For a caste atrocity, the scale of the casualties was routine: five Dalits killed and 11 injured. The cause of the violence – a prolonged land dispute – was also commonplace. If the May 14 incident at Dangawas village in Rajasthan’s Nagaur district still sent shock waves across the country, it was because of an exceptionally gruesome mode of attack. The Dalits were mowed down by a mob driving tractors.
The attack sparked enough outrage to merit a mention in Sonia Gandhi‘s letter to Narendra Modi on June 1. Yet, this crucial detail about tractors being used to kill the Dalits is missing from the FIR although it was lodged within five hours of the crime by one of those injured. All it instead says is that they were killed with “lethal weapons”.
What is even more curious is that the reference to the Dalits being mowed down is actually made in a counter case lodged another five hours later by Jats, the dominant caste in the area. This second FIR -the narrative of the Jat mob – makes out that the Dalits, who were all part of the extended family of Ratnaram Meghwal, were mowed down by their own tractor, driven by one of their own family members.
This cruel joke has gone unnoticed amid a slew of claims in FIR No 169 suggesting that the Jats were entirely blameless. The injuries on the Dalits were ascribed to one Kishnaram Meghwal, who is claimed to have “started” the tractor in an abortive attempt to run over the Jats. But as the tractor went “out of control” in the melee, Krishnaram, according to the second FIR, ended up inflicting “serious injuries” on his own family members. It repeatedly claims that the Jats had only meant to “persuade” the Meghwal family to vacate the disputed land.
In the altogether different account contained in the first case, FIR No 168, the 200-strong mob came in three tractors and 50 motorcycles, armed with lathis and other weapons, to “force” the Dalits out of the disputed land. One of the tractors was used to demolish a house and hut belonging to the Dalits. There is no reference to any tractor in the portion where complainant Arjunram Meghwal, one of the Dalit survivors, is quoted describing the “murderous assault” on his various family members.
Tale of two triggers
Another big difference between the two FIRs did raise hackles on both sides. It relates to the alleged trigger for the carnage. While FIR No 168 suggests that the violence began with the demolition of the house and hut by the mob, FIR No 169 portrays the Dalits as aggressors. It alleges that the first killing on the spot was in fact of a member of an OBC community, Rampal Goswami, who had apparently accompanied the Jats to the disputed land. FIR No 169 also says that one of the Dalits, Govindram Meghwal, killed Goswami with a firearm.
Case gets curiouser: Kishan Meghwal (in pink shirt), son of slain Pancharam, at the site of the crime in Dangawas.
This claim has raised several questions about the sequence of the two FIRs. If Goswami did get killed at the spot between 10 and 10.30 am, why was the case concerning his death, FIR No 169, registered more than 10 hours later? If he was indeed the first person to be killed in the incident, why didn’t the Jats approach the police before the Dalits, who despite all their injuries, had recorded their complaint by 3.30 pm? Why did the Jats instead leave it to a cousin of the deceased, Suresh Puri, to lodge the FIR although he had no personal knowledge of the dispute or the violence? Why has no firearm been recovered from the crime scene or anywhere else for that matter?
Police ignored trouble brewing
These questions have acquired greater significance as the police made their first arrest, which was of a Jat, only on the third day, when the chairman of the National Scheduled Castes Commission, P L Punia, visited Dangawas. Also, Nagaur‘s district magistrate Rajan Vishal and SP Raghvendra Suhas first met the victims during Punia’s visit although they were required by the caste atrocities law to do so without any delay.
Subsequently, in an action taken report to the commission on May 25, Suhas acknowledged “negligence” on the part of the police in responding to the trouble that had been brewing in Dangawas for over a month. On April 10, the head of the Dalit family, Ratnaram Meghwal, complained to the police that despite his title and possession over the land of 23 bighas (about 9 acres), Kanaram Jat and Omaram Jat had with their men dug up a pond on his property. Ten days later, Ratnaram’s widowed daughter-in-law, Pappudi Devi, complained to the police that the same Jats had, among other things, molested her.
Betraying bias in favor of the Jats, the police refused to register those complaints by the Dalits. It was only after the Dalits had obtained court orders were the police forced to record both cases on May 1. Their failure to take any follow-up action led to the May 14 showdown, which claimed the lives of, among others, Ratnaram and Pappudi’s two brothers and forced the arrests of, among others, Kanaram and Omaram.
In a bid to save face, the government initiated departmental action against local officials, including SHO Naga Ram, who is also responsible for the dubious manner in which FIR Nos 168 and 169 had been recorded. The unravelling of police delinquency in Dangawas also prompted the authorities to wake up to another caste atrocity in the same district. In a case in which three Dalits had been set on fire in Baswani village over three months ago, the police made the first arrests on June 4. With the government yielding to the demand for a CBI probe into the conflicting FIRs of May 14, it remains to be seen if Dangawas will buck the trend of impunity for caste violence.