First S/C sarpanch in Rajasthan village is attacked by Jats who say that 'chamars shouldn't fight elections here'
DAYAL KA NANGAL, AUGUST 29: PRABHATA Ram earned his stripes in the Border Security Force (BSF), fighting in the 1965 Indo-Pak war, serving in hotspots like J&K and Ladakh. But the retired havaldar says there's something ''worse'' than being in a war zone: being at home, in your village, where knowledge of the caste you belong to is hammered in every waking minute.
And who should know this better than 60-year-old Ram, the first Scheduled Caste (SC) sarpanch that Dayal ka Nangal village, in Sikar district in Rajasthan, has seen. Ram has filed a police complaint that three weeks ago, four Jats attacked him at his house with iron rods and lathis, and would have beaten him to death had he not escaped and hidden in the adjoining bajra field. The dominant Jat caste had never quite reconciled itself to Ram's elevation to the post, which was reserved for an SC candidate two years ago. The immediate provocation for the attack: Ram signed a joint petition from the villagers to the SDM, requesting a reduction in the fare of a private bus which transports 40 children to a secondary school in Neem Ka Thana 20 kms away. The bus service is run by Jats, and the backlash was instant. ''Did we make you a sarpanch for you to close down our bus service? Why have you lowered the rate? Now we will fix you wretched chamar,'' the Jats told Ram, who's from the Bhalai caste.
''I have fought in the 1965 Indo-Pak war in the Sialkot sector, where the Pakistanis blew up our bridge and we had to escape through the river. But this is worse,'' says Ram, nursing his fractured collarbones and deep contusions on his head, thighs and ankles. ''Had I died there, atleast I would have earned a name. If I am killed here, I will get nothing.'' He and his family have since abandoned their two-room house to camp in their aunt's house. They are guarded round the clock by three policemen, and Ram is under severe pressure to relinquish his post. ''Save me'' he cries. ''I had dreams of doing so much for my village, of building a water tank to ease scarcity. What can I do when my very life is at risk?'' Pucca roads and cable TV still haven't made inroads into this village. A group of Jats tell you what else they don't want changed: ''Chamars don't fight elections here. We are in a majority so we've always won the seat. But now that they made it a reserved seat, we have no choice. This isn't fair.''
Not surprisingly, the Jats adopted a non-cooperation strategy ever since Ram was made sarpanch. And fear was always the subscript. ''I am scared to even hold the bi-monthly panchayat meetings. There are eight Jats and only two S/C members in the panchayat,'' says Ram. A gram sabha meeting on Independence Day this year had to be held under tight police security. In fact, Ram claims his Brahmin friends warned him that the Jats had planned to kill him that day. Three of the accused have been arrested but were later released on bail, since, says SP Rajesh Acharya, ''They were arrested under the S/C S/T Act which is a non-bailable offence.''
The Jats don't bother hiding their contempt for Ram. Jat panch Lila Ram says, ''All eight of us Jats in the 11-member panchayat are unhappy with Ram's work. He does not share accounts with us. So works are left half-done.'' But other villagers point out that Ram, under the imminent threat of violence, managed to get three roads built, which connected the village to nearby hamlets. Here too, the Jats put a spoke in the wheel by preventing villagers from lifting mud from their fields. The mud had to be brought in from neighbouring villages.
The attack on Ram has left the Jats restive and the lower castes apprehensive. Ram's son Jai Narayan, who's also a havaldar in the BSF, says, ''We have grown up peacefully in this village since we never enjoyed power in the past. If our father steps down, we will have to live under Jat domination forever. But we are worried that they may kill him in our absence so we have asked him to sit quietly.'' Others from the Bhalai caste feel the same way.
As a Bhalai labourer puts it: ''Yeh sab jaat ka hisaab kitaab hai. But what can we do, we have just 10 houses here.''