Independence Day spelt doom for the Dalits in Baddi village in Bihar’s Rohtas district. While the tricolour was being hoisted on flag masts across India, they were trying to save their skin from a brutal attack by upper caste members. They saw their Ravidas temple go up in flames, their children thrown off from rooftops and their old being beaten mercilessly.

On August 15, 2013, a mob from the upper caste Rajput community led a violent attack on the lower caste Chamars, killing one and injuring 54, including women and children.

“They came with lathis, rods, firearms and petrol bottles. About 70 of us were sitting in the temple. Most of us fled, but the older people, women and children could not escape. First, they started beating up people, then they broke down the temple gate, vandalised the idol and set everything on fire. Some children were playing on the temple roof. They pushed them off. They caught hold of the old and beat them with lathis,” Kashinath Ram, Chairman of the temple, told The Hindu.

“The dominant caste outnumbered the lower caste, who were not prepared for the attack,” Vikas Burman, Superintendent of Police said.

Both sides had been asked by the police the previous day to abstain from hoisting the flag, in light of the brewing tension in the village over fencing of the temple verandah. The Chamars complied and also removed the fence. But when a group of women stopped a Rajput youth who was carrying a flag, it triggered a violent backlash.

At the heart of the matter is the Ravidas temple, a modest nondescript structure dedicated to Sant Ravidas that greets you when you enter Baddi. A Bhakti saint of 15 Century, he is revered by the Chamars. Along with a verandah, the temple covers six decimals of land, which the Chamars say has been allotted by the government. A no-objection certificate has been issued by the Circle Officer.

While the temple has been in existence since 1983, as per the locals and the date carved out on the facade, what raised the hackles of the Rajputs was the installation of a Ravidas statue in June this year. Besides, the temple’s central location – a visible sign of assertion by the Chamars – and their claim on public space, however small, was always a thorn in the flesh.

“They used to say when you pass the square you see the Ravidas temple first. How can the harijans be ahead of us?” Sarju Ram, son of injured victim Ram Ratan, told The Hindu.

To counter the Dalit assertion, the Rajputs began pushing for a memorial in the name of Nishant Singh, considered to be a freedom fighter from their community. They started staking claim to the six decimals. More importantly, they wanted the memorial built in front of the temple.

“When they came to attack, they were raising the slogans ‘Rajput varg zindabad (Hail the Rajput class)’ and ‘Nishant Singh Amar Rahe (Long Live Nishant Singh)’. In the past we have told them we have the relevant papers for the land, but they dismissed it saying Nishant Singh is their document,” Kashinath Ram said.

“They want Nishant Singh’s statue before the temple. They do not like the fact that when you cross the area you first lay your eyes on the Ravidas statue,” temple priest Teja Ram Sadhu told The Hindu from his hospital bed in Patna. He tried to escape the attack by hiding in a cattle shed, but was hunted out and beaten up. He has sustained head injuries and is unable to breathe easily.

Little Rahul lay a few beds away. “He had gone to the roof to check the microphone for the Independence Day programme. The attackers hurled him down and threw him in the ditch. He has not spoken since,” his mother Pasmira Devi said.

So brutal was the nature of the attack that one assailant stood on 60-year-old Sukhiya Devi’s chest and dealt heavy blows on her head with a rod. Currently 12 people are seeking treatment at the Patna Medical College and Hospital.

“All of them are zamindars owning vast tracts of land,” pointed out Kashinath Ram. “But still they are after these six decimals. They have a school in the name of Nishant Singh. They have even usurped much of the government land in village. We are all landless. The problem is only that it hurts their caste pride to have the Ravidas temple in front, with their school located behind it.”

The incident has led to 11 arrests, but the Rajputs are steadfast on their demand. Asked if they wanted Nishant Singh’s memorial exactly in front of the temple, Radharam Singh, a retired teacher from the community replied, “Where else? This land belongs to the martyr. He was a freedom fighter. Moreover, the temple ends with the threshold, after that it is government land. Does any memorial require any land papers?” he said.

Another member Thakur Ramender Singh said, “Only one decimal is for the temple and five decimals is for Nishant Singh’s memorial.”

The Rajputs contested the temple’s claim on the land. They denied firing on the Dalits and killing anyone. An 80-year-old man Ram Vilas Ram (who died of stick injuries) could have died of shock, they said.

For several years, the Rajputs and the Chamars have been hoisting flags separately in the temple courtyard. “We have no objection to hoisting flags, but we do object to the memorial on this plot. When we were not allowed to hoist the flag, we wanted to mark it as a day of mourning,” said the Chairman.

It turned out to be such a day. Raj Kumar Verka, Vice-Chairman of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, visited Patna to raise the issue with the State Government. He condemned the attack and pointed to the “failure of the administration” to contain such attacks. “The police knew there was tension in the village, but they were silent spectators. I have called for a report from the administration,” he said.

Balwant Singh, station house officer (SHO) of the local police station, was suspended in the aftermath of the attack and a new SHO appointed in his place. Dr. Shambhu Singh, a government doctor, the main accused in the case is still at large. The police said they are seeking an arrest warrant against him and several others.

A police picket will also be set up in the village. Five firearm licenses of the Rajputs have been cancelled. Consequently, the Chamars are demanding firearm licenses for self-defence.

source: the hindu