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125 years after Ambedkar was born, a Dalit woman was burnt to death in Rajasthan

Three people of a Dalit family asleep in a hut in Nagaur district were attacked over a land dispute seven weeks ago.

Photo Credit: Supriya Sharma
A solitary neem tree stood outside a modest mud-and-stone house on a barren patch of land. Sitting on a charpoy under the tree, his arms and legs splayed, was 14-year-old Harender.

Burnt skin stretched from the fingers of his left hand, all the way to his left temple, stopping short of his eye.

“Thank god the eye was spared,” said his mother, Phuli, who hovered over him.

On February 19, as on most other nights, Harender, along with his father and grandmother, went to sleep in the small hut that the family had built in the fields that they cultivated, about a kilometre away from their home in the village of Baswaani in Rajasthan’s Nagaur district.

Past midnight, the family woke to an inferno.

Before the flames could consume his child, Babulal Meghwal, Harender’s father, managed to drag him out. But he could not save his old mother. Charred by the fire, 80-year-old Udao died on the way to the hospital.

A week after he had cremated his mother and admitted his child to the hospital, Babulal sat down on protest outside the collector’s office.

The Dalit farmer alleged that the fire was not an accident but an attack on his family, an attempt to oust them from the land they have tilled for three generations. Identifying the attackers as five men of the Raika community, also known as Rabari or Dewasi, a middle caste that traditionally reared camels and sheep, he declared that he would not abandon his dharna until the police had arrested them.

Forty five days later, Babulal has not moved.

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