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Seven persons have been awarded life imprisonment in the Dulina Dalit lynching case, but the battle for justice may not be over.
Some of those convicted, outside the court.
THE long wait for justice by the families of the five Dalit youth who were lynched on October 15, 2002, at the police post in Dulina village in Jhajjar district of Haryana is finally over. On August 9, a district court awarded life imprisonment to seven convicts in the case.
The Dalits were taken to the police post by a group of people who accused them of slaughtering a cow on Dasara day. The crowd soon swelled into a murderous mob and it beat them up in the presence of senior police officers and officials of the district administration. The police personnel did not fire a single shot to disperse the assailants ( Frontline, January 18, 2003).
The case should have been long settled as the crime happened in front of law-enforcers. But because of the caste identities of the victims and the perpetrators of the crime, it was clear that the road to justice was going to be a long one. The State government set up a commission headed by R.R. Banswal, the then Commissioner of Rohtak range, to inquire into the circumstances that led to the incident. The commission report, submitted in December 2002, summed up the sequence of events and castigated the police. It concluded that the five Dalits were murdered at the police post. The exhaustive, 383-page report recommended action against the police officials concerned for dereliction of duty.
According to Jhajjar District Special Judge A.K. Jain, the crime was “well planned and premeditated”. A total of 30 persons were accused initially in the lynching case. On August 7, the court found seven of them guilty under Sections 148 (rioting armed with deadly weapons), 449 (house trespass in order to commit offence), 332 (voluntarily causing hurt), 353 (assault or criminal force), 302 (punishment for murder) and 149 (every member of unlawful assembly guilty of offence committed in prosecution of common object) of the Indian Penal Code. On August 9, the court awarded life imprisonment to them and imposed on them a fine of Rs.20,000 under Section 302. The accused were also awarded rigorous imprisonment (RI) for two years under Section 148; seven years' RI and a fine of Rs.5,000 under Section 449; two years' RI under Section 332; and two years' RI under Section 353. All sentences will run concurrently. However, they were acquitted under relevant sections of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The court acquitted the rest of the accused.
On the basis of the evidence on record, the judge noted in his order that the seven accused (six Jats and one Dalit) – Ranbir, Om Parkash, Satbir, Ramesh, Shishupal, Jagbir and Sube – dragged the five people out after breaking open the door of the police lockup, killed them on the spot and threw the bodies of two into a fire. The order, however, noted that there was no cogent evidence to prove that the accused set on fire any building or hut or that the crime in question was motivated by the caste of the victims. The order said: “On the contrary, it is apparent that the accused were not even aware of the caste of the victims…. In this background, no offence is made out under the S.C. and S.T. (Prevention of Atrocities) Act against the accused.”
On the day the judgment was pronounced, a huge crowd gathered outside the Jhajjar court in support of the accused, reminiscent of the huge mobilisation on October 16, 2002, to put pressure on the administration against their arrest. Not a word was uttered in support of the massacre victims either then or now. Slogans were raised in support of the cow. According to the report of the then Deputy Commissioner, Jhajjar, various social and religious organisations conducted meetings and took out processions through the bazaars of Jhajjar town and submitted memoranda to the authorities demanding that no action be taken against the people who had killed the “cow slaughterers”.
The mood on August 7 was no less different. All shops in Jhajjar town downed their shutters protesting against the sentence. At a meeting held in support of those found guilty, the Jhajjar Gurukul Pradhan Vijaypal and Haryana Gaushala Sangh president, Acharya Baldev, gave a call to protect the cow. On August 10, the Jhajjar Gaushala organised a panchayat to decide a future course of action. It was decided to hold a bigger meeting in which representatives of khaps, gurukuls and gaushalas were expected to participate.
At least two of the seven convicts had connections with the Shiv Sena or the Bharatiya Janta Party. One of them is a former municipal councillor and president of the district unit of the Shiv Sena. The other, the pradhan of the Jhajjar Gaushala and a former member of the BJP, is now associated with the ruling Indian National Lok Dal (INDL). It may be pertinent here to mention that in the past few years “cow rescue” operations have intensified, with vigilantes stopping vehicles suspected to be carrying animals for slaughter. Needless to add, all these activities have a “communal” subtext to them. The then Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), Narender Singh, stated in his deposition to the prosecution that “the crowd was agitated communally”. Rajinder Singh, Station House Officer (SHO), Dulina, also deposed that someone from the mob shouted that “the victims were dhedh (a derogatory term used for Dalits), they were doing the job like Muslims and they should not be spared”. In his statement as a prosecution witness, Rajinder Singh said one Mahabir had stood on the bonnet of his vehicle and announced that the victims were not Muslims but Hindus who had purchased the carcass of the cow for Rs.200.
A PROTEST in support of the convicts outside the primises.
COLLUSION OF THE POLICE
The blatantly communal and casteist character of the attack was apparent. Whether the local police colluded with the killers by remaining passive observers as the five were dragged out from a locked room, beaten and burnt alive, is a question the families of the victims are asking. Why did the main building of the police post not bear any signs of mob violence? Why did the plant pots on the premises not suffer any damage? Why was it that some policemen sustained only minor injuries in an attack by a 5,000-strong mob? These are questions that need to be answered. Dharambir Singh, who was in charge of the police post at the time of the crime, admitted in his statement that when he found that it was not a case of cow slaughter, he did not record the statement of the persons who had made the complaint; nor did he record the statement of the deceased persons. “I cannot give any reason for that,” he stated.
On October 15, 2002, as the rest of the State was celebrating Dasara, the festival symbolising the victory of good over evil, for Kailash, Virender, Tota Ram, Raju and Dayachand, it was business as usual. They were the main breadwinners of their families. The youngest of them was 17-year-old Raju, a cleaner. Tota Ram, the driver of the vehicle that was carrying the hides, had four minor children. Kailash had promised his son, Kamal, that he would return home early to celebrate Dasara. Engaged in the activity of purchasing, loading and unloading the skins of dead animals, which members of no other caste would take up, the five men had landed in Farookhnagar where a cow owned by a Brahmin was reported dead. They picked up the dead animal from a local contractor, called Hanif, and attempted to skin the already putrefying carcass.
Interestingly, the Banswal Commission report had expressed doubts about the very fact that the cow had been skinned on the road, and that too near a religious institution like the Gurukul of Jhajjar. Witnesses involved in the skinning trade, who were examined by the commission, deposed that those in the trade observed the rule that no skinning would be done after sunset. That there had been a conflict between some of the police personnel and one of the deceased over bribes for letting vehicles pass through was also hinted at in the report.
More interestingly, the five were caught by people returning after the Dasara festivities, beaten up and handed over to the police at Dulina. They forced the assistant sub-inspector, who was also a witness for the prosecution, to register a case of cow slaughter against the five men. Strangely, the Jhajjar superintendent of police in his report to the National Human Rights Commission, the State's director-general of police, and the inspector-general, Rohtak range, withheld the names of the accused persons and the inquest reports. That it was not a case of cow slaughter was verified by a team of police persons. The SP stated that by the time the verification was complete, a violent crowd had gathered outside the police post. They were shouting slogans such as “Gau mata ki jai ho”, “Gau mata ke hatyaron ko hum nahin chodenge”, “Unhe hamare hawale karo”, and “Ham Hindu hain aur tum Hindu nahin ho”. It was equally strange that the magistrates and the police present there felt that if firing was resorted to, the situation would worsen and that persuasion was a better method to calm the crowd. Clearly, their reluctance to open fire resulted in the lynching.
It is surprising that from 6-20 p.m. onwards when the five were handed over to the police and until 11-10 p.m. when the roadblocks were removed and the five men were lynched to death, the administration did not think it wise to fire a single shot in the air. The contradictory statements of the police did not help the case progress initially. While the police post in charge and the DSP reportedly described the mob as having swelled to 3,000, the SHO, the city magistrate and two other officials gave the figure in hundreds.
Banswal observed in his report that the mob strength was not more than 1,000 and the police strength was sufficient to handle the situation. He was unable to understand why the SHO, the DSP and the executive magistrate attempted to convince the crowd that the five were not Muslims. He also failed to understand why an additional police force could not reach the spot despite repeated demands by the DSP and the magistrate, while people could reach the police post from a distance of more than six kilometres through dirt tracks. Were the police deliberately disinterested?
According to the post-mortem reports, the Dalits had died of shock and haemorrhage, their bodies bore multiple injuries and fractures and their faces were “contused and disfigured” with burns. Kailash was thrown alive into a fire. The injuries on the three policemen and one city magistrate were superficial in nature, leading Banswal to conclude from the medico legal reports that “there was no such serious confrontation” between the mobsters and the police. The absence of three names, including that of the chairman of the gaushala, from the first information report, too, raised serious questions about the impartiality of the police.
Five witnesses from different castes and occupations examined by the commission stated that two of the deceased, Virender and Daya Chand, had told them that the police were in the habit of demanding suvidha shulk, or convenience tax, from them. Banswal's report concluded that the police officers and officials had exaggerated the strength of the mob in order to cover up their lapses. The record of the VT (verbal transmission) messages showed that the force, to be assembled from various police stations, was requisitioned only at 9-15 p.m. Another surprising fact, the report noted, was that the police force from the police lines of Jhajjar reached the Dulina police post after an hour and a half covering a distance of 8 km. The SHO took the matter very lightly, the report noted, and did not think of arranging first aid for the victims who had already been beaten up once by the mob.
The DSP tried to pacify the mob; the seriousness of the situation was not conveyed either to the SP or the Deputy Commissioner. “When the police force present at the police post was equipped with rifles and cartridges, why were they not ordered to be used? It shows the callousness on the part of the DSP,” the report said.
The five youth were lynched between 9-45 p.m. and 10-15 p.m. on the night of October 15, 2002. They were brought in at 6-15 p.m. to the police post, and Banswal noted that there was “sufficient time to manage and control the situation”. The report also included memoranda received from various organisations. The commission had examined 114 witnesses.
Several organisations and individuals, including the All India Democratic Women's Association, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Shri Guru Ravi Dass Sabha and the Maharshi Balmiki Mandir Samiti, condemned the incident and demanded action against the police personnel. Some others warned the administration of reprisals if the “wrong” people were arrested. The INLD and the Congress for some strange reason did not submit any memoranda demanding justice for the five slain persons.
It is quite possible that the district judge's order will be challenged in a higher court as mobilisation for this on caste and communal lines has already begun. In the interest of justice, it is felt that the government should appeal against the acquittal of the remaining accused persons so that the right lessons from Dulina are learnt.