The Caste Factor

Terrorising Jaloor Dalits

Sardara Singh Mahil

Terrorism is the main theme of public discourse these days, especially in the corridors of powers and in the cozy studios of television channels. The whole country is being drowned in the propaganda blitzkrieg about so-called terrorism.

One terrorism has gone berserk in Jaloor village of Sangrur district, Punjab, whose terror is still looming large on the Dalit basti (slum) of Jaloor. This has badly shaken the democratic and revolutionary movement of Punjab.

What happened in Jaloor? According to the Punjab Village Common Land Act, one third share of panchayat land in villages is reserved for Dalits, which only Dalils can take on auction for tilling.

Framing of a law is one thing whereas its implementation is quite a different thing and depends on the social reality on the ground. In a class divided society, even the most liberal democracy is a democracy only for the dominant and ruling class. For example. Panchayat Raj institutions are democratic institutions, but in reality are controlled by landlords and rural rich. Law has reserved seats in panchayats for Dalits but Dalit Sarpanches are merely stamps and thumb impressions for the landlords who have made them contest the elections and have financed and managed their election campaigns. They are the real Sarpanches. Similarly seats are reserved for women in Panchayat Raj institutions, but actually those women are wives or other relatives of landlords/chowdharies, and it is they who run the affairs of panchayats. Similarly co-operatives are the institutions of the era of socialism and emerged in that era, but are instruments of economic power of landlords/rural rich who use them as their weapons for their economic interests. Same has been the fate of provision of one third reservation of panchayat land for Dalits by Punjab Village Common Land Act. Landlords / rural rich take that reserve land in the name of some Dalit on auction thus defeating the law. This has been a general phenomenon throughout Punjab. But in March 2014, people, mainly Dalits, organized themselves under the banner of Zameen Prapti Sangarsh Committee for getting their legal right on panchayat land, land allotted to nazul land society and land surplus of ceiling of land. But for the rural rich it was difficult to digest this assertion. Dalits of village Balad Klan raised the banner of struggle for their share of panchayat land in 2014. Government responded with lathicharge and foisting of false cases including the serious section of attempt to murder and put 43 Dalits including the President of Zameen Prapti Sangharsh Committee behind the bars. After a persistent struggle for almost four months they succeeded in getting land for hadi crop and also got the arrested released unconditionally. Dalits took to co-Operative farming successfully and thus created a new example as a way for the solution to the crisis being faced by peasantry, especially small peasantry. In 2015 this movement spread to two dozen villages.

Though this struggle was only to claim the legal rights but it rang danger bells for the rural rich and landlords and they pressed upon the government to suppress this movement. A deputation of pro-Akali sarpanches and panches met Deputy Chief Minister, Sukhbir Singh Badal and urged him to forcibly suppress this movement because since this ZPSC organization has come into existence, Dalits are not obeying them, they pose a challenge to power of rural rich and are defying them because of organization. On the one hand the Government let loose repression on Dalits of Balad Klan. They were brutally lathicharged by police. Police even resorted to firing when Dalits were protesting in front of the block office, Bhwanigarh. Police did not spare even students, women and old men and women.

Not only that, 170 Dalits including the leadership of ZPSC were implicated in false cases under serious charges including '"attempt to murder" (Section 307 of Indian Penal Code). Eight people were arrested and put behind bars. Some leaders of ZPSC and the General Secretary were later on arrested and were jailed. On the other hand landlords tried to divide Dalits by bribing them. In village Balad Klan some Dalits families were offered rupees one lakh each. In another village, Ghrachon, Dalits were offered a brand new tractor but all these tactics did not succeed and Dalits remained largely united. Despite this carrot and stick policy pursued by the Government and the local ruling people, the struggle won an important victory. Dalits got their share of panchayat land in nearly 40 villages. But Dalits could not get their share of land in three villages, namely Jancrhi, Jaloor and Kalaudi. In Kalaudi some case regarding Panchayat land is pending in court and in other two villages there were dummy auctions. Despite a number of representations at various levels and a long drawn struggle, dummy auctions were not cancelled nor land restored to the entitled Dalits. In this background, Dalits of Jaloor, frustrated by the attitude of the Government, went for symbolic harvesting of paddy crop sown by dummy auctioneer on October first 2016. Enraged by this act of defiance by the oppressed landlords using caste card mobilized some people and attacked some Dalits. Dalits lodged complaints against them with the police but instead of taking action against the landlords, cases were framed against Dalits. ZPSC staged a dharna in front of SDM office at Lehragaga. During the dharna itself the goons of landlords were threatening Dalits. In the village, announcement was being made that Dalits are to be taught a stern lesson when they return. Leaders brought the whole situation to the notice of the administration, which assured full protection. But when Dalits along with people from other villages and some leaders of fraternal organizations reached the village in the evening they were furiously attacked, men and women were badly beaten. Even old and children were not spared. Property was looted and destroyed. Houses of the leaders and activists of the ZPSC were specially targeted. Police was supervising this carnage. State president of Kirti Kisan Union rang up SSP to apprise him about the situation but SSP replied that there is complete calm in the village and no tension in the village and that report of KKU leader was not correct. But when KKU President said that he was speaking from the village itself, the phone was disconnected. It speaks volumes about the fact that the attack was planned at the District Level administration, specially police administration. Another fact also proves the connivance of police and civil administration. Deputy Superintendent of police and SDM reached the village and contacted ZPSC leaders over phone and told them they want to rescue the people who are from outside the village. They should be asked to come out at a common place, but when people reached the spot men were arrested and taken away leaving the women in open, unprotected. Another fact also reveals police connivance. Some of the injured Dalits, who were admitted to the civil hospital, Lehragaga were taken away by a police posse personally led by SSP. This beating and looting continued till 3 AM and again started in the morning till some press people reached the village. Many houses of Dalits were locked and deserted. Young boys and girls were sent out to relatives. All works were at a stand still. Life of Dalits came to a grinding halt. Cattle were without green fodder and infants without milk. Jaloor incident is a landmark in the history of people's struggle in Punjab, specially in the history of struggles of Dalits. Generally Punjab is considered to be the metropolis of rural India. It is the state where imperialism made the first experiment of its model of agriculture, misnamed as Green Revolution. General view is that with the implementation of green revolution model, not only class contradictions are not particularly sharp but caste oppression and repression is substantially muted. Specially, struggle on issues connected with land is considered to be a thing of past. But this struggle for Dalit-share in panchayat land has shown that land hunger among labouring masses of rural areas is not only particularly sharp but it is also a question of honour and prestige for the labouring people belonging to Dalit castes. The question of honour is particularly very important for the women. Because it is the women folk who have to face humiliation and sexual exploitation when they go to the fields for collecting green fodder and for other chores. That is why women are very actively participating in this struggle. They have to face not only repression and filthy language from the policemen but also a very stiff opposition from the family especially elderly male members of the family and also the jeers from the upper caste villagers. But despite all these hurdles they have not held back from this struggle. Some of the women have also moved up to positions of leadership of ZPSC. Now they don't fear police and civil officials but fearlessly enter their office and talk to them with courage. Secondly this struggle has brought the issue on the political agenda of the state. A committee has been formed to study and find out a solution of this issue. Apart from it, this has become a hot topic of discussion among the ranks of communist revolutionary organizations. Initially most of the revolutionary organizations were looking towards this struggle with indifference, disbelief and curiosity. But the persistent and stubborn struggle by ZPSC and successes achieved by this struggle changed their attitude. The time when repression in Jaloor took place, all mass organizations belonging to revolutionary stream came forward and joined together under the banner of "Jaloor Kand Jabar Virodhi Sangharsh Committee" and fought a prolonged struggle. This struggle also brought together the communist revolutionary camp that is plagued by the phenomenon of ‘split within split’.

On the other hand, all ruling class and revisionist parties got lined up against this struggle. Ruling Akali Dal projects itself as the party of Sikh peasantry which largely belongs to the Jat caste and this is the vote bank of Akali party. As landlords of Jaloor succeeded in mobilizing Jat peasants by utilizing caste divide, so Finance Minister Parminder Siingh Dhindsa put his whole weight behind the Jaloor landlords and directed the administration to unilaterally support landlords. But the role of parliamentary opposition parties is in no way different. Congress is the main opposition party in the state and claims traditional base among the Dalits. It has kept its mouth tightly shut on this issue. Bhagwant Mann, leader of AAP in Lok Sabha, represents this area but has not uttered a single word against this carnage in Jaloor, what to talk about organizing any protest against this. Bahujan Samaj Party, which claims to be the sole champion of Dalit interests, kept a studied silence on the issue. Similarly CPI and CPM, the professed champions of working class, proving themselves to be the left wing of ruling classes, also acted according to their class and caste interests and did not come forward to fight out this tyranny of rural ruling class, rather they chose to be silent on the issue. Revolutionary Marxist Party (Pasla group) followed the same course.

Liberation group has a stake here, as the brother of a ZPSC area leader from Jaloor is state Secretary of the peasant organization of Liberation group but is supporting this struggle. He was arrested and put behind bars. So Liberation, of its own and to encash it in the coming assembly elections, declared to hold a challenge rally in the village. But this group collected 70-80 people in the nearby town, shouted some slogans and went to their homes, after completing a formality. This had an adverse effect and landlords got emboldened. On the other hand ‘Liberation’ refused to attend the joint meeting of peasants and rural labour organizations called by ZPSC, which was attended by all revolutionary organizations and a committee against repression in Jaloor was formed. This struggle effected a polarization between revolutionaries on one side and all others, ruling class and revisionists on the other.

Punjab is considered to be most developed and advanced state and it is believed that here the atmosphere is more democratic compared with some other states like Bihar, UP and Odisha etc. It is also considered that caste repression and oppression is not very acute and caste carnages as a phenomenon are alien to Punjab. Ruling class politicians generally say that it is not Bihar, it is Punjab. But this struggle has clearly revealed that this so-called democratic atmosphere is prevalent till class contradictions remain dormant, people are not organized and conscious of their rights. But the moment they stand up for their rights, all the parochial elements and factors come into play. When class struggle gets intensified, Dalits rise to attain their rights, there is little difference between Punjab and Bihar, UP and Odisha etc. Ruling classes everywhere, resort to same methods; they not only let loose brutal repression by state forces but also marshal all parochial elements in the society and use all sorts of divisive methods to break the class unity.

This struggle revealed the caste bias of state functionaries and civil administration and police bureaucracy. At the time of Jaloor violence, DC, SSP and SP of Sangrur were from upper castes. Not only that, the SDM Moonak, DSP and SHO of Lehargaga were also from upper castes. The way all these officials acted during this incident, the way all the officers of civil and police administration closed their eyes to the brutality of landlords of Jaloor, the way SSP himself went at night to arrest Dalits from the Civil Hospital Lehragaga all show the caste bias of senior state functionaries of district Sangrur. This reinforces the case for continuation of reservation in jobs and also in promotion to higher jobs.

A very important aspect of this struggle is that it exerted a big influence on a section of writers, intellectuals and Cultural activists and they openly came out in support of this struggle. Some writers and intellectuals marched on the streets of Sangrur supporting this struggle. Apart from this, a large number of theatre activists from Punjab Lok Sabhyachark Manch and also those who are not part of it and writers held a press conference supporting this struggle and after that they marched in a procession. They also joined the morcha by Jaloor Jabr Virodhi Committee and performed in a ten thousand strong gathering of workers and peasants. One well known drama writer arid one popular novelist, both Sahitya Academy award winners, expressed their desire to write on this struggle. This is an encouraging phenomenon in Punjab.

Though there are a number of positive aspects, this struggle posed serious problems before the revolutionary movement. Of course there are many divisive elements but as the landlords have utilized caste and mobilized a large number of Jat peasants behind them, this is a major stumbling block in the way of building worker- peasant alliance. A faction of BKU named after its leader, Sidhupur, a Tohra loyalist, has come out openly in support of landlords, mobilized Jat peasantry on caste basis and held a prolonged dharna in Sangrur. This has further complicated the issue. This is the problem before the ZPSC and its leadership. Because taking a cue from this, landlords in other villages will also try to use this weapon, symptoms of which are already visible. The future of this movement will largely depend upon how this problem is handled.

Vol. 49, No.37, Mar 19 - 25, 2017