It takes a killing to sow seeds of a caste divide in Jehrana

Villagers deny history of conflict but BSP has its own spin

Sunetra Choudhury

Jehrana (Aligarh), June 14: IT’S got all the ingredients of a classic caste conflict story: upper caste Thakur guns down five members of a Dalit Jatav family. But there’s a twist in the tale in Jehrana village in Aligarh district: despite separate Thakur and Jatav enclaves, it has never had a history of caste conflicts.

The police are saying it, the villagers are saying it. But all that’s going to change now. Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leaders have been quick to dub the killings as a BJP conspiracy, and they’re selling this spin to the distraught Jatavs, who, as they try to make sense of the senseless killings, are buying it. BSP leader Mayawati will visit Jehrana on Friday, and by the time she arrives, there may be ample anger against the Thakurs for her to exploit.

‘‘It is definitely not a caste war,’’ emphasised Senior Superintendent of Police Brij Bhushan, ‘‘It is a fight between two families, basically two boys.’’ The area had never witnessed caste violence before, and the fact that the two factions are of different castes is incidental, he added.

The root of the killings is a minor spat Shankar Singh’s 20-year-old son Mukesh had with the main accused, 25-year-old Gullu Singh, in March. Mukesh and Gullu were coming from opposite directions on cycles when they clashed on a narrow road that connects the village to Chandos town.

"‘We had a bit of a fight,’’ Mukesh, sitting with BSP leader Ram Vir Upadhyay, meekly said. ‘‘But he is much bigger than me so I could do him no harm.’’ That evening, Gullu came along with some cronies in search of Mukesh. When they couldn’t find him, they threatened Shankar Singh instead. ‘‘He told us he would take revenge and he had connections in high places,’’ said Ramji Singh, a relative of the family.

On Tuesday, a group of around six men, reportedly led by Gullu, came into the Jatavs’ basti. Shankar Singh’s family was sleeping in the open. They first shot dead 45-year-old Shankar Singh, then his 40-year-old wife Sheela Devi who rushed down from the terrace when she heard gunshots, Shankar Singh’s aunts Sohan Devi and Dulari Devi and his 10-year-old nephew Sukhi. The boy’s father, a labourer who works elsewhere, still hasn’t been told of his death.

When the villagers tried to take the injured by bullock cart to a hospital, they encountered the men again near the village school. The attackers opened fire again and this time injured 12-year old Anil Singh and 25-year-old Rai Singh.

The police have arrested two persons: Harbir Singh and Mahendra Pratap, at whose house Gullu reportedly hatched the conspiracy, while Gullu is absconding. Since all victims were from a Scheduled Caste, their next of kin will be given relief of Rs 1.5 lakh each and Rs 75,000 for the child, as per the Prevention of Atrocities Act against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

The 2,000-strong population has 400 Thakur families and 125 Jatav families. While they weren’t exactly the symbol of bonhomie and brotherhood before, this incident has brought about a schism that was invisible before.

‘‘When we went to express our sympathy, they abused us,’’ said a Thakur, Om Bir Singh, adding, ‘‘Just because Gullu is a bad character doesn’t mean they should doubt all of us.’’ Gullu has done his time in prison in 1993 for avenging the murders of his grandfather and uncle. ‘‘If you look at past cases, you will find the fights took place between Thakurs. The Jatavs were never involved,’’ said Bir Singh.

Villagers of both communities also denied any clashes during Holi, as had been stated by the Home Department yesterday. But the buzz among the knots of men huddled in the Jatav basti is on a different track.

During a meeting with BSP leaders, there was baseless talk about one of the victims being pregnant. Another said the station officer should be arrested since he had dinner at a Thakur’s house the night before the incident. A two-month-old incident in Amarpur Kotla village, where the houses of Jatavs were burnt, was raked up. Most dangerously, a politician suggested the villagers arm themselves.

After Mayawati has come and gone, after local politicians have completed spooling out their spin and after Provincial Armed Constabulary personnel have left, Jehrana’s villagers will have to live with the seeds of doubt and divide that have been sown in their midst.

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Referred by: Mukundan CM
Published on: June 16, 2001
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