On the evening of 5 October a large mob of the dominant caste, associated with the ruling Akali Dal (Badal) faction in a village in Sangrur district attacked a dalit agricultural labourers’ mohalla in the village in a calculated and pre-planned manner. In this attack on workers men, women, and old people were brutally beaten; they were subjected to casteist abuse and their homes were vandalized. More than 24 dalit men and women were injured in the attack. The main target of the attack was the home of Punjab Kisan Union (AIKMS) State Secretary Comrade Balbir Singh Jalur and his brother local worker Aagu Balvinder Singh. Though both brothers were not present at the time of the attack, their home was badly vandalized and broken.
Their aged and ailing 70 year old mother was also brutally beaten and a bone in her leg was broken with a sharp weapon. She is in a serious condition and under treatment at PGI Hospital, Chandigarh. During the entire attack the police, in spite of being fully informed, remained mute spectators.
The next day, at the behest of Akali Dal (Badal) MLA and Finance Minister Parminder Singh Dhindsa, the police registered cases against 68 Dalit workers who were actually the victims of the attack, and only 18 people from among the attackers. Not stopping at that, the police arrested Comrade Balbir Singh Jalur and his aged father and put them in jail; they even took the less seriously injured people from the hospital and arrested them. Till 22 October, only two of the attackers were arrested, and the rest are not only roaming free but once again beat up women workers in the village and have called for a social boycott of the dalit community in the village.
The bone of contention in this long-drawn out fight is the dispute over the dalits’ one-third share of panchayati land. According to the Punjab Common Land Act of 1964 one-third of panchayati land in every village is allocated for dalits. Legally only dalits can take this land on yearly lease for farming purposes. But in reality what often happens is that the rich farmers of the village acquire these lands for themselves by making their servants or dalits who are close to them make high bids for the land. With farming in Punjab being fully mechanized, the agricultural labourers can neither find enough work on the fields to sustain their livelihood, nor find food for their families or fodder for their cattle. This crisis led to the demand by many landless agricultural labourers in Sangrur district under the leadership of Zameen Prapti Sangharsh Committee (ZPSC – Struggler Committee To Demand Land) that the dalits’ share of land should not be auctioned to the highest bidder; instead, it should be given to them at an affordable rate for collective farming. Struggles for this demand were going on in several villages of Sangrur district, including Jalur village. The sarpanch of this village is from the dalit community but he is associated with the Akali Dal (Badal) and is a puppet of the rich farmers; he is, therefore, against the workers’ struggle. In March this year the land in this village was taken by a rich farmer through a high bid by a dalit under his control. Since then there was constant conflict between the dalit workers and the Jat farmers. The police and administration were fully aware of the situation but they did nothing to solve the issue, which resulted in the big casteist attack on dalit workers on 5 October.
The CPI(ML) (Liberation) has from the beginning supported this struggle by the dalit workers. Even on the day of the attack—5 October—Party workers and Mazdoor Mukti Morcha workers participated in a dharna in front of the SDM Laharagaga office in support of the dalit workers’ demands. Party State Committee member and Sangrur district Secretary Comrade Govind Singh Chhajli addressed the dharna. Effigies of the Badal government were burnt at several places by Party and MMM workers to protest against the 5 October attack. It was decided to organize a “Hankar Todo March” (Break The Arrogance March) on 12 October from Lahra to Jalur but the march could not be held as the government deployed a large police force to stop it. However, a protest meeting was held at Lahra after which a rally was taken out through the town and a memorandum submitted to the administration with the dalits’ demands.
On 21 October several workers’ and farmers’ organizations united to hold a huge joint rally against the 5 October attack in which leaders from the Party’s workers’ and farmers’ organizations participated. This struggle is still ongoing. District Secretary Comrade Govind Chhajli is among the 68 workers who have been named as accused by the police. The Party at the State level has also condemned the Badal government’s open support and encouragement for casteism and the administration’s biased action and has demanded that all the attackers should be arrested; cases should be registered against them under the SC-ST Act; action should be taken against the police and civil service officials guilty of biased action; all the jailed workers should be released immediately and the false cases against all the workers should be withdrawn.
Anti-Dalit Violence in Nashik
The CPI(ML) expresses deep concern over reports of widespread anti-Dalit violence by mobs of the dominant Maratha caste as well as by the police in Nashik district of Maharashtra. The police in the BJP-Shiv Sena ruled state have failed to register cases against the perpetrators and have instead unleashed violence on Dalits inside their own homes in the name of combing operations.
In recent times, huge silent processions of Marathas had been witnessed in Maharashtra. While the agrarian crisis, farmers’ suicides and joblessness were factors in the Maratha unrest, the agitations had a disturbing anti-Dalit edge right from the start. The agitations began following the gang rape and murder of a Maratha minor girl allegedly by Dalit youth, and the demand for dilution of SC/ST Atrocities Act was raised. In Nashik, again, the alleged molestation of a minor Maratha girl by a Dalit teenager was the pretext for the latest round of anti-Dalit violence accompanied by demands to dilute or scrap the SC/ST Atrocities Act.
For allegations of rape and molestation to be used as pretexts to raise the bogey of ‘misuse’ of the SC/ST Atrocities Act is highly condemnable. The issue of justice for women and girls should not be pitted against that of justice and dignity for Dalits and tribals. Incidences of rape in which Dalits happen to be accused must not be used to profile Dalits as sexually predatory. Atrocities against Dalits and tribals – including instances of organized sexual violence and gang rapes – continue to be rampant, and justice is hard to come by in these cases thanks to police collusion with the perpetrators.
The CPI(ML) demands stern and prompt action against all the perpetrators of anti-Dalit violence in Nashik. The BJP-Shiv Sena Government must be held accountable for the safety of the Dalits in the state, and all police and administrative personnel involved in anti-Dalit violence must be punished. Political leaders attempting to instigate the Maratha community against the Dalits must also face action.