Politics

Two Commissions and Various Omissions: The Aftermath of the Jat Agitations

Witness testimonies and the report from a people’s tribunal show that the government cannot absolve itself of responsibility for the Jat violence and its impact.

A bus set ablaze by a mob during the Jat reservation agitation in Haryana. Credit: PTI

A bus set ablaze by a mob during the Jat reservation agitation in Haryana. Credit: PTI

The report by the Prakash Singh Committee, a panel constituted by the Haryana government to probe the response of police and civil administration officials during the Jat quota violence in February, has been making news recently. The report has pointed to the negligence on the part of certain officials and lack of “concerted efforts” to control the situation. It has indicted approximately 90 officers and officials for their “inadequate response” to the situation. The government has said that it will look at the report and take action at the earliest. Six official transfers have already occurred, including that of Additional Chief Secretary P.K. Das. The government, however, has claimed that these transfers have nothing to do with the committee’s report.

Can the inquiry into the violence that resulted in road blocks (including on national highways), extensive damage to public and private property in several districts (including Sonipat, Rohtak and Jhajjar), and the deaths of at least 30 people and injuries to 320 others stop at looking at the role and failure of police and administrative officials? Can the political leadership and government be absolved of their responsibilities?

The report of a people’s tribunal says not. Focussing on the deep systemic failures of the government and political leadership of the state, it has indicted the Haryana government for its failure to check violence, and ensure the safety and security of people during the Jat quota stir. The government is trying to cover up its failures by targeting the lower and middle level state bureaucracy, though the failure lies above, said Rajinder Chaudhary, member secretary of the tribunal, while releasing the report in Rohtak on May 15.

Launch of the people's tribunal report. Credit: Natasha Narwal

Launch of the people’s tribunal report. Credit: Natasha Narwal

The tribunal, constituted on March 11 on the mandate of ‘Sadbhavna Manch’, a platform of concerned citizens and organisations across Haryana. The group of seven was headed by V.N. Rai (former director general of police, Haryana) and comprised of T.K. Sharma (former divisional commissioner of Gudgaon), Shubha (writer and former college principal), Meher Singh (former chief forest conservator, Kerala), Rajiv Godara (advocate at the Haryana and Punjab high court), Ram Mohan Rai (Supreme Court advocate) and Rajinder Chaudhary (retired professor, Maharshi Dayanand University, Rohtak). The report looks into the course and nature of violence during the Jat agitation, the role of the state, administration, organisations and concerned individuals, work on relief and rehabilitation for the victims, and the efforts towards justice, amity and peace by various forces. It conducted public hearings in eight affected districts and has presented detailed accounts of the same in the report.

It looks at the failure of the police and administration not just as failures on the individual level, but the result of a ‘policy paralysis’. It says that there was no strategic guidance or orders from the government to the administration to tackle the situation, which points to a deliberate laxity on the part of the government. It has mentioned the April 15 Hindustan Times report that said intelligence agencies expressed concern to the government about the seriousness of the situation more than 100 times, but were ignored. The increasing interference of the RSS in appointments to the police and administration has only added to a more biased and unprofessional force, alleges the report. It has also questioned the government’s decision to bring in the army during civil unrest, saying this led to further violence.

The report also pointed out the deep social caste divisions, exemplified by slogans like ’35 vs one’ (denoting 35 non-Jat castes against the Jats), which led to such violent expression of the agitation. In the context of a deepening agrarian crisis and challenges to their social hegemony, the Jats, especially the youth, view reservations as essential for their future and well-being. Communities included in the OBC list, such as the Sainis, Gujjars and Yadavs view the Jat claim for reservations as detrimental to their interests. The already deeply entrenched caste structures like khaps from both the sides as well as members of all three major parties in the state have used these sentiments to further the clashes between communities, the report said.

Drawing on the experience of similar agitations in Rajasthan and Gujarat, the report situates the recent Jat agitation and others in the context of the crisis in agriculture and employment. This is particularly important in the rural context, where young people are staring at an increasingly uncertain future, nor have the losses in agriculture been compensated by the generation of more employment. Quoting the government’s own figures, the report points out that in Haryana, government jobs have actually decreased in the last 19 years by an average of 3,100 per year. Even if government jobs are combined with private sector jobs, jobs have still reduced by an average of 2,700 per year from 1995-96 to 2005-06.

The tribunal has also recorded the disappointment of victims in getting timely and adequate compensation. According to data gathered by the tribunal, the report states that only 11% of the claims had been distributed by April 25, as opposed to the government’s claim of distributing 25% of all claims within 15 days of the agitation being called off. Not only has there been laxity in distribution of claims, but the victims are viewed by the administration and government with utmost suspicion and the onus to prove their losses is thrust on the victims, deeply angering them. Also, in the declared relief and rehabilitation policy, there is no provision to cover the loss of income and employment during the period of the agitations. But the worst situation is of the injured from both sides. They have received no help from the government with their medical bills and there are numerous complaints of medical negligence.

The victims of violence at Sukhpura Chowk, Rohtak

“We were inside our home when they started looting and burning our shops downstairs. Our whole life was burning in front of our eyes. While the whole house filled with smoke, we had nowhere to go as the mob was everywhere shouting slogans and abuses. To save ourselves, we jumped [across the wall] into the police thana adjacent to the house but the police tried to push us back. We were three women and four children trapped inside our house. Finally, when we managed [to make it to the thana], the police refused to help us and instead told us to leave from the backdoor. We somehow escaped to safety but could not return to our house for four days,” said Poonam, recounting the horrors of violence on February 20. Poonam lives in a joint family. Their house and shops are right at the beginning of Sukhpura Chowk and adjacent to the Sadar police thana, which was kept locked during the violence. Her five-year-old daughter still can’t sleep because of nightmares of the violence, her father-in-law suffered a heart attack due to shock on February 20 and had to spend a month in the hospital and her sister-in-law faced complications in her pregnancy.

“Yes, we have received some compensation from the government for the damage to our property. While far from adequate it has helped us to restart our business. But the compensation has no provision for the loss of income for over two months or the medical bills of my father-in-law and sister in-law. How does the government expect us to cover that? We constantly live in fear that it can happen again any day,” said Poonam.

Sukhpura Chowk, a predominantly Saini settlement of people who run small shops and businesses, witnessed some of the most horrific scenes of violence in Rohtak.

Satyanarayan Saini’s family also endured a similar pattern of violence. Their house and shop is across the road from that of Poonam. On February 20, while their shop was being burnt and looted, half-paralytic Satyanarayan along with his wife and two daughters were trapped inside their house. No route left to escape, they too had to jump to their neighbour’s roof. Unable to move by himself , by the time Satyanarayan was rescued by others too much smoke had entered his eyes. He has almost lost his eyesight now. While he has received two instalments of compensation form the government with which he has reopened his shop, he claims he is still facing huge losses because of the medical bills and loss of income.

Atma Ram and Bhateri Devi have another tale to tell. They were inside their house in one of the narrow galis of their neighbourhood when they heard stones being pelted at their house. Unable to comprehend the situation, while Atma Ram ran towards the terrace, Bhateri Devi went outside to plead with the agitators not to burn their house as only their daughter-in-law and grandchildren were inside. Paying no heed to her pleas, they locked her up inside another room and went ahead and cut the pipes of a cylinder. “I kept pleading from inside the room and thankfully one of them opened the door and I turned off the cylinder. Then I ran after them as they went inside the house and started ransacking everything. Seeing me one of them hit me with an axe and I fell unconscious. Thankfully, my daughter in-law had locked herself up along with the children in a room so they were saved. But they didn’t leave anything in our house.” Still puzzled as to why their house was attacked, both heaved a sigh of relief that their lives were saved. They have also received two instalments of compensation, which is far from adequate, but have started rebuilding their house. “Our ancestors came to this area and settled here long ago. This is the only home we have known, but it will be never be the same again,” they said, looking at their ransacked house.

While some were outspoken about their disappointment with the government’s inadequacies during the violence and compensation, some are ready to give the chief minister the benefit of doubt for being a non-Jat running a government in a Jat-dominated state.

The tribunal report and witness testimonies, however, reiterate the question: can the government absolve itself and only blame the police and civil administration?