Haryana’s Dalit movement and Vedpal Tanwar
The month gone by witnessed two incidents that sensationalized the politics of Haryana. On 5 August, the body of Anuradha Bali alias Fiza, the ex-wife of former state deputy chief minister Chandramohan alias Chand Mohammed was found. The same day, Gitika Sharma, who worked for an airline owned by minister of state Gopal Kanda committed suicide. In the Jat-dominated politics of Haryana, the twin incidents put two non-Jat leaders - Chandramohan Vishnoi (Vishnoi) and Gopal Kanda (Sunar) - in the dock. The media, with palpable relish, dissected in detail the symbiotic relationships between power, sex and money. And why not? After all, the media will produce what sells.
But the media of North India does not tread on such straight and simple paths only—at least not the entire media.
In the same period, the corridors of power in Haryana were shaken by another development. The Dalits of Bhagana, merely 16 km away from Hisar, raised the banner of revolt against the Jats. Opposing their social boycott, the Dalits not only reached the Hisar DC’s office but even Delhi’s Jantar-Mantar (see, FORWARD Press, Aug 2012, Cover Story) and for more than two months, they made life difficult for the Haryana government. Though their agitation was on when Gitika Sharma and Fiza died,by then the media had no time for them. The protesters were camping at the Hisar DC office along with their cattle and horses and at Jantar-Mantar, they were protesting half-naked. This caste-based inhuman oppression in the 21st century was of great import but it had no value for the vendors of news.
Ultimately, the Dalit agitation concluded with the arrest of a Rajput leader Vedpal Tanwar. This was the third major political development in Haryana in the last month. But the media blacked it out. When it had no interest in the Dalit agitation, how could a person supporting the agitation interest it?
I first met Vedpal Singh Tanwar in May 2012 when I was working on the Cover Story on the controversy over the date of birth of the then Army Chief General VK Singh (see, FORWARD Press, June 2012, ‘War Within the Army’). At that time, giving me the telephone number of Tanwar, a senior journalist friend of mine had told me, “He is the man behind the rallies of Rajputs in support of VK Singh”. In the meanwhile, I had talked to many a top Army brass and I was convinced that the controversy was a part of Brahmin-Rajput rivalry. On one hand was the Brahmin lobby of the Ministry of Defense and on the other VK Singh and some of his Rajput, non-Brahmin and non-Khatri Sikh Army generals. (The shunting out of VK Singh acolytes from key positions and the favours showered on his opponents after the appointment of Vikram Singh, a Sikh, as Army chief has proved the point. At the same time, by calling upon ex-servicemen to assume the reins of the country from Anna’s platform, VK Singh has amply proved that he harbours political ambitions).
Be that as it may, what interest could I have in Vedpal Singh Tanwar, the convener of the Rajput Sangharsh Samiti? So, I just talked to him on the phone and asked for photographs of Rajput rallies held at Hisar and Bhiwani in support of VK Singh.
Tanwar told me that the photographs were available on his e-mail account. When I requested him to forward them to my e-mail ID, he gave me a phone number. “Should I ring up this number to get the photographs?” I asked. “No, this is the password of my e-mail account. I do not work on Internet. You can access my account and get the photographs”. I was flabbergasted. At that time, VK Singh’s so-called coup attempt was all over the social networking sites and here was this man, who was giving the password of his e-mail account to an unknown journalist. Nevertheless, my journalistic instincts made me scan his entire e-mail account, once I got the password.
After the issue carrying the cover story was out, I received a call from Tanwar. “Bhai Saheb, after seeing your magazine I feel that you are a supporter of Dalits. Here in Haryana, great atrocities are being committed on Dalits. In a nearby village (Bhagana), the musclemen are boycotting the Dalits. I am fighting their battle. You will be doing me a favour if you will personally visit the place and see the situation for yourself”. A few days later, a small news item on the boycott of Dalits in Bhagana appeared in the Net edition of a Hindi newspaper and I decided to visit the place with my team. We decided that we will meet Tanwar at the end. First we would meet the victims of Bhagana and then go to Mirchpur. But we were taken aback when told that the Dalits of Mirchpur had not returned to their village even now and that Tanwar has given shelter to 30 Dalit families in his farmhouse, notwithstanding the pressure of the local Jats and the police administration.
To make a long story short, we discovered that Tanwar was not only waging the battle on behalf of the Dalits of Bhagana but he was also fighting—from behind the scenes—for securing justice for the father-daughter duo who were burnt alive in Mirchpur. This battle has help build a young leadership among the Dalits and had made them aware of their rights. And it was the economic support of Tanwar that had made all this possible.
Now, the question that began troubling my mind was who or what Tanwar actually represented. Was he serving his political ends by taking on Jats so openly? Vendpal Tanwar began his life as a tractor driver. He became the leader of the union of mine workers of Haryana. Later, he obtained mining leases and minted tonnes of money. But he could not digest the domination of Jats in Haryana. In 2008, he jumped into an agitation that began in a village called Kharak after the mysterious death of two Rajput boys. During one of the demonstrations, the police opened fire and four persons were killed. Tanwar says that at the behest of the then state government (headed by CM Bhupendra Singh Hudda); he was framed in a case and sent to jail. He was in jail for almost nine months and during this period, his only son was killed in a road “accident”. Tanwar is sure that his son’s death was not an accident and he was murdered by the Jats. His brother-in-law’s son also died in the same accident.
After his release from jail, Tanwar, already broken by the death of his only son, was externed from Haryana. He spent one year, staying with his relatives outside Haryana. By the time he could re-enter Haryana in 2010, the Mirchpur incident had already taken place. Tanwar decided to avenge his son’s death with the help of the Dalits of Mirchpur. Thence began his long battle against the Jats of Haryana. As a result, his business, which was already suffering, collapsed completely. He is fighting the battle of the Dalits with whatever money is left with him (and it is quite ample) and is trying to forge a non-Jat political front in Haryana.
Anna had begun his agitation at Delhi’s Jantar-Mantar on 29 July. Just on the side of Anna’s sprawling stage was the place where Bhagana’s boycotted Dalits were protesting since the previous fortnight. On the very first day of the agitation, Tanwar had come to Delhi in support of Anna’s agitation. The same evening, he called me. “You media persons should not support Anna. I have returned a sad man from there. Anna’s stage is dominated by (Jat) khap panchayats. They are only talking of big people. This Arvind Kejriwal himself comes from Hisar but he is not ready to say a word about the atrocities on Dalits”. By khap panchayats’, Tanwar meant the representatives of Khaps, who were sitting on Anna’s stage. Many of Haryana’s notorious khap panchayats’had issued statements supporting Anna’s ‘anti-corruption’ movement.
Tanwar, with whose support the Bhagana Dalits are waging their struggle for self-respect and who has been incessantly fighting to bring justice for the Dalits of Mirchpur, is again in jail since 16 August. The charge: He did not arrange allopathic medical treatment for a dalit living in his farmhouse who had been bitten by a snake and instead gave him some local herbs due to which she died! The Haryana police, which have failed to nab the murderers of Gitika Sharma, deserve to be congratulated on this grand success. After Tanwar’s incarceration, the movement of Bhagana Dalits has all but fizzled out. But the chain of events over the last few months has proved one thing beyond any shade of doubt: that the Dalits in Haryana are not only facing an oppressive society but also an indifferent government and administration which are party to their oppression.
(Published in Forward Press, September,2012)