What the Sunped Atrocity Tells Us About Caste in Haryana: Tanvi Ahuja

Guest Post by Tanvi Ahuja

The recent Dalit atrocity in Sunped, Ballabgarh is a stark reminder of how caste continues to shape our society and our very existence and dignity. Yes, it was an atrocity and any attempts to hide the same in the garb of personal dispute or family feud are not only misleading but a great disservice to the lived experiences of Dalits in this country.

Sunped is just another Jat- dominated village in the caste underbelly of the state of Haryana, famous for the Mirchpur atrocity that saw a 70- year old Dalit and his daughter burnt alive in 2010. Jitender’s is one of the approximately 80 Dalit families in Sunped, comprising the Chamaars and Balmikis. His immediate family and relatives are an educated lot; many of them employed in stable private sector jobs. The family also has a strong political lineage- Jitender’s grandfather and brother, Jagmal have held the office of Sarpanch in the last two decades, except in 2005-10 when the wife of the main accused Balwant became the Sarpanch on the reserved seat for women. It was Balwant however who called the shots throughout his wife’s term.

Last year, on October 5, 2014, an altercation happened between Balwant’s and Jitender’s families over a mobile phone. There are two theories to what started this altercation. Jitender’s relatives claim to have found pictures of women from their family, in compromising positions, on the mobile phone of Balwant’s relative. Balwant’s family claims in the FIR it filed with the police that their phone was found and intentionally thrown into a drain by Jitender’s relatives. The ensuing fight resulted in severe injuries on both sides and death of three Jat men from Balwant’ family.

It did not take the police a day to arrest 11 Dalits- all members of Jitender’s family- nine men and two women. Jagmal was indiscriminately named among the accused even when it is widely known that at the time of incident, he was at a political rally with an MLA. According to Hritesh, Jitender’s nephew, affidavits to this effect have been signed and submitted by other Sarpanches present at the rally but conveniently ignored. Balwant’s family began threatening Jitender’s relatives with dire consequences. The very next day, their houses were ransacked and vehicles set on fire. With no help forthcoming from the police, they were left with no choice but to flee. In January 2015, they were finally promised police protection and assured by the authorities that they could safely go back to Sunped.

The daily harassment, name calling, and threats however continued. As per a written complaint by Rekha, Jitender’s wife, dated October 6, 2015, she was threatened and verbally abused by Balwant’s relatives over October 4-5. When the matter reached Subhash Yadav, Commissioner of Police, he is alleged to have remarked, “Unke to teen mare hain. Jab tumhara koi mare, tab aana” (Three of their kin have died. When someone from your family is killed, then come and complain).

Well, little Divya and Vaibhav are now dead. Their charred bodies, displayed in full public view on Wednesday, first at their home and then on the Delhi- Agra highway, became the rallying point for Dalits to come out in large numbers and demand the arrests of Balwant and 14 of his relatives. The mass mobilization and protests forced M.L. Khattar’s government to take notice. Seven police persons have reportedly been suspended and the state government has ordered a CBI enquiry and formed a Special Investigation Team to investigate the incident. But why did it have to take the murder of two children to wake the administration from its reverie?

Angry Dalit women protesting against police inaction in the Sunped atrocity on October 21 near Sunped, Haryana
Angry Dalit women protesting against police inaction in the Sunped atrocity on October 21 near Sunped, Haryana

This incident can hardly be surmised as being the result of rivalry between two families as some reports have tried to do. This was not a tussle between two Jat families, but between a Jat and Dalit family. It is quite mind-boggling how the caste undercurrent is missed or rather, deliberately ignored even when it is staring one in the face. The economic and political standing of Jitender’s family in Sunped was nothing but an eyesore for the dominant castes and was accordingly perceived as a threat to ‘upper’-caste dominance. It is thus imperative that this incident be viewed in the larger context of the slow but steady social, economic, and political ascent of Dalits that faces a strong, often bloody resistance from dominant castes.

Dalit women are often at the centre of the caste politics that plays out in villages like Sunped. The notions of their sexual availability and commodification as well as their inherent unequal-ness owing to their caste serve as open invitation to degrade and humiliate them.  As Lajjawati and Brijesh, relatives of Jitender testified- Balwant’s family did not miss a single chance in reminding them every single day that they were chamaars and hence, beneath them. From sexual innuendos to comments about their ‘clean’, ‘white’ clothes, they heard and bore it all.

Shyam Singh from the Balmiki community in Sunped, concurred that caste dynamics form the core of social relationships in Sunped. Seemingly innocuous remarks made by upper caste men when Shyam Singh forgets to greet them with a “Ram, Ram” or the fact that Dalits still cannot touch or drink water from an upper caste house, belie claims of a harmonious co-existence of Jats and Dalits. An illusion of peace is manufactured and sustained by upper-caste hegemony in collusion with the state machinery. The same police persons who were on protection duty for Jitender’s family would be seen socializing with Balwant’s kin over tea. And when Jitender’s relatives raised their voices to complain or assert their rights, the collusive forces clamped down to silence them.

This incident, like many others before and after it, is not about law and order or throwing stones at dogs, courtesy V.K. Singh. It is about caste privilege; about the dehumanization of the Dalit; and about the cold blooded murder of children who paid the price for our patriarchal, Brahminical society. Lest we forget, the caste monster is very much amidst us and here to stay.

Tanvi Ahuja is a graduate of Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai and a social activist in human rights and the law.

8 thoughts on “What the Sunped Atrocity Tells Us About Caste in Haryana: Tanvi Ahuja

  1. K SHESHU BABU

    In addition to the commomly found blood groups, in India, there is a peculiar blood group which can be named ‘Caste’ groups. These are found heritarily in every individual. The great ‘scientist’ Manu discovered and perfected a ‘bi-nomial’ nomenclature which gives an individual his name and the ‘family’name or ‘surname’ which invariably indicates his or her caste. The Sastrys and Sharmas of brahmins can be separated from vermas of banias, gouds and yadavs of backward classes, manjhis of mahadalits or mondas of tribes…. If this is the state of affairs, why do not caste rivalry take place ? Ambedkar said perfectly that here, there is division of labourers. The ‘kulas’, ‘jatis’, ‘gotras’ complete the human being in India. Johnsons and Jeffersons cannot be distinguished by castes as easily as an Indian sharma or verma …

  2. thinkingabout it

    It is not fair to describe any instance of violence involving dalits as being based on caste discrimination. Clearly there was a long standing rivalry between the two families – there does not seem to be clear evidence for other upper castes colluding with the Jats to kill the dalits.

    The media never describes the caste of the perpetrator when the perp is a dalit – making for a very lopsided narrative, where almost all the inter-caste violence seems to be committed by non-dalit groups, against dalits. Dalits go around murdering other people, then hide under the fig leaf of caste discrimination.

    Furthermore, it is quite bizarre how violence by Jats is attributed to “Brahminical” societal norms. Brahminical Hinduism is very weak in Haryana, given the influence of Sikhism and the Arya Samaj. Jats, on the other hand, are known for their aggression, and are not particularly “Brahminical”.

  3. Vikas Rathee

    The authoress forgot to verify facts. Sunped is not just another Jat-dominated village. It is a Rajput-dominated village.

    Higher editorial standards are expected.

  4. Pingback: What the Sunped Atrocity Tells Us About Caste in Haryana: Tanvi Ahuja | oshriradhekrishnabole

  5. This happens when we jump to conclusions basis media reports and term a domestic violence case as dalit “Atrocity”. Yes, there is a twist in this case. Believing initial reports of investigation agencies it was more a domestic violence case and not and attack by outsiders. These revelations have tight slapped media, politicians and AC room bloggers. The media has suddenly dropped coverage of this case. Everyone went silent.

    Now my question, Would these media spoilers now write in favor of those 3 widows of so called upper caste. As the so called dalits have killed 3 persons of same so called upper caste family last year and no monetary support or Govt. Jobs were given to them. And no visits were made, and no thought “provoking post” was written on Kafila.

  6. kavita chauhan from mirchpur village of hisar in haryana

    THE INCIDENTS CUM ACCIDENTS OF DALIT’S ATROCITIES ARE WELL INTER CONNECTED WITH THE COLOUR OF CASTISM…. only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches. so my dear friends who stand oppose it with these statements these incidents are purely based upon rivalry not have any relation with caste class and gender. Might be they are deliberately closed their eyes….by this the truth cannot be changed….Our system of society channelized by caste and customs….which never give any respect even a dalit honest IAS officer what exactly comes in the way of that honest dalit IAS officer despite he discharge his duty faithfully often comes with the charges of bribe and corruption….reason is quite simple upper caste subordinate can’t bear this drastic change in their roles…which is gradually been replaces them in the form of subordinate to DALIT’S ONE.

  7. Pingback: Kanhaiya Kumar Caste – Oyo Rooms l ऑयो कमरे

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