Report from 5 villages of 5 districts of Punjab: Jats and Dalits are divided into Sikhs, villages and villages of Punjab, from gurdwaras to crematoriums
Mother was sitting alone in the courtyard. Jatt came and cut off his legs. She fell down from the cot… (taking a long breath) and started sobbing while lying there. The Jats also broke the water tank kept nearby. There was blood and water. The whole courtyard was only looking red.
Author: Vaibhav Palnitkar
‘But the matter did not end there. Even before we could take the injured mother to the hospital, a false announcement was made from the village gurudwara – Jats have been attacked by Dalits. One Jatt has died. This news spread like fire and havoc started wreaking havoc on the Dalits. 5 years ago this village became the center of bloody conflict between Jats and Dalits.
The whole struggle started with the right to get the reserve quota land on contract from the Shyalat land of the Panchayat. According to the Punjab Village Common Lands (Regulation) Act 1961, one-third of the Panchayati land is reserved for Dalits. It is a rule to give this land on contract only to Dalits by bidding, but only Jat farmers on the land make proxy bidding by making a Dalit a pawn and do farming on the land. Against this the farmers of Balwinder and nearby villages rallied and raised their voice for the right to cultivate their land. Today there is a memorial in the name of Gurudev Kaur in Jhallur village and the library also runs.
In October, Lakhbir Singh, a Dalit Sikh, was murdered by Nihangs in the ongoing farmers’ movement along the Singhu border. The politics of Punjab got heated due to this. However, political parties have used their trump cards to dent the Dalit vote bank. While Akali Dal has announced an alliance with the BSP to make a Dalit the Deputy Chief Minister for the first time, the Congress removed Captain Amarinder Singh from the post of Chief Minister just three months before the elections and appointed Dalit face Charanjit Singh Channi as the CM of the whole country except Punjab. I have given a big political message to the Dalits. The bets are being played by all the political parties to woo the Dalit community in Punjab. Meanwhile, Dainik Bhaskar prepared a ground report by roaming in five villages of five districts of Punjab, which you will also be shocked to read. Even after 70 years of independence, Dalits are still marginalized in Punjab like other parts of the country. In the first report of this series of three reports, we will present to you the picture of discrimination at the village level in Gurudwara, Crematorium, Dharamshala.
First of all, know a little data – according to the 2011 census, there is 31.9% Dalit population in Punjab. Out of this, 19.4% Dalits are Sikhs and 12.4% are Hindu Dalits. At the same time, out of the total Dalit population, about 26.33% religious Sikhs, 20.7% Ravidasi and Ramdasi, 10% Adharmi and 8.6% come from Valmiki community.
Ground report from five villages of five districts of Punjab-
Sandhuan, Chamkor Sahib, Rupnagar: Areas separate, Gurdwaras separate, Dalits are not allowed to use gurdwara utensils
Chamkor Sahib, a town in Rupnagar district, is the assembly constituency of Punjab’s newly born and first Dalit Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi. When we reached Sandhuan village in Chamkor Sahib to investigate caste divisions, we found things about which the rest of the country’s population is less aware. The village, which looks prosperous and prosperous with agriculture, has a population of about 1500, but the areas in the village are divided on the basis of caste. Apart from the localities, the gurudwaras are also divided. The entire land of the entire village is with the Jatt Sikhs and the Dalit Sikhs work as labourers. The Jat Sikh area looks very well developed, has big houses, vehicles and glitters. At the same time, as soon as we enter the Dalit-dominated area, small houses, dirt starts appearing.
In front of the Jatt Gurdwara in Sandhuan we met elderly Jagir Singh, a retired armyman and belongs to the Jatt Sikh community. When we asked Jagir Singh directly that the villages of Punjab appear to be divided on the basis of caste, how is your village in this matter? So he said- ‘There is no difference between any Sikh in us here.’ We did not digest this, so we asked why the Nanaksar Gurdwara behind you is considered as a Jatt Gurdwara? How many people are there in the committee of the Gurdwara and how many Jatts and how many non-Jatts are there? In response, his tongue began to falter – ‘There are 10 people in the Gurdwara committee and all are Jats, but anyone can offer prayers in the Gurdwara.’ Why is there this division? He replied- ‘This has been going on since olden times’.
We then proceeded to the part of the village where most of the Dalits live. Walking through the narrow streets, we reached Harkishan Singh’s house, he was doing the work of painting his house. Harkishan is a Dalit Sikh. Harkishan explains that ‘You will ask any Jat Sikh whether there is caste division in the village or not, otherwise they will say that all live together, but caste and caste is spread fiercely in the village and there is discrimination on the basis of it. When I used to go to school as a child, our classmates from other caste used to address us with casteist words and we used to feel very bad about it. Harkishan gets emotional after saying this.
Harkishan’s mother Jaswinder says that- ‘The utensils of the Gurdwara are not given to the Chamar people, we do not get respect like that in those Gurudwaras. Upper caste people do not behave well. Most of the sarpanchs of the village are also jat, so that hope of hearing us also ends.
Bharadiwal village, Amritsar: Along with gurdwaras, cremation sites also separate, ‘religious Sikhs are considered to be of lower caste’
The rift between Jat Sikhs and Dalit Sikhs is clearly visible even in village Bharadiwal, situated just 5 km from Amritsar city. The areas of Jat Sikhs and Religious Sikhs appear to be divided at the village level. Like the rest of the village, most of the land in this village is owned by Jatt Sikhs and religious Sikhs go to work with Jats. In the village where the Jatt Sikhs live, there are big houses, paved roads and grandeur, whereas as soon as we reach the area of Dalit Sikhs, small houses, bad roads and Gurbat are clearly visible. This difference is visible not only in houses and roads but also at the level of gurdwaras and even cremation grounds. When we reached the Gurdwara of Jat Sikhs, the grandeur of the Gurdwara was clearly visible, the sturdy construction, the emblems of shining swords, the luxurious decorations. At the same time, when we went to the Gurudwara of the Sikh Sikhs for a moment, we could not believe that it was a Gurdwara. Raw construction, no paint and no maintenance. We saw the same difference at the level of cremation sites as well. Jat cremation sites had cement floors, seats to sit, boundary walls all around, but the cremation sites of religious Sikhs were found completely desolate.
When we asked Surjit Singh, the Granthi of the Jat Gurdwara, why there are two Gurdwaras in the village, when Guru Nanak had given the message to treat everyone as one? In response, he says that- ‘Guru Nanak’s message was that there should be no discrimination among anyone, but people want that their Jats should have a separate Gurdwara and religious Sikhs should have a separate Gurdwara. In our village, two cremation grounds have also been built, one of the Jats and the other of the religious people. Even marriages do not take place between Jats and religions. We are trying that there should be only one Gurudwara in the village, but people from both sides do not believe. There is a game of politics behind this.
After this, when we went to the Gurudwara of religious Sikhs, the building of the ruined Gurdwara was locked. In front of the Gurudwara, we found Budhwanti, a religious Sikh. We also asked him why there are different gurudwaras in the village. In response, she said- ‘These gurudwaras are divided on the basis of castes. It is going on as it has been done by history.’ The old lady, who was smearing with cow dung in front of her house nearby, came to us and said – ‘Religious Sikhs are considered to be of lower caste. On the other hand, Jats consider themselves to be of upper caste.
Nushahra village, Tarn Taran: People recognize by clothes who is a Jatt and who is a Dalit, the difference of class is understood differently when roaming in the village
Similar to Bharadiwal village, we met in Nushahra village of Tarn Taran. Nushahra is a village adjacent to the Pakistan border and this village is the neighboring village of Lakhbir Singh, who was killed on the Singhu border. There is a direct division in the village between Jatt Sikhs and Dalit Sikhs. About 2200 adult people live in the village, out of which about 1400 are Jatt Sikhs and the remaining 800 Dalit Sikhs live there. Sukhdev Singh, a Jat Sikh of the village, says that ‘nearly the entire land in Nushahra belongs to the Jat Sikhs. From the Gurudwara to the Panchayat, the Jats have more dominance. The cremation grounds of Jats and Mahjabis are also different.
Jatt Sikhs live in one area of the village, while Mahjabi Sikhs live in another area. The difference between the land and the sky is understandable in the living areas of both. In the Jat area, there is a huge gurdwara, big grand houses, paved roads, covered drains, while on the contrary, as soon as we enter the area of Dalit Sikhs, the poor gurdwara, hut-like houses and the condition of poverty. The difference between the upper class and the lower class is clearly visible.
When we entered a hut-like house, we found 80-year-old Dharamsingh there. We asked him what is the difference between a religious and a Jat Sikh? Annoyed, he started saying – ‘There is a lot of difference. Jats have lands. Jats do not have to work. Whereas a religious Sikh is poor. From the gurdwara to the cremation ground, everything is different.
Paramjit Singh, a Jatt Sikh of the village, tells us while walking on the road that – ‘There is also a difference of dress between Jats and Dalits. The turban of the juts is thick and well-made, their mustache is taut. Whereas the turban of the religions is a little short and light round.
Matti village, meat: ‘We are given food in separate utensils, we are not allowed to stay or organize events in the Dharamshala of Jats’
Experts say that most Dalits live in the Malwa region of southern Punjab and the condition of Dalits here is worse than the rest of Punjab. We reached Matti village in Mansa district. The village with a population of about 2000 shows a clear division between Jatt and Dalit Sikhs like other villages in Punjab. Compared to other villages of Punjab, the condition of Dalits was worse here.
On going to the religious Sikh area of Matti village, we met elderly Gurdev Kaur. Gurdev Kaur tells that ‘All the land of the village is with the Jats, we only get 200 rupees as daily wage, even if we don’t work on the day we don’t get it. Jat people also avoid coming to our house and even if they come, some avoid eating and drinking. If this is not untouchability, then what is.’ Another woman standing nearby says Jasveer Kaur – ‘When we go to the Jats’ place, we are given food in separate utensils. We also have to clean those utensils ourselves. Whereas Jatt people come to our place and do not eat food.
Dharamshala in Matti village is also divided on the basis of castes. Dharamshalas built with government expenditure are separate for Jatts and separate for Dalits. No dalit person can stay in the dharamshalas of Jats and no one bothers to stay in the dharamshalas of Dalits. The condition of Dharamshala of Dalits is very bad, weak construction, no paint, dirt scattered all around. Seeing it, it does not seem that anyone will be able to rest comfortably in this Dharamshala. At the same time, strong construction, good paint and gathering of people in Jatt’s Dharamshala.
Jhallur village, Sangrur district: ‘Dalits don’t get reserve quota land effectively, Jatt farmers do proxy bidding, administration is mostly Jatt, we don’t listen’
The incident which we mentioned in the beginning of our report, we also visited that village. Balwinder Balwinder, a Dalit Sikh living in the village, says that- ‘My mother was badly injured in the attack of Jats on October 5. He died a month later in Chandigarh.
When we asked Balwinder that most of the land in the village is with Jats, what do Dalit Sikhs do? In response, he said that ‘Most of the Dalit Sikhs work as laborers. The village has around 2500 votes. Of this, about half are Jats and half are from the SC community. Our only demand was that only Dalits should get the reserved quota land effectively, but the Jatt people put dummy bids for any Dalit by forwarding his name.
Balwinder told that- ‘There is only one Gurudwara in our village. Most of the Jat Sikhs are also in the Gurdwara committee, but the cremation ground is different for Jats and Dalits. Most of the children of Dalits study in village schools too. Jatts are rich and they educate their children in good private schools.
You must have understood that it is not what it looks like from above. In the second series of Ground Report on Casteism in Punjab, we will talk about the representation of Dalits in politics from administration.
Courtesy: Dainik Bhaskar
Note: This news piece was originally published in dainikbhaskar.com and used purely for non-profit/non-commercial purposes exclusively for Human Rights objectives.