On August 20, the renowned Guru Ravi Das Mandir in Bhatla village of Hisar district was filled with at least 300 Dalits who had been facing ‘social boycott’ for over a year. The gathering unanimously embraced Buddhism and pledged to lead their lives in the shadow of the teachings and principles of Buddha. In the presence of religious preachers from across the country, the new converts also took an oath: “We won’t vote for BJP in the future. We won’t vote for BJP ever.”
The conversion took place in the presence of Rajat Kalsan, convenor of the National Alliance of Dalit for Human Rights. “They had no other option than to convert. They were facing social boycott for a year now,” Kalsan told Newsclick.
As per the reports, a scuffle over the common hand pump resulted in the social boycott of those belonging to the lowest caste among the Hindus, formerly regarded as ‘untouchables’. Last year on June 15, men from upper caste Brahmin families were involved in an argument with a few Dalit men over the issue of drawing water from the common hand pump. The argument soon escalated into a scuffle and both the sides ended up getting involved in a physical fight. “The upper caste Brahmin men called their friends and beat up the Dalit men which resulted in severe injuries. Since then, they have been asking for justice,” said Kalsan.
But the agitation didn’t end there. Family members of those Dalits and others staged a dharna in front of the Deputy Commissioner’s (DC) office but to no avail. “We had held a dharna last year. We even went to the High Court. An order for investigation was given but there was no investigation on the ground. We realised that the local administration and the police were hand-in-glove with the upper caste Brahmin families and the Jats,” Kalsan said.
While the investigation and agitation by the Dalits demanding “strict action against the accused” was going on, an announcement of ‘social boycott’ was made. “The guard in the village was asked by the sarpanch, who is also a Jat, to make an announcement of social boycott. It was decreed that no one should retain any kind of relationship with the untouchables. Anyone found doing otherwise, would be liable to pay a fine of Rs. 11,000,” said another activist on the condition of anonymity.
As per the sources, the entire village and the surrounding villages were asked not to maintain any kind of relationship with the Dalits, which in turn affected their livelihood. Anyone caught buying goods from Dalit shops, hiring Dalit maids for work, or even employing Dalits as labourers, were to be punished. “The environment had been turned into a threatening situation by the upper caste people. The auto rickshaw wallas had to go a year with no work as nobody would ride their rickshaw. No one would come and buy from the Dalit kiosks. The main road leading to the school where our community children were studying was blocked.
They were forced to manoeuvre long, dilapidated roads to reach their school. Just because the Dalits had raised their voice for justice, they had to face brutal repercussions,” Kalsan told Newsclick.
The new converts claim that their decision to embrace Buddhism was the result of the social boycott they had been facing for a year. “We have been socially boycotted for a year now. Our livelihood has been affected. Nobody came to ask for us. BJP workers and MLA’s who came here ignored us. Police failed to ensure that we get justice. No fair probe was conducted,” said a newly convert.
The Dalit community in the village was also unhappy with the government. “While we were agitating, no one from BJP came to us and heard our grievances. Why should we vote for such a government?”, said a Dalit man from the village.
Meanwhile, as per the news reports, the Punjab and Haryana High Courts are directly looking into the matter. The statements of villagers belonging to the Dalit community have also been recorded by the court commissioner. “But no fair probe has been conducted. We wanted a fair probe but in return, we were boycotted and threatened,” said Kalsan.
In a statement to the Hindustan Times, Hisar Deputy Commissioner Ashok Kumar Meena said, “The administration always acts upon every complaint received from the families facing social boycott.”
Speaking on the matter, Dalit rights activist and Congress leader from Haryana, Pradeep Narwal said, “Yeh pratirodh ki awaz hai (This is the voice of resistance). BJP has failed to listen to their grievances and demands. They had no other option left but