost 50 police personnel. The District Commissioner's (D.C.) office got the information late in the evening, but by the time the D.C., Mohinder Kumar, reached the site, district officials had little role to play. Local Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) activists and other anti-social elements, who must have been mobilised from the town, joined the police and the five men were allegedly beaten to death.

The Superintendent of Police, Mohammad Akil, was unavailable for comment as he was busy making arrangements for the Chief Minister's visit to the district. Jhajjar SHO Rajinder Singh refused to part with the details of the FIR, saying that he was not authorised to say anything to the media. The charge of cow slaughter recorded against the victims under the Cow Slaughter (Prevention) Act remains. Another FIR registered by the Jhajjar police is under Section 302 (murder) of the IPC against unidentified members of the mob. Till date, nobody has been arrested.

Of equal significance is the role of organisations such as the VHP and the Bajrang Dal. This needs to be examined, as there have been instances of their raising the issue of cow slaughter at periodic intervals, the most recent being in Loharu town in Bhiwani district in April when shops and homes belonging to members of the minority community were selectively destroyed and an old mosque was vandalised. The incidents followed a call for an all-India bandh given by the VHP soon after the Godhra incident. Rumours were rife that Muslims were slaughtering cows. It was also rumoured that a calf with one ear and a clipped tail was roaming near Loharu town. A total of 39 people were arrested in connection with the violence, including two office-bearers of the Dadri unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

On October 16, the VHP and the Bajrang Dal took out a victory procession in Jhajjar, in which the people responsible for the killing of the Dalits were allegedly lauded. In New Delhi, the VHP's senior vice-president, Acharya Giriraj Kishore, defended the VHP's position stating that it was more important to ascertain if the men had actually killed the cow or were skinning a cow that was already dead. He quoted Hindu scriptures to say that the life of a cow was more precious than that of a human being. Inquiries revealed that the local units of the two organisations were active in Jhajjar town. They had submitted a memorandum to the police asking them not to take action against anybody in connection with the killings. After visiting the area, a VHP secretary, Surendra Jain, claimed that cow slaughter was rampant in the Mewat area, which comprised parts of Rajasthan and Haryana and was home to Meo Muslims. He blamed the government for not implementing laws relating to the prevention of cow slaughter. Yashpal Gandhi, another VHP office-bearer in Bahadurgarh, said that the "Ravanas found slaughtering cows had been punished" and those who acted against them should be honoured.

THE families of the victims were in a state of shock. At least four of them have left behind little children. Neighbours cutting across caste lines were seen commiserating with the bereaved families. More important, the families did not fall into the trap of the communal logic given by the police about the killings being a case of "mistaken identity". Dayachand's brother said that even if the men had been Muslims, the killings would not have been justified. He was reacting to reports which held that the police had tried to save the victims by telling the mob that the men were Hindus and not Muslims. "Are they not human?" Dayachand's brother asked. He too believes that it was the police personnel and some anti-social elements who killed the five men. He explained how the police persuaded them to take a different route while returning home with the bodies. They were told that they might be attacked by angry mobs on the way. He said that two of his relatives checked out the route on a motorcycle and found no mob lying in wait.

All the four families in Gurgaon district are landless. Tota Ram's family situation is tragic. He is survived by a near-blind mother, a young wife and four children, the eldest of whom is six years old and the youngest three months old. Raju, the cleaner, was learning driving.

While almost all political parties reacted to the incident, particularly the Left parties and some of the organisations of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe people, the Om Prakash Chautala-led Indian National Lok Dal government took its own time to respond. On October 20, Chautala visited Jhajjar but did not meet the families of the victims. It also did not go unnoticed that the Chief Minister was in Badshahpur two days after the incident but did not visit any of the families: he was there to visit a party worker, residents of the village said. However, on October 24, nine days after the incident, Chautala made a brief visit to the bereaved families. Moreover, it was only a week after the lynching that Chautala declared that the guilty would be brought to book immediately. In his opinion, it was a case of "mistaken" identity. All the 13 police personnel on duty at the Duleena post have been transferred and R.R. Banswal, the Rohtak Divisional Commissioner, has been put in charge of the inquiry. On October 24, after all five families had rejected the compensation of Rs.1 lakh initially sanctioned by the State government, the Haryana Cabinet raised the amount to Rs.5 lakhs and decided to provide employment to the next of kin of the dead persons. The National Human Rights Commission sent a notice to the State government asking it to file a detailed report on the incident. Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, perhaps sensing the popular mood, announced that the Centre would prevail on the State government to take action against the guilty. However, so far little has been done to achieve this end.

A joint delegation of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India and the All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA) was the first such group to visit the families and meet the district officials. It demanded strict action against the culprits and a compensation of Rs.5 lakhs to each of the five families. While the mass organisations of the Left parties held demonstrations in Jhajjar, the Delhi State unit of the CPI(M) held a protest rally led by senior leaders such as Brinda Karat and Inderjit Singh. Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi visited the families and assured them of monetary help. Lok Jan Shakti president Ram Vilas Paswan visited the bereaved families. Significantly, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Mayawati, also a Jatav by caste, did not react to the incident for several days. However, at a rally organised by the BSP on October 25 in Gurgaon, she railed against the government, particularly the police, but gave a clean chit to the communal organisations, which played an overt or covert role in the incident.

On October 27, at a public meeting organised by the All India Confederation of Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes Organisations and the Lord Buddha Club, several Dalits, including the families of the dead persons, converted themselves to Buddhism and other religions. While the move is being seen as a reaction to the prevalent Hindu system of social organisation that discriminates against Dalits, it is unlikely that such measures will result in social change, especially when the class character of society remains unchanged.

In Haryana, barring protests by some political parties, there is no discussion of the incident, and there is no sense of shock in Jhajjar. An employee in the S.P.'s office said that there was no tension over the incident. Only the media seem to be interested, he remarked. Such apathy characterises Haryana today. With an entrenched feudal order, rampant casteism and a declining sex ratio, the only saving grace was that the State had been relatively free of communal incidents. However, since 1992, sporadic instances of communal violence have been reported from various parts of the State, some of them rather serious. It is clear that apart from the general social discord that already exists, Chautala will soon have a new problem on his hands if he does not rein in the political forces that foment communalism.

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