Touchable Crimes: Gohana Nay Kizzhevanamani

Investigations by the police or the intelligence officials in highly contested cases have an uncanny ability of looking weird in an unabashed manner.

The recent chargesheet filed by the CBI, which had been asked to look into the attack, and arson, at a Dalit (Valmiki) basti in Gohana, once again vindicates this thesis. According to a newspaper report the chargesheet into the 2005 Gohana riots in Haryana has ‘..revealed that some people in Balmiki Basti had set their houses on fire themselves, allegedly for compensation.” The chargesheet talks of CBI’s observations that ” extensive burning was observed in 19 out of 28 houses. Of these, nine houses were inspected thoroughly and it appeared that in these houses the “simulated arsoning” was carried out, which are yet “to get compensation”. It is now history how Gohana, which is around 75 kilometres from the national capital, witnessed burning of 50-60 houses belonging to Valmiki community on 31st August 2005 in broad daylight. A 1,500-2,000 strong of mob of upper caste people mainly belonging to the Jat community had attacked their houses in a systematic manner. The perpetrators had come fully armed with spears, batons, axes, petrol and kerosene oils. They broke TV sets, Refrigerators, Washing Machines, looted the valuables and burst LPG cylinders.

People who had witnessed the pogrom in Gujarat in the year 2002 could find many similarities in the arson and loot and the singling out of dalit houses even from mixed localities.

Thanks to the race for breaking news in the 24-hour channels, one could see the whole arson ‘live’ on one’s TV sets.

One still remembers our visit (4 th September 2005) to Gohana as part of a fact finding team – comprising of writers, journalists, social activists – which had rushed there to get first hand details…..Haunted houses, barren faces, fear still lurking in their eyes…we could meet some old people or relatives of the inhabitants .. no youth was to be seen, for fear of being arrested by the police on some trumped up charges.

We still have copies of the photographs, which we had taken to comprehend the magnitude of damage and communicate to the outside world the status of affairs. None of those photographs, by no iota of imagination convey that people residing in those houses themselves undertook all that exercise supposedly to get compensation (as the experienced officers of the CBI wants us to believe).

The immediate reason for the anger of the Jats was the the murder of a youth allegedly after a scuffle with some Valmikis youths but the roots went deeper. The Valmikis (who have been condemned to the lowermost status in the Varna hierarchy) in Gohana had not only moved up a few ladders of social mobility taking advantage of the affirmative action programmes of the government, but had also started asserting for their rights. The Jats in the area who had dominated the polity and society in innumerable ways in the area felt threatened with the new awakening among the Valmikis. The murder of the youth could act as a rallying point for them. Definitely the compromising role of the political parties was for everyone to see.

The antidemocratic, anti dalit, anti gender role of the various caste panchayats had also come to the fore which did not mind take law in their hands and teach a ‘lesson’ to the dalits in typical medieval fashion. It was disturbing to see that the media (especially the regional one) which is supposed to be a watchdog of democracy, had no qualms in communicating the threats issued by such panchayats to the dalits as well as the administration.

Anybody could see that an organised and experienced team of houseblasters led the ‘spontaneous expression’ of anger of the upper castes against the dalits. Neighbors in the area, who did not wanted to named , had disclosed to us the way in which the gang of lumpens under the leadership of a advocate and son of a local MP had led the marauders. People working in a nearby hospital even told us that the marauders had brought with them mini trucks to ferry the loot from the houses. Definitely even a layperson would be able to tell that the ‘task’ of burning, looting 50-60 houses which are spread over an area of three square kilometers cannot be accomplished within 15 minutes as the police wanted us to believe initially. The police is on record that only 5-6 houses were burnt and the rest caught fire because of winds.

The connivance of the police and the district administration in this gory incident was evident also from the fact that they had full information about the impending attack and instead of taking proper steps to avert any untoward incident they rather asked the residents of these houses to leave the city, threatening them that it would be impossible for them to ensure their security.

When the fact finding team reached Gohana, we discovered to our dismay that attempts were on under the supervision of the sub divisional magistrate himself to ‘clean’ the houses despite the fact that neither all the residents had returned nor a proper evaluation of the damages to the property had been done. These attempts smacked of planned coverup of the whole incident. It was clear that despite facing lot of flak for its inaction and connivance the administration was not ready to mend its ways.

Stigmatisation as well as criminalisation of the dalits was also on, wherein the whole basti of Valmikis was being portrayed as a ‘den of criminals.’ A senior police officer, who is otherwise famous for his literary pursuits, is on record saying that ‘criminals thrive in the basti’. Perhaps he wanted to convey the impression that this gave license to the dominant castes to teach these ‘criminals’ a lesson.

And last but not the least Gohana had precipitated a media reaction which could be said to be unique in its history. It is fact that but for the keen interest shown by a few channels, the burning of houses in Gohana could be witnessed by the rest of the populace otherwise the whole incident would have remained buried under the whimsies of the local thana itself. But what happened the next day was unpardonable. Two leading TV channels ( ZEE and STAR) went in for a live telecast of a large gathering led by the dominant castes organised as a ‘Sarva Jaati Panchayat’ wherein not only the dalits were stigmatised further but the administration itself was warned against taking any action against the perpetrators. And this live telecast went on for whole of the day.

Perhaps all these details are now meaningless, as we have before us the ‘official’ truth scripted by the diligent officers of the CBI. Perhaps all these details would be useful for posterity, wherein some young researcher would discover the metamorphosis of victims themselves into perpetrators which used to happen in the wee hours of the 21 st century.In an article written then for a magazine the undersigned had asked that “ would not be enough that the actual perpetrators of the attack are identified and tried according to the suitable provisions of the SC ST act but it is high time that immediate action is taken by the government under the Section 4 of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, against the responsible police officers and others for their willful negligence in providing protection to Dalits and their property and their complicity in the rioting incident.”

Looking at the fact that the premier investigating agency has held dalits as co-offenders in the burning of their own houses, it would be easy for the responsible officers to save themselves from charges of ‘wilful negligence’

This is an era of ‘remakes’ or ‘remix’es. In a way Gohana seems to be a crude remake of the ‘first’ massacre of dalits in independent India (1969) at Kizzevannmani, Thanjavur. Dalits had risen there under the leadership of Communist party demanding better wages. And the dominant castes who were big landownes, literally came to their hamlet and massacred them -mostly women and children – one by one, supposedly to teach them a lesson. In all 44 people were killed. But what was the decision of the courts: It allowed all the perpetrators of the massacre to go scot free under a spacious argument that ‘since all the accused belonged to upper castes, it is impossible that they would have gone walking to the hamlett.’

Perhaps we are still in the era of Manusmriti, which had clearly stated that touchable crimes are no crimes. Some other learned men of the era had rather formulated it in a crisp shloka : ‘Vaidiki Hinsa Hinsa Na Bhavati’.

Amen !

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