Ramgarh’s Dalits Threatened As They Testify in Court Against Attack

July 24, 2014

Dalits of Ramgarh village (Dadri,UP), have begun testifying in court against the gram pradhan Kuldeep Bhati and his henchmen, who had subjected them to a murderous attack on March 14, 2012. They have been waging their battle for justice under the banner of the CPI(ML). To prevent them from testifying in court, or to pressure them to turn hostile, the gram pradhan and his men have intensified their campaign of intimidation.

A CPI(ML) team comprising PB member Kavita Krishnan, State Committee members Aslam Khan and Shyamkishor, as well as Anas Kidwai, Mohit Kashyap, Rituparna Biswas and Prashant Gupta of RYA, Susanne Adley visited Ramgarh on July 20, 2014. A report.

The March 14th Attack
On March 14, 2012, the Dalit Jatav families of Ramgarh (Dadri, UP) had been subjected to an assault by the gram pradhan Kuldeep Bhati, and his henchmen. This attack,happening soon after the UP Assembly poll results, had the purpose of punishing the Jatavs from having staked claim to commons land that had been allocated to Dalits as homestead plots.

Towards the end of 2011, 4.75 bighas of panchayat land, allocated by the state government to the Dalit families in Ramgarh, was illegally occupied by the gram pradhan, Kuldeep Bhati, and his henchmen.

The Jatavs, led by Brahm Singh – a young Dalit resident of the village, filed a written complaint about the land garb with the Sub-Divisional Magistrate on January, 24th,2012. This led Bhati and his supporters (from the dominant Gujjar caste) to resort to abuses and threats. Soon after when another young Jatav, Vinod, S/O Bidha, refused to carry the carcass of a dead buffalo, he was beaten up for the audacity.

On March 14th though, Kuldeep Bhati led his men in a barbaric attack on the Jatav families. Men, women and even old people were attacked with rods and axes in their houses,which left dozens of them with broken bones and skull injuries.

Since then, the Dalits have been waging a battle for justice as well as for their rightful land. In the course of their struggle they contacted the CPI(ML). On 29th March 2012, the aggrieved families accompanied by the activists of CPI(ML) and RYA, submitted a memorandum to the District Magistrate of Gautam Buddha Nagar, asking that the perpetrators of the March 14 attack be arrested, booked under Section 307, and jailed; and the land allotted to the Dalit families be retrieved from the pradhan and restored to the community. Eventually, after sustained struggles, the accused were booked, and even arrested by a reluctant police.

Atrocities Continue
One of the youths who had been at the forefront of this battle, Tikaram, had his legs chopped off in July 2013. On the night of July 18, a Dalit girl was injured by a bullet inside her own home. The very next morning, an eager police arrested four Jatavs (no coincidence that these were the youths at the forefront of the struggle for land and justice – Brahm, Veerpal, Roshan, and Guddan), falsely charging them with shooting the girl.Another jatav youth, Tika Ram, was also charged who was found the next morning, unconscious and mutilated with legs chopped off near the railway tracks.

Tika Ram revealed the names of his four attackers – Nepal, Dayaram, Anil Bhati, and the gram pradhan -Kuldeep Bhati. Nepal and Dayaram, though from the Dalit Jatav caste,are close to the gram pradhan Kuldeep Bhati.

All these incidents that occurred were repeatedly reported to the UP Govt., NHRC (complaint dated August 6, 2012) and National Commission of SCs/STs (complaint dated August, 13, 2012). Even after NHRC asked for a detailed report from the Dadri Tehsildar, nothing substantial happened which could have stopped the serial attacks, as even this report was biased,inaccurate and distorted by design. This explicitly explains the tacit nexus between the land grabbers and the administration.

The administration have instead of taking any criminal action against the grabbers, forwarded the matter to revenue court on the recommendation of the SDM. This is clearly done to delay the matters, hence protect the grabbers, as it takes decades to resolve a dispute in revenue matters! By that time Dalit families are rendered defenceless, in order to teach them a lesson for asking for their share of land and justice.

Real Estate Racket
As one approaches Ramgarh, one can see, closing in around the agricultural land, massive real estate developments by Ansal, Sushant Magapolis and so on. Residents of villagers around Ramgarh have told of how panchayat (commons) land that according to a 1981 UP law is supposed to be distributed among Dalits for homesteads, is instead grabbed by dominant castes and eventually sold off to real estate developers. What is happening in Ramgarh is closely linked to this process.

Fresh Intimidation
The first testimony in the case against the perpetrators of the 14th March, 2012 attack, was registered in the Gautam Budh Nagar District Court (Surajkund) on 2ndJune, 2014. Brahm Jatav was to appear in court again on 23rd July,where the lawyer for six of the accused would cross-examine him.

Brahm is the first and one of the key witnesses in the whole case. There are 19 other witnesses from the Dalit community, apart from the police witnesses. Now, ‘Operation Intimidation’ is on, to silence their voice.

Brahm told us that the Dalits were asked to attend a Gujjar Panchayat on 8th June to ‘settle’ the‘dispute’. He and other Dalits were reluctant to go, but some of Bhati’s men came to Brahm’s home and pressurised him and other Dalit youth to attend. Brahm asked that the Panchayat be held on neutral ground. Instead it was held in an area completely populated by the dominant caste, locally known as the Dak Bangla.

At Brahm’s home, Bhati’s men accused Brahm, Tikaram’s brother Bhuvanesh and other Dalits of ‘harbouring Pakistani terrorists’ in their homes. This was a transparent insinuation against CPI(ML) activists Aslam Khan as well as RYA activists Anas Kidwai and others who happen to be Muslim. At that time, RYA activists Anas Kidwai and Prashant Gupta were at Tikaram’s house. Seven of Kuldeep Bhati’s henchmen, packed with pistols, arrived there to ‘meet’ Anas and Prashant. Barely veiling their threats, they told Anas and Prashant, “Why are you interfering in village matters? We would not like something bad to happen to you. There are more than a 100 of us gathered close by.”The henchmen then coerced seven of the Dalit youths to go to the panchayat.

This was the day after the murder,in Dadri, of BJP leader Vijay Pandit. As a consequence, Section 144 was imposed in the area, prohibiting mass gatherings. Yet, when Brahm and the handful of Dalit youth arrived at the panchayat, they found150 people gathered there. This was a gathering of dominant caste men, from a total of 12 villages. Though this massive armed gathering was in clear violation of Section 144, the police were nowhere to be seen; they had turned a tacit blind eye.

“They had lathis and pistols with them,” said Brahm, “The gathering was menacing and did not inspire confidence in us.” The panchayat began by reminding the Dalits of the borrowed money they owed to the dominant case lenders.They asked for the money back, on the spot: “We’ll tie you here nd keep you till you pay.” Having begun on an offensive note, they then began to talk of a ‘compromise.’

Bhati’s men said that they would clear the occupation of the 4.75 bighas of panchayat land, and would pay medical expenses incurred by the Dalits injured in the attacks,and in return the Dalits must agree to sign an affidavit on a ‘stamp paper’, stating their willingness to withdraw statements against the accused in the 14 March 2012 attack. They were told that they could be killed anywhere as they had nowhere to go, being surrounded by villages that are dominated by the Gujjars: “Even if some of us go to jail, we will still manage to kill you from inside the jail.”The Dalit youth, fearing for their lives, stated their agreement but resisted the pressure to sign the affidavit then and there, saying they would do so the next day.

In the next couple of days, immense pressure was brought on Brahm and others to sign the compromise affidavit. He stalled, asking for the land to be cleared of illegal occupation first. As a gesture that he was willing to clear the land of occupation, Bhati had an illegal shop demolished, that had been blocking the road used by the Dalits to access the panchayat land.But Bhati’s emissaries then told Brahm and his father Harpal that they would have to pay Rs 2 lakh for the demolition of the shop!

On 20th July, the Dalits, though clearly disturbed and terrorised, expressed their intention to stand firm and not give in to the intimidation and pressure to‘compromise’. Prakashi, one of those worst injured on March 14,2012, declared, “I’ll identify the accused in court and face the consequences. I refuse to be scared of them. We do need the land, but we know they’ll never clear the occupation or let us use it. It’sa fight for our dignity now.”

A young man, Virpal said, “They too are scared of us, else they would never have to collect 150people in order to talk to us! They are scared that we might stop fearing them. And their fear is justified.” He recounted an instance where he and another youth were accosted by some powerful men of the dominant caste. In such an altercation, in normal circumstances, the latter would have slapped the Dalit boys. But this time, Virpal said, they did not, and that only indicated that the court case was acting as a fetter on Bhati’s henchmen.

Vikas, an RYA activist from the village, said, “We all know they’ll never let us have the land.Moreover, the ‘affidavit’ they’re asking us to sign is meaningless, since it is the State that files the case, not us. So the affidavit, even if we were to sign it, would not end the case,but it would merely weaken our side of it. It would require us to lie and turn hostile in Court. We are not going to do that.”

Observations
It is clear that the UP police and administration have taken no lessons from Muzaffarnagar. How come dominant caste ‘panchayats’ of armed people are allowed to gather in defiance of Section 144, in an sensitive area where horrific violence has already taken place many times? Section 144 is used often enough to prevent peaceful protests; yet it is not enforced to prevent actual rioting and organised violence!

Moreover, the echoes of Muzaffarnagar can be heard in the ugly insinuations against activists who happen to be Muslim. The ease with which such activists can be branded as ‘Pakistani terrorists’ and threatened with violence is of great concern.

The coercive nature of the caste ‘panchayats’ is also underlined by the episode. We often hear khap panchayats legitimised as a community’s way of dispute resolution, avoiding litigation. The actual nature of such ‘dispute resolution’ is exposed by this episode, whereby Brahm and his Dalit friends did not have a real choice not to attend the ‘panchayat.’ Note, this was a dominant caste panchayat where the Dalits were ‘summoned’; this was no dispute resolution between ‘equal’ members of a rural ‘community’. The Dalits were outnumbered by an intimidating gathering of armed men from the dominant caste. The Gujjar ‘panchayat’, in the name of dispute resolution, was staged to threaten the Dalits into turning hostile as witnesses in an atrocity against Dalits. And the sheer absence and apathy of the police and local administration gave the Dalits an unmistakeable message that they are isolated, and left to fend for themselves. The police apathy creates a situation where it is possible for perpetrators of unmistakeable crimes – a daylight assault on Dalits and dismemberment of a Dalit youth – to force the victims to ‘compromise’ in the name of dispute resolution rather than stand their ground in Court.

Demands
It is clear that there is an immediate threat of fresh violence against the Dalit witnesses and their families.

We demand that the witnesses in the 14th March 2012 attack case, and their families, be provided with police protection, as they face very serious threats to terrorize them into not appearing in court.

We also demand that the occupied land be immediately cleared of occupation and handed over to the rightful claimants of the Jatav community.