Fact-finding team presents its report on caste violence in Pabnava village in Haryana

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Photo: Ankit Agrawal
Photo: Ankit Agrawal

Violence erupted in Pabnava village in Haryana when Surya Kant (21), the son of a daily-wage labourer, Mahendra Pal of the Chamar (Dalit) community, eloped with Meena (21), daughter of Pirthi Singh from the upper caste Ror community. They registered their marriage in the High Court of Punjab and Haryana, and sought police protection on 9 April 2013. When Pirthi Singh came to know of the marriage, he was infuriated and asked Mahendra Pal to come to his house and threatened him with dire consequences if Surya Kant refused to divorce Meena. However, Singh failed to persuade his son to divorce Meena.

After Surya and Meena’s request for protection, the Punjab police put up them in a protection home at Kaithal. However, news got around and their village members got to know of their marriage and whereabouts on 12 April. The Ror community called for a panchayat session the next day which declared the marriage illegal and pressurised Surya’s family to initiate the divorce procedures immediately. Meena’s family also tried to persuade her to leave Surya but failed to do so.

On the evening of 13 April, Sultan Singh alias Handa, accompanied by three men from the Ror community, went to the Dalit basti. They abused the villagers and threatened to kidnap girls from the community. Fearing violence, the Dalits immediately informed Taken Raj, District Superintendent of Police (DSP), but he refused to meet them. The Dalits then approached Kuldeep Singh, the SP of Kaithal, and got Sultan Singh arrested. They also deployed 10-15 police personnel for the villagers’ protection.

Despite that, nearly 200 families fled the village soon afterwards. But soon after, around 400 members of the Ror community attacked the Dalit basti. They damaged property and also looted cash and valuables. In the attack, six Dalits were also injured. When the police tried to help the villagers, they too were attacked. The government announced compensation of Rs 1,20,000 per head for the seriously injured. The police has since arrested 24 of the 52 accused.

Himanshu Kumar, a member of the fact-finding team, termed this incident as the culmination of the deep-rooted caste prejudice and hatred. He elaborated on the change in dynamics of the socio-economic relationship between the communities since the Dalits are now relatively more empowered through education. He recalled an incident where a landlord belonging to the Ror community labeled some former daily wage workers as thugs and said that they did not have any right to continue living in the village. This because they found themselves better jobs away from the menial daily-wage work they previously did. The team consisted of Himanshu Kumar, Ratnesh Kumar, Utpala Shukla and Abirami, among others.

The team recommended that the Ror community be penalised with being made to pay fines to create a collective fund which would be used to rebuild the houses of the Dalits and provide adequate compensation for the loss of their property. The team also suggested that the Ror community be charged with Sec 16 of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989, and that all the accused be arrested.

Swami Agnivesh urged the government to encourage inter-caste marriages to break caste-based prejudices. He also said he would organise an inter-caste marriage convention in Kurukshetra in a few months. Ratnesh Kumar said that an environment of insecurity still prevails and women continue to live away from the village.

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Ankit Agrawal works as photographer with Tehelka. He has a BA (Hons.) in Political Science and a PG Diploma in Conflict Management and Development from the Banaras Hindu University in Banaras, followed by a PG Diploma in Journalism from the Asian College of Journalism, Madras. He is based in New Delhi and is interested in documenting development, human rights, people’s movement, arts and culture and politics.

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