Vidya Subrahmaniam


Bibipur is a metaphor. Locally it is a symbol of unrelieved Dalit suffering in Haryana. Nationally it is  about the staggering insensitivity of the state machinery to a community grievously wronged by  history.


Dalit residents of Bibipur Brahmadan.  Rajputs torch Dalit houses in Salwan, Karnal (March 2007); Jat mobs loot and burn the Balmiki basti in  Gohana, Sonepat (August 2005); forward caste men lynch five Dalits in a police chowki in Duleena,  Jhajjar (October 2002). In Haryana, violence against Dalits is a constant; it is quite often brutally  physical but it is ever present as a state of mind.


For every Gohana, every Jhajjar that violently spills on to the television screens, there is another  unpublicised, underplayed Dalit story in Haryana. In the fast-paced, breaking-news times we live in,  where tragedy is measured by how visually sensational it is, where suffering must be demonstrably  overt, the understated distress of the Dalit residents of Bibipur Brahmadan must seem unworthy of  attention. Similarly, there are countless other instances where the injury is to the soul, to the dignity  and self-respect of a whole community. The perpetrators of this sub-textual violence are as much the  forward castes as the network of administrators whose job it is ostensibly to protect the vulnerable.


On the surface, Bibipur, a tiny village in Haryana’s Karnal district, seems the epitome of untroubled  rural life. Brahmin homes occupy the front while Dalits huddle together in semi-finished quarters in the  rear, making do without water and toilets. Every morning, Bibipur’s Dalit women trudge to fields owned  by Brahmins to relieve themselves — aware that they do so by the latter’s magnanimity. In a word, this  is life as it is expected to be. To further diminish Bibipur’s curiosity value, its Dalits have no stories of  murder or rape to tell. Yes there is seething anger — against an administration that is so matter-of- factly partisan it knows no other way to dispense justice.


Institutional prejudice: Perhaps this is not so shocking. Institutional prejudice has long been a fact of  Dalit everyday life. Haryana’s officialdom may wear its prejudice like a proud badge, but it is not as if  the bureaucracy elsewhere is socially enlightened. Modern India’s founding fathers banished  untouchability, writing equality and egalitarianism into a Constitution applauded as one of the finest in  the world. Fifty-seven years on, India’s gargantuan institutional framework would seem to have  absorbed nothing of that lofty vision. Bibipur is then a metaphor, a representative story. Locally it is a  symbol of unrelieved Dalit suffering in Haryana. Nationally it is about the staggering insensitivity of the  state machinery to a community grievously wronged by history.


“You have come for this non-story?” asks Karnal Deputy Commissioner B.S. Malik. At the core of the  non-story is a temple, a Dalit temple to Sant Ravidas. Or should we call it a non-temple? Because  each time the temple attempts to come up, it is razed — by forward caste mobs acting in tandem with  the local administration. This is done seemingly with good reason. The temple is an encroachment, an  illegal construction on a site earmarked for the village school playground; the school itself is on the  adjoining plot.


Yet the Dalit temple has been authorised by a village panchayat held on August 13, 2006, in the local  Indri police station. More to the point, on the same school land stand three other temples — one each  to Shiva, Krishna, and Devi — and an ashram for the aged, all built by village Brahmins. Dalits are not  allowed into these temples, and those who flout the code must bear casteist insults and taunts. None  of this is unusual and that is why for Bibipur’s Brahmins the idea of a separate Dalit temple is an  affront made worse by the Dalit insistence on building on public land, adjacent to the Brahmin temples.


Over the next three months, Bibipur’s Brahmins extract their revenge — with not a little help from the  administration. They behead the Ravidas idol, hold a second panchayat, which reverses the  permission given to the Dalit temple, remove the last vestiges of that temple, carry out an armed  attack on the school compound, and finally, enforce a form of social boycott that means, among other  things, Dalit women will be forcibly stopped from using the Brahmin-owned fields. If this senseless  prohibition puts the women to acute discomfort in a village without accessible public land, it is  apparently punishment well deserved.


For Bibipur’s Dalits, the distressing thing is not so much forward caste oppression as administrative  collusion in this oppression. The first panchayat that authorised the Dalit temple was held in the local  thana under the supervision of the Station House Officer. Without this explicit official sanction, Dalits  would not have dared start building on school land. Yet Brahmins vandalise the temple with impunity.  Worse, under pressure from Brahmins, the administration arranges a second panchayat, which  cancels the permission to the Dalit temple instead allotting space for two temples, one each to  Chamars and Balmikis, in a marshy area adjoining the village pond and close to the Dalit quarters.  The panchayat also agrees to clear the school playground of all unauthorised occupation.


Dalits accept the proposal, interpreting it to mean that the three unauthorised Brahmin temples on the  school ground will also be removed. However, with the ink still wet on the panchayat decision,  Brahmins, with the district administration standing guard, clear the school land of all encroachment,  barring their own temples. They uproot the Dalit temple from its foundation, and fling the bricks  assembled for its construction into a gorge.


Fight between unequals: This assault on Dalit swabhiman (self-respect) is more than the community  members can take and in protest they decide to leave their homes and convert to Islam.


The palayan (forced migration) takes them to Karan Park in Karnal, where over the next 10 days, they  come under intense pressure — from the administration and from the Bharatiya Janata Party, the  Vishwa Hindu Parishad, and the Arya Samaj, who have rushed in to prevent Dalit conversion to Islam.  In this fight between two unequals, might inevitably proves right. The saffron side calls an on-the-spot  panchayat, which decides, among other things, that the Brahmin temples, “built by mistake on the  school playground” will get official recognition; that no other community will build temples on that land;  that Dalits will get alternative plots near their own quarters; that Dalits will withdraw all pending  complaints against Brahmins.


Four months on, there is no Dalit temple in Bibipur — neither on the school playground nor on  alternative plots supposedly allotted to them. Bibipur’s Dalits have not converted to Islam which threat  they used only to capture attention. Veer Bhan, who spearheaded the Dalit agitation, is a dejected  man. The meticulous records he keeps include several petitions to the National Commission for  Scheduled Castes (NCSC) and three FIRs filed in the Indri police station. He has made endless  rounds of the police chowki, the Deputy Commissioner’s office and the NCSC — with no results to  show for the pain.


For me, the Bibipur experience is a revelation. It started as a small story in a small village in Haryana.  Chasing its twists and turns, I went from office to office in Karnal, finally reaching the supposedly  sensitised environs of the NCSC. At the Deputy Commissioner’s office, Mr. Malik tells me that  Bibipur’s Dalits have no business constructing a temple on school land. He insists that Brahmins are  under threat from Dalits and not vice versa.


I point to the existence of three other temples, built by Brahmins, on the same school land. To which  his reply is, who knows, the temples might have come up a 100 years ago. But in the village land  records of 1965, the temples are nowhere to be seen. Bibipur’s residents, all barring Brahmins, swear  that the three temples are of recent vintage, built between 1990-91 and 2003-2004.


They give me a signed statement containing the construction details. Clearly in Karnal, illegal temple  building is kosher — as long as it is by Brahmins, not by Dalits.


My quest continues at the NCSC. But that is another disheartening story.



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