CPI-ML New Democracy

Punjab – Changaliwala Incident:  Some Glaring Questions

S.S. Mahil

Changaliwala is a sleepy village in a corner of Sangrur district of Punjab. Here, a Dalit named Jagmel Singh alias Jaggu was brutally tortured by a landlord named Amarjit Singh, his son Rinku and a friend of Rinku. There was some quarrel between Jagmel and Rinku some time back, but it was sorted out and a compromise was reached between the two parties. But after sometime, Rinku along with his friend caught Jaggu and dragged him to his farmhouse. He was tied to a pillar and beaten mercilessly there. The flesh was pulled out from his legs and acid was poured on his wounds. His cries fell on deaf ears. When he cried for water they urinated into his mouth. He was in a very bad condition when they released him. He went to the police station at Lehragaga, but the police did not register any case and did not record any first information report (FIR). He then went to the local Civil Hospital but doctors there did not take him seriously and did not give proper treatment. Later, when his condition worsened, he was admitted to the Civil Hospital at Sangrur. From there he was referred to PGI Chandigarh .His leg had to be amputated, but his condition worsened and he died in PGI. When this news spread, it was most shocking. It was hard to imagine that in 21st century, in a place like Punjab, such brutality can happen!

It was not a case of brutality against an individual but a case of class brutality.  Amarjit Singh hails from a landlord family. His grandfather, who was a real brother of the father-in –law of Smt. Rajinder Kaur Bhathal, a Congress leader and ex- Chief Minister, was known for his brutal behavior. Teenagers of 15 to old persons were his victims. His brutality did not even spare animals. He fired upon one Bachan Singh and dragged him to his farmhouse, there he cut his body parts one by one and feed it to his dogs. He used to unleash his dogs on Dalit women, who went for cutting grass and on youngsters who went for grazing cattle on his fields. He forced the Dalit youngsters to eat cowdung .He shot at a he buffalo and enjoyed his painful death. He was caught by a group of Naxals, who shot him dead and took away his gun. This group was led by Shamsher Singh Sheri. The family remained subdued for some time, but his grandson Amarjit and great grandson Rinku have started behaving in the same way, and murder of Jagmel is the result.

But the situation is not the same as in the past. Zameen Prapti Sangharsh Committee has emerged as a fighting organization in this area. An Action Committee of various mass organizations led by ZPSC was formed. It refused to allow the postmortem and cremation of body till the demands formulated by the Action Committee in consultation with the aggrieved family were met. These demands included speedy trial and severe punishment for the guilty, Rs. 25 lakh compensation for the family of deceased and a government job for one of the family members of Jagmel Singh. Delhi Ludhiana highway was blocked indefinitely at Lehragaga. Government invited the representatives of ZPSC and family members for discussions at Chandigarh. An agreement was reached which included 20 lakh rupees to be given to the family as compensation- six lakhs at the time of cremation and fourteen lakhs at the time of last rites of Jagmel. One lakh and 25 thousands rupees will be given to the family for construction of their house. Whole expenditure of cremation and last rites shall be borne by the government. As none of the family members is a matriculate, so his widow will be given a class four job. Apart from this, trial of the accused will be completed within two months. After this agreement was signed, blockade was lifted.

This incident stirred the political waters of Punjab.  Sadhu Singh, a Dalit minister in the Amrinder Singh Cabinet, met relatives of Jagmel at PGI and assured them that government will give six lakh rupees to the family, but the family refused to budge. Another Cabinet ranked minister of Congress along with Vijay Singla, a Cabinet minister from Sangrur, went to village Changaliwala and met the family of the deceased there. Akali Dal member of parliament, Chandumajra, along with Parminder Singh Dhindsa, Group leader in Assembly, along with other leaders met the family and Deputy Commissioner of Sangrur, demanding justice for the family of Jagmel Singh, condemning the incident as unfortunate. BSP condemned this incident, demanded justice and its President and area Incharge went to meet the family. Aam Aadmi Party local MLA joined the protest and its lone member of Lok Sabha, from Sangrur, raised the issue in parliament but his whole attack was focused against the Chief Minister and his absence from Punjab. Revolutionary forces were in forefront in the fight against this atrocity.

The incident at Changaliwala was not the first incident of atrocities against Dalits and it is not going to be the last one. Since so many years phenomena of atrocities against Dalits is on the rise. In Malwa region of Punjab alone many such incidents have happened. In Sangrur district itself, Dalits of villages Bald Kalan and Jhaneri were beaten by police and were put behind bars with broken ribs for months together and were released only after a prolonged struggle. Their only crime was that they were demanding their one third share in Panchayat land, granted by Punjab Village Common Lands Act 1961 and 1964.  Similar struggles and repression happened in Kheri and some other villages. This year, Dalit sarpanch belonging to ZPSC of village Tolewal, called a general body meeting of Gram Sabha, which adopted a unanimous resolution on giving one third share of land on lease for 33 years. Similar resolution was adopted by Gram Sabhas in village Dhandiwal and Mulowal. But district administration, trampling all legal provisions, rejected the resolution of Tolewal village and forcefully tried to auction Dalit share for one year but people resisted the effort. A local Congress linked landlord, in connivance with administration, attacked the Dalits. Nearly two dozen Dalits were injured, some of them, including women, were injured seriously. Not only in Sangrur district, in village Jawahrewala in Muktsar district two Dalits, a man and a woman, were shot dead by the landlord and a Congress leader. Some other cases of atrocities against Dalits were reported from the same district. These details underline the fact that this is not the first case of atrocities on Dalits, nor is it going to be the last one, because Dalits are becoming conscious of their rights and their present inhuman plight and rising in struggle against oppression and suppression.

The parliamentary parties did not respond to earlier incidents in the way they responded in this case as described above. The question arises, why have these ruling class parties responded so quickly in Changaliwala and why did they remain aloof and silent in earlier cases of repression and atrocities? In this particular case, even the state Government has acted promptly and tried to solve the issue and reach an agreement as soon as possible. Why did the government prove to be deaf and dumb towards the cries of Dalits in earlier cases? In earlier cases in Sangrur, the state was clearly siding with the landlords belonging to the upper castes. In those cases, Dalits became conscious of their plight, organized themselves and fought for their rights, facing repression in this process. Dalits became an organized force, daring enough to challenge the undeclared state power at local level. The entire parliamentary political class saw this force as a very dangerous element for their class rule. But in the present case in Changaliwala, the victim was not a part of any organized force but was simply an individual, so they did not see any danger from the victim’s family. What danger this political class felt was that if they showed a little slackness, the forces from whom they feel real danger may get leverage. These ruling politicians were competing with each other to turn Dalits into their vote bank for the future through their fake sympathy. This became clear when a central delegation of BJP visited that village. They loudly declared the danger of Naxal upsurge on the basis of some books in the village library, which are books published by Rationalist society. This is reason behind the change of attitude of the ruling politicians, including Bhagwant Mann of AAP.

Secondly, oppression, exploitation and suppression of Dalits is very much ingrained in the present political, social and economic system. All parliamentary parties of the ruling classes are defenders and conductors of this anti Dalit and anti-people system. That is why their attitudes on this issue are the very same, despite the differences in their names, flags, leaders and seemingly in their political line. Long history had confirmed this fact. Few kilometers away from Changaliwala village but in the same Block is village Jhaloor. As mentioned earlier, Dalits in that village, demanding their legal share in Panchayat land, were brutally attacked, dozens were seriously injured including women and elderly while an old lady, Mata Gurdev Kaur, succumbed to her injuries in PGI Chandigarh. Dalits’ houses were broken and household material was damaged. Cases were registered only after a prolonged struggle and some of the accused were arrested. But the main culprits, Harjinder Mangoo and Gurlal, are still at large, enjoying their normal life. Despite the fact that their bail plea was rejected by Punjab and Haryana High Court, police is not arresting them. If they were put behind the bars, perhaps the gruesome incident in Changaliwala would not have happened. But police connivance with criminals in Jhaloor has conveyed a message that landlords of upper caste can go scot free even after killing Dalits, as the lives of Dalits have not more value than that of dogs. Similarly, in Tolewal village, Dalits attacked by a Congress leader were in hospital and their medico-legal reports shows broken bones and cuts, which means that cases should registered under 326/325 of Indian Penal Code for which accused has to go to jail. But the police is neither recording the statements of the victims nor considering the medico-legal reports. Police has registered cases under section 323/324 of IPC and culprits are enjoying freedom. Such attitude of this system gives the message that culprits of atrocities against Dalits need not fear the law.

This incident in Changaliwala has once again unleashed the debate on Dalit question in the form that why such incidents continue to happen even in 21st century. Some self styled intellectuals and university type academicians assert that it is a certain anti Dalit psychology and anti Dalit thinking is responsible for such atrocities. But they stop here and don’t raise and answer the question that what is the source of such thinking or psychology. This shows the hollowness of intellect of such university intellectuals. We have been explaining this time and again that the whole edifice of caste system rests upon two pillars and caste cannot be eliminated without smashing these two pillars. These two pillars are, one, the structure and second, the super structure of this society. The Structural pillar is that all Dalit castes are devoid of any means of production, which, in rural India, is mainly land. The second pillar is in the super structure and is Endogamy. The task of removing the second pillar is a long term task, which may be taken as principal task after the completion of new democratic revolution, though propaganda and campaigns on this issue need to be taken in contemporary situation as well. But, smashing of the structure is the first and main task immediately. Struggle for share in the means of production, which means share in land, is the most immediate and important task for all those who are really interested in annihilation of caste.

In Sangrur and some other districts Zameen Prapti Sangharsh Committee is trying to lead the struggle to a higher phase by fighting for Dalit share in Panchayat land for thirty three years, apart from struggle on nazool land. Now this struggle for thirty three years is just a small step, but this struggle must culminate in one third of Panchayat land being giving on a permanent basis. This is also a first phase of struggle. Real issue is that land ceiling must be implemented strictly, and surplus land should be given to Dalits and other landless. Not only this, this land ceiling was fixed by 1972 Land Reform Act. Productivity of land has increased many times over, hence there is urgent need for lowering the land ceiling from 17 acres to 10 acres. ZPSC has been demanding this. This organization has identified some cases where landlords have land much beyond the prescribed ceiling limit. Struggle should culminate in occupation of surplus land if this hated caste system is to be eradicated.