New Delhi, APRIL 24, 2014
In the continuing backlash against Dalit assertion, four young girls of Dalit families (two of whom are minor) from Bhagana village (Hisar district, Haryana) were abducted on 23rd March 2014 and gang raped by 5 Jat boys (3 from Bhagana and 2 from outside of whom one was from Bhiwani). All four girls were then abandoned in the Bhatinda railway station on 23rd March itself. The sarpanch along with the girls’ fathers and brothers reached Bhatinda to bring them back. They were threatened by the head of the village sarpanch who is also the cousin of one of the accused to remain quiet, otherwise they along with their families would suffer dire consequences, even murder.
The context is as follows: In May 2012, 70 Dalit families from Bhagana Village moved with their families, belongings and cattle to the Secretariat, District Magistrate’s office in Hisar to protest against the forceful and unfair land appropriation of their common lands(Shamilat land) by the Jats of the village.
In response to their protests, these Dalits suffered widespread socialostracism and boycotts, including denial of access to water sources by destroying public taps, denial of entry to common land whether for the burial of dead animals, or for children to play games like football etc. Dalits were unable to move around freely or even go out for urination or defecation. Even access to doctors was denied as doctors were from the Jat community, who either refused to treat Dalits or charged higher fees. The sale of products has been refused and they have also been prevented from using public transport.
Despite several complaints to the village panchayat, police officials, the administration paid no heed and allowed such incidents and treatment to escalate. Instead of filing FIRs, the police arrested 45 dalit protestors and charged 6 with sedition charges though these were later dropped. While some families continued their protests at the secretariat, a few families decided to stay back whether out of fear or due to economic necessity. It is girls from these families who were then abducted and sexually assaulted on 23rd March 2014.
In spite of threats from the Jat community not to take up this case, FIRs were filed on March 25 and the girls underwent medical examination. Cases have been booked under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO), Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989 and Sections 363/366/366A/376/120B/328 of the IPC. Copies of these are with the families who have come to Delhi to demand justice and are now at Jantar Mantar. While five of the accused have been arrested, the demand to arrest another seven people remains. In conversation with members of WSS who visited the families at Jantar Mantar, these details were courageously and openly shared. The girls are sitting in protest too, the youngest being 13 and the eldest 18 years. They were going to school (classes 7 to 10) but have dropped out now. Their fathers work as agricultural labourers or engaged in other daily wage work. Other women present said that such sexual violence perpetrated on Dalits by Jats is by no means new but what is new is the reasons why they attacked them in this way. ‘We have no wealth’, one of the women said, ‘so they plunder the little that we have, namely our izzat.’ ‘But we are here in this city to get justice.’
WSS stands in solidarity with their struggle and their courageous battle for justice and dignity.
WSS demands that:
1. All land be restored to dalits that is due to them. This includes allotments under the Mahatma Gandhi Vikas Yojana and also the shamilat land rights.
2. Safe passage and return to the village for dalits must be provided to ensure that they can live in security and dignity.
3. Survivors of sexual assault must be given the full compensation according to Government of Haryana provisions. Their education which has had to be discontinued must be provided. All threats to them and their families must cease.
4. All false cases lodged in 2012 against dalit men and women be withdrawn immediately.
5. All the accused Jats including the sarpanch, who have been intimidating and threatening them, be arrested and cases taken forwarded.
Ajitha Rao, Anuradha Banerjee, Mary John, Rajni Tilak, Ranjana Padhi
From New Delhi-WSS