In the past few months, parts of north-western India have witnessed incidents of outright Dalit assertion of their rights related to access to resources and to a life of dignity. This has, in all cases, met with retaliation by the dominant upper or intermediary castes. After the Hisar incident, where hundreds of Dalits from Bhagana village had to come all the way up to Delhi on foot to voice the suppression of their rights to land and an equal life, similar acts of oppression have been witnessed in Ramgarh village of Dadri Tehsil, GautamBuddh Nagar district, Uttar Pradesh.
As the youth of this village had begun organizing themselves, the Gujjars retaliated by making 22-year old Tika Ram their target. Tika Ram had spoken at a convention held on the 15 July at New Delhi about the ongoing suppression of Jatavs in Ramgarh. After this he was beaten up by 4 Gujjar youth and ruthlessly tied to the railway tracks to die. Somehow he managed to free himself but not enough to save his legs which have had to be amputated after the incident. Tika Ram is battling for life today at the AIIMS Trauma Centre in New Delhi.
According to reports, it all began with the dominant Gujjar community in Ramgarh village forcefully acquiring 4.75 acres of land belonging to 60 Jatav families in December last year. The Gujjars created a 7 feet long wall around this land under the aegis of the Gram Pradhan Kuldeep Bhati. Title deeds to this land (which was originally Panchayat land distributed to the Jatavs under a government scheme) were given to the Dalits in the year 1982 itself as a constitutional guarantee.
The Jatavs filed a complaint with the Sub Divisional Magistrate of Dadri on January 24 2012, after which they were continually threatened and abused. This was followed by another complaint by the Jatavs in February. On March 14, the Gujjars retaliated with violence leaving the Jatavs with fractured limbs and skulls. Women, children and old people were targeted too. A case of attempt to murder has been registered against the 4 Gujjar youth after pressure groups actively demanded for it. Meanwhile, the Gujjars have registered a false case on Tika Ram for attempt to murder of a Gujjar girl.
What the Jatavs of Ramgarh are currently facing has roots in two processes that are taking place in our society. First is the ongoing historical exploitation of the lower castes, but this time by the intermediary castes, with the latter having grown in power over time due to a number of factors like money-lending capacity, land ownership, and increased social mobility, among others. This exploitation, as always, has taken the form of violence to suppress the growing Dalit assertion.
The second process at work is the upper class elements; in this case the Real Estate builders and construction companies and their drive for profit. The incident is another example of how the increasing demand for land has resulted in heightened caste consciousness and contestation. The whole of north western Uttar Pradesh, due to its proximity to Delhi NCR, is a hotbed for property deals today. The builders, who have an eye on the land in this area, are playing on the existing power relations between caste communities to extract maximum profit for themselves. According to one report, the Jats(upper caste) have already sold their land to a company called Sushant Megapolis while the Gujjars might now be acting as agents of the company for acquiring land from the Jatavs.
To add to this the Gujjars are getting indirect support from the State agencies as well. Police was deployed in the village after the 14 March incident, but has been of no great help to the Jatavs. As mentioned above, a false case has been registered against Tika Ram, and other active youth from the Jatav community. Also, complaints filed against the Gujjars in January and February have heeded no response yet.
So, along with an unresponsive State, what we see here is a nexus between the dominant caste and upper class working towards the exploitation of the Dalits and violence being used to ‘keep the Dalits in their place’.
Yet again, we rest our hope in the State in order to bring about the following:
- FIRs against the Gujjars be registered for the events of abuse in January and February, and then the March 14th incidents of violence, and the injured compensated.
- Compensation to Tika Ram’s family for the loss they are suffering.
- Ensure return of falsely acquired and sealed off land to the Dalits.
- Booking responsible members from the Gujjar community(also including Gram Pradhan Kuldeep Bhati) under the SC & ST (Prevention of Attrocities) Act 1989.
- Regulations be imposed on the construction companies operating in the area.
Preeti Chauhan and Paramjeet Singh