Bihar village flags off caste violence on I-Day

A hut which was set ablaze following a clash between members of the upper caste and the Dalit community at Baddi village in Rohtas district of Bihar.- Photo: Ranjeet Kumar

A hut which was set ablaze following a clash between members of the upper caste and the Dalit community at Baddi village in Rohtas district of Bihar.- Photo: Ranjeet Kumar  

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

On August 15, 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, the temple chairman, told The Hindu .

The police had asked both sides the day before the attack to abstain from hoisting the flag in light of brewing tension in the village over fencing of the temple veranda. “The dominant caste outnumbered the lower caste [people], who were not prepared for the attack,” said Superintendent of Police Vikas Burman.

The Chamars complied with the police’s directive and even removed the fence. But when a group of their 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 those entering Baddi. A bhakti saint of 15th Century, Sant Ravidas is revered by the Chamars. Along with a veranda, the temple covers six decimals of land, which the Chamars say has been allotted by the government. They have a no-objection certificate from the circle officer to back their claim.

While the temple was built in 1983, as per the locals and the date carved out on the façade, what raised the hackles of the Rajputs was the installation of Ravidas’ statue in June. 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 this, the Rajputs began pushing for a memorial in the name of Nishant Singh, considered to be a freedom fighter from their community, and staked claim on the Dalits’ land and wanted to build a memorial 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.

The temple priest Teja Ram Sadhu — who tried to escape the attack by hiding in a cattle shed, but was hunted out and beaten up — told The Hindu from his hospital bed in Patna: “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.” Mr. Sadhu has sustained head injuries and is having breathing problems.

Little Rahul lay a few beds away. “He had gone to the roof to check the microphone for 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 attack that one assailant stood on 60-year-old Sukhiya Devi’s chest and dealt heavy blows on her head with a rod. At present, 12 people are under treatment at the Patna Medical College and Hospital.

“All of them [the attackers] 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.”

Eleven people have been arrested so far. But the Rajputs are steadfast in 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 its government land. Does any memorial require any land papers,” he asked.

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. Ram Vilas Ram, 80, who reportedly died of injuries from lathi blows, could have died of shock, they said.

For several years, Rajputs and 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 felt wanted to mark it as a day of mourning,” said Mr. Ram.

Meanwhile, Raj Kumar Verka, the 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. Dr. Shambhu Singh, a government doctor and the main accused in the case, is at large.

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