As India celebrated its 66th Independence Day, the Dalits of Dandva Baddi Village were under attack from the upper caste people. Community Correspondent Amarjeet had reported the case from Rohtas District, Bihar, in his very first video. The skirmish left 54 injured and one dead. Many lost all their belongings as their homes turned to ashes in the firing done by the hands of the upper caste community. The evidence Amarjeet and his friends collected helped the families get justice.
“An unrest had been brewing for some time in Dandva Baddi because the so called upper caste families were unhappy with the fact that the Dalits had built a temple on the main road. They were infuriated by the fact that they had to walk through the Dalit temple to get to their houses.
It is in this context that some people from the upper caste groups planned to hoist the Indian flag at the Independence Day celebrations in the grounds of the temple. They would stake a claim to that area and install a statue of a local freedom fighter.
The Dalit community had in the mean time given a written complaint to the District Collector. On the 13th of August he ordered that no one would be allowed to hoist a flag or do any sort of activity on the temple land that Independence Day. But that didn’t matter…
As Indians across celebrated their Independence, on the 15th of August 2013, a 300 person strong mob of the upper caste men descended on the temple and forcibly hoisted the Indian flag. The Dalit community attempted to protest and was in turn fired upon by the miscreants. They didn’t stop there. They went and burned houses and property of Dalit people as well. 54 people were injured and one man died. It just goes to show that there are millions to whom this ‘independence’ is purely notional.
I heard this news from acquaintances just as I was returning home from a meeting on the 15th and rushed to Baddi immediately along with local Dalit activist Mr. Ravinder from Jan Adhikar Kendra, Chinhari, on his bike. When I reached, there was chaos and fear amid police presence (from the local police station).
I realized that I have extended family in this village and talking to them facilitated my entry into the community in this strained time. The community members began to openly give me their testimonies and were very detailed as well. I went from house to house and collected as many video and written testimonies as I could. This was my first video and I knew the more evidence I had the stronger the case would be.
They told me that they wanted immediate legal action against those responsible; compensation for losses incurred and also that they wanted gun licenses so that they could defend themselves. This is because most of the mob had used licensed guns to open fire on the Dalits.
During this time, I called the Superintendent of Police (SP), Mr. Vikas Burman to ensure he would arrive at the scene. I also got in touch with the Chairperson of the Bihar State Commission for Scheduled Castes whom I had met a few weeks ago at a forum and had direct contact with. The Chairperson assured me that he would be there ASAP.
I felt that though there was heavy mainstream media presence, the reporters did not take the time to talk to all the effected people and tell the complete story including how many people were injured, the extent of damage to homes and belongings and the fact that members of the mob had gone to the local school and asked the teacher to point out the Dalit girls in the class. The community members told me that thankfully the teacher had asked the girls to run home.
The SP came prepared with RS.50,000 for the family of the deceased and assured the injured that they too would be compensated. I informed the SP that locals allege the SHO took no preventive action nor did he intervene despite being aware of the order by the DC. No arrests had been made yet. By the end of the day, 3 were arrested and are currently on bail.
The Chairperson of the BSCSC arrived the next morning. He told me to come to the Circuit house where some officials were meeting. I arrived and was not allowed by security to enter so showed my VV ID card and also asked Manish bhai (Program Manager) to call the Chairperson and confirm my identity. The Chairperson immediately recognized me and asked his security person to let me through.
This was it. I presented the footage of the testimonies to the Chairperson and told him what I had witnessed as well as the demands of the people. The Chairperson directed the SP to ensure all the accused were arrested and legal proceeding under SC/ST Act undertaken. He directed the DM to ensure that the demands for compensation and availability of gun licenses to the Dalit community members who chose to apply for it, be addressed immediately. The Chairperson hand wrote these directions and gave it to these officers and also assured me that these demands would be met.
The Chairperson encouraged me to continue my work with the same energy. He said that it was great to see a young man from the community stepping into this role and documenting these atrocities. That validation made my day. For years I have witnessed the surreptitious ways in which caste corrodes our lives. I now had a way to make a change. The Chairperson asked me to stay back and attend the press conference scheduled for later that day.
Over the next few days the community was expecting action from the DM and the SP and when it was not forth coming, local NGOs and activist along with the villagers decided to stage a protest at the DM’s office. Ravinder and I personally went from village to village on a motorbike to motivate people from 6 neighboring villages to be part of this protest.
On the 19th of August, 2000 people from 7 villages and numerous NGOs and community groups gathered to protest the inaction of the local administration. This resulted in an FIR being lodged under the Prevention of Atrocities against SC/STs Act where 45 anonymous and 30 named people accused; 9 people were arrested.
I also approached the Chairperson again to discuss the need for compensation to the affected families and taking action against the accused. The Chairperson wrote individual letters to the Chief Minister, District Magistrate and Inspector General of Police on the details of the incident and action required in the aftermath. The letter to the CM was sent from the Chairperson’s office. Ravinder and I hand delivered the other two letters to the DM and IG’s office respectively.
By the 1st week of September, Amar learnt from villagers that all the injured had received Rs.60,000 each and the family of the deceased received an additional Rs. 9,40,000. It is not clear whether they have been compensated for the damage to property as a result of burning of homes etc. I am investigating further to verify if all affected families have been compensated and the legal status of the case as well.
A visiting Monitoring and Evaluation team associated with CSEI has also documented the community members talking me and my contribution to this case.
When I started filming this story, I had been nervous and slightly uncertain of what the results would be. But the video had to be made and I was going to do everything in my power to bring justice to the families who were brutalized that August morning.
For me this victory is bittersweet. I know that thousands of such atrocities will happen and go unreported across India. The good part though, is that the tide is slowly turning and who knows in another 50 years Dalits in India will be truly independent.”