Punjab: Dalit youth killed, limbs chopped off. Accused may have Akali links
At a time when politicking is at peak levels in poll bound Punjab, the state is witnessing a spurt in violence against Dalits. In the last one week alone, Punjab has been rocked by two major assaults on Dalits.
A grisly murder
The most recent incident is the gruesome murder of 21-year-old Sukhchain Singh of Gharanghna village in Mansa on 10 October. The Dalit youth was not only waylaid and killed, but his limbs were also chopped off. Reports suggest that the accused owe allegiance to the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and are close to Niranjan Singh, the driver of Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal. The murder has led to tension between the land owning upper castes and the Dalits in the area.
The family of the deceased refused to cremate his body as the accused had taken one of his dismembered legs with them. They are demanding the arrest of Balbir Singh alias Kala, Hardip Singh alias Kala, Bitta Singh, Sadhu Singh of Gharanghna village, Bittu Singh of Chhote Nangal, Sita Singh of Makha village, who've all been booked along with 20 other accomplices. Hardip and his brother Bitta are reportedly nephews of Gharanghna Sarpanch Sardool Singh, who in turn is the son of Badal's driver.
Reports suggest that the deceased had a rivalry with the accused as the latter are allegedly involved in bootlegging. It is being assumed that Sukhchain may have become a police informer.
The murder brings back memories of the killing of a Dalit youth - Bhim Taank - last year at a farmhouse in Abohar that belonged to Akali leader and liquor baron Shivlal Doda.
Brutalities against Dalits on the rise
The killing of Sukhchain comes barely a week after an assault on Dalits of Jalaur village in Sangrur district. The attack was the result of the ongoing resistance of the upper castes against the Dalits in Malwa laying claims to cultivating their share of village common lands.
The Dalits are claiming that in accordance with the law, the panchayats must hand over one third of the village common lands to the Scheduled Castes (SC) for tilling. The movement has been gaining strong with Dalits winning cultivating rights in several villages, but repeated cases of the upper castes resisting in alleged collusion with the authorities are now emerging.
Sources said that on 5 October, a group of Dalits that was returning to the village after organising a protest at the District Commissioner's office in Sangrur was waylaid by upper castes and a clash ensued. This further led to the Dalit properties being targeted in the village. The police on its part lodged a cross case but activists point out that a brute majority of those who have been charged and arrested are Dalits only. Several of them have been allegedly framed.
Sona Singh of Students for Society (SFS), a progressive students organisation that has come into prominence in Punjab recently, who was a part of a fact finding team that visited the spot said, "The Dalits were attacked in a brutal manner. A 70-year-old woman was attacked with a sharp edged farm implement and is still lying in the trauma centre at the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh. The Dalits are a scared lot."
He further said that majority of the Dalit women and children have moved out of the village while the men who have been framed in the case have gone underground.
"The Dalits in the village are facing a social boycott. Only those Dalits who have been siding with the upper castes are living a normal life in the village. We were able to talk to only some middle aged women from the aggrieved families who told us that the villagers have imposed a fine of Rs 60,000 on any Dalit venturing into the farm of an upper caste," said Ajay Kumar, a lawyer at Punjab and Haryana High Court who was also a member of a fact finding team from social organisation Lokayat.
Both Sona and Ajay say that the shopkeepers in the village are not selling milk, flour or other essentials to the Dalits and almost 50% of them have moved out of the village.
Farming with dignity
"The most ironical part is that when we went there we were told that only two upper caste men had been arrested while the number of Dalit arrests in the matter was 17. This is just one sided proceedings being carried out by the police," said Ajay. There are more than 150 Dalit families in the village.
Professor Jagmohan who is the nephew of revolutionary freedom fighter Bhagat Singh also under took a fact-finding mission to Jalaur village on behalf of his organization Jamhoori Adhikar Sabha. He told Catch, "What happened in the village is a Tandav of rioting. The Dalits are in a state of panic."
He pointed that Jalaur is an integrated village where Dalits live as neighbours of upper castes and this made it easy for anyone to just cross over to the Dalit houses and unleash terror. He says that the Dalits have been looking forward to cultivating fodder on their share of common lands. Fodder helps them rear animals and prevents their migration to the cities where they would be compelled to live in slums.
"They do not want land for capitalist agriculture. They must be allowed to carry out collective farming on their share of common lands that would allow them to live with dignity," he said.
Sona claimed that there are 90 acres of common land in the village of which 40 acres have already been usurped by the upper castes.
The activists are now planning to take the legal recourse and seek a CBI probe in the matter. They have rejected the state government's proposal of an inquiry by a civil servant.
Opposition guns for Akalis
Congress president Captain Amarinder Singh launched a scathing attack on the ruling SAD-BJP combine for unleashing a rein of terror against Dalits. He has directed his party workers to extend help to the aggrieved family in Mansa and also to engage with the Dalit community in Mansa and Sangrur to rebuild their confidence.
Amarinder accused the Badal government of meticulously destroying the secular character and peaceful environment of Punjab.
Referring to Sukhchain's murder he said, "With the state's liquor mafia being backed by the Akalis, the Badal government now stands completely exposed for its anti-Dalit policies. It is clear that these atrocities are being committed against Dalits in Punjab, particularly in the Malwa belt, by those having the patronage of the SAD leadership."
He said that it is a matter of shame as well as concern that BJP's Punjab president Vijay Sampla, who is a Dalit himself, continues to remain a mute spectator and has failed to react even once to the excesses being committed by his party's alliance partner the SAD.
Amarinder said that in Jalaur village upper caste landlords supported by local SAD leaders have targeted Dalits.
Ajay said that till now the political parties had maintained a stoic silence over the atrocities on Dalit in Sangrur. He pointed that the upper caste Jats far outnumber them. "Perhaps they have been weighing things politically in the poll season," he said.
Edited by Aleesha Matharu