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Dalit Dasta Virodhi Andolan commenced its Pad Yatra “Land or Jail” on 14th August 2007 at Fatehgarh Sahib. The main objective of this Pad Yatra was to create awareness and sensitization among the dalit and other weaker sections on the prevalence of bondage in Punjab Agriculture and Brick kiln industries, the liberation from bondage through Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1976, prevalent minimum wage rate and the Land Rights issues. The meeting on 14th August 2007 was held at the Sirhind Sikh Gurudwara. The meeting was attended by prominent social workers and activists namely: Sh. Gurnam Singh Retired Additional District and Session Judge, Smt. Surinder Kaur, Member, Shiromani Gurudwara Parbandhak Committee, Sh. Surinder Singh Sanyasi Activist, Sh. Amar Singh Talania, Sh. Kurra Singh and other important social workers.
The Pad Yatra was organized in a peaceful and non violent manner. It proceeded to the villages of Rudki, Charnathal, Bhamarsi, Jalha Majra, Kheri, Mudhran, Vadali, Varaunga, Bhagwanpur etc of Fatehgarh Sahib District between 15th to 17th August 2007. It reached village- Rajgarh Channa District Patiala on 18th August 2007.Here the DDVA activists faced the first resistance from the landlords “They Prevented the Kafila from proceeding ahead”. The main reason for the resistance was that DDVA had earlier released three bonded labourers two years back in this village. Two of these bonded labourers belongs to “Jheur”(Waterman) backward caste community and one from Scheduled caste Valmiki community. The names and particulars of the released bonded labourers were the following:
Bonded labourers freed by DDVA from Village- Rajgarh, tehsil- Nabha, District- Patiala. The Schedule of the Pad Yatra was to have the night halt on 18th August 2007 in the upper caste Dharamshala of village Rajgarh Channabut due to the caste- class conflict perpetuated by the landlords, the Pad Yatries decided to shift the night halt in the same village at the scheduled caste Dharamshala.
It would be necessary to highlight the fact here that in Punjab on social issues the backward castes stands solidly with the Jat upper caste but in matters of bonded labour and minimum wage issues they align with the scheduled caste as it becomes a class issue. This peculiarity of caste-class conflict is one of the distinguishing feature of social dynamics of Punjab. The Padyatries then diverted to village- Bugga Kalan because in 2004 DDVA had taken up the case of Kulwant Singh a bonded labourer who was murdered by his employer. DDVA had staged a dharna in the local police station to register FIR of the murder of Kulwant Singh which was being resisted by the police due to the pressure of the landlord. DDVA pressurized the police to register FIR.In order to express their sympathy with this family the Padyatra also went through the village- Bugga Kalan.
There was continued resisstance of the Padyatra by the landlords in other villages as well. Accordingly on 19th August 2007 the Padyatries faced the resistnce of the landlords in village Achhal of District Patiala as DDVA had released earlier one bonded labourer from this village namely Sh. Pal Singh. The landlords had the apprehension that the DDVA would again try to release also the remaining bonded labourers from their clutches. However, due to tactical negotiation by DDVA activists the confrontation with the landlords was avoided. The confrontations appeared to be built in to the situation due to the dichotomous caste-class situation in Punjab villages in which the landlords belong to the upper caste Jat Sikh community and the dalits are mostly landless and some of them are also bonded labourers belonging to schedule castes: small fraction of them are also from the backward class community. In view of such anomalous situation, the entry in the next village-Khedi Malan tehsil-Samana of Patiala district, the landlords organized dharna to prevent the Pad Yatries from proceeding further on 20th August 2007: The landlords were under the apprehention that the activits might release the remaining bonded labourers in the village. It may be stated here that earlier DDVA had released a bonded labourer from village- Kheri Malan. The night stay of 20th August 2007 was made at village- Gurditpura as in this village DDVA had earlier freed 20 bonded labourers. The Padyatra subsequently covered between the 20th and 30th August 2007 various villages of Nabha tehsil like Kot Kalan, Kakrala, Tarain, Dakala, It may be mentioned here the DDVA had intensely worked on bonded labour issue in all such villages through which Padyatra was conducted.
In the next Village- Mavi Kalan the likely confrontation between landlords and Pad Yatries were avoided due to the timely intervention of the police. The Pad Yatra was allowed to proceed ahead. The Pad Yatries continued their Pad Yatra on 30th August 2007 from Village- Mavi Kaln to village-Thanetha. The landlords tried to prevent the Kafila from proceeding to the village- Mavi Kalan. The landlords had filed a complaint to Samana police station that the Pad Yatries were raising objectionable slogans in the form of demanding Rs.150 as daily wage for eight hours work: they also complained that the local labourers had filed court cases against the landlords demanding more wages and for the release of the bonded labourers. Their complaint also included that many of the migrant labourers had taken advances and ran away from the village (Subhash, Des Sewak, 1st September 2007, Page-5) Due to the strong resistance by the landlord, the police requested the DDVA activists to stay back in Thanetha village in Ravidas Gurudwara instead of proceeding further. The situation became very sensitive which led to the intervention of DSP, SDM and local Magistrate (Tehsildar) and due to their negotiation with the landlords, the Kafila was advised not to enter in the village- Mavi Kalan.
As per the original schedule the Satyagarahies had planned to have their night halt at village Mavi Kalan and also accordingly arranged their cooking arrangements for the night in same village. Due to the rescheduling of night halt at village Thanetha, the Kafila could take their night food only in the next early morning. Even in Thanetha village the landlords were threatening the Kafila in front of the Ravidas Gurudwara: they were armed with lathies and weapons to precipitate violent action. The administration also did not allow the Kafila to hold the public meeting in this village as the apprehended phusical violents between the two groups.
The Kafila then entered the villages of District- Sangrur. On the 2nd September 2007 the Padyatries entered the village-Bathua where one of the DDVA supporter Raja Singh was injured severely by the landlords for rendering support to the DDVA activits. Due to severe injuries he was admitted in Sangrur hospital for treatment.The padyatries went to the second village Babar on 2nd September 2007 and here also the landlords created problems; they were heavily intoxicated. The police restrained the landlords from creating nuisance. The Kafila went through few other villages of Sangrur between 3rd--6th September 2007 where the Pad Yatries faced no challenge. However, on 7th September 2007 the Kafila faced problems from the land owning community in village- Balran of Moonak- tehsil of Sangrur district. The landlords of this village prevented the Kafila from proceeding further as they were afraid of the release of the bonded labourers employed with them. Here the landlords assembled in large number fully equipped with Lathies and weapons and were chasing the Satyagarahies. The police again intervened and diverted the Pad Yatries to Village- Lehal Kalan. In this village also the landlords had gathered in large numbers to resist the Pad Yatries from proceeding further. The Pad Yatries were scheduled to enter village- Khadebad near Dirba on 8th September 2007 but here also the Padyatries had to face severe resistance and threats from the landlords. It may be stated here that earlier DDVA had released 5 bonded labourers in this village.
The landlords were so much apprehensive that they even prevented the Kafila from taking drinking water from the village tube wells. Due to the continued resistance and apprehended confrontation with the landlords, the police did not allow the Kafila to stay in the nearby villages and persuaded the Pad Yatries to continue their onward march till the mid night to a village- Jalur situated at a distance of 10 K.M The police further imposed restrains on the Kafila and temprarely immobilized them at police Chownki- Korian. No sooner it was early morning, the landlords started raising the slogans against DDVA activists. It is clear that the Pad Yatries faced the stiff resistance in each of the village of Moonak, District Sangrur. The landlords had virtually enforced social boycott by preventing the shop keepers from selling the food and other grocery items.
The next village of the Kafila was Village- Ghodenab where a great wall of resistance was formed by the landlords and prevented the DDVA activists from entering in the village. The police perceived the imminent danger of confrontation and arrested 88 DDVA activists under section 188 of Indian Penal Code (FIR No: 107 dated 9th September 2007) on fourteen days remand and placed them at Police Station Lehra on 9th September 2007 (Ajit, 11th September 2007).
As a protest, DDVA activists also demanded action against the landlords. Ms. Prabhjot Kaur stated that The Punjab Government and the District Administration are bent upon suppressing their genuine aspirations and rightful demands of liberation from bondage, access to land for the landless and house for the homeless.(Nawan Zamana, 22nd September 2007) However, the police personnel instead of taking action against the landlords, informed Mr. Jagjiwan Singh (Legal Coordinator of VSJ) that all of them have been booked under section 107,151 and 188 of Indian Penal Code. On 10th September 2007 at about 4:00p.m all DDVA activists appeared before the magistrate. The DDVA activists in thousands also reached Moonak from long distances to show their solidarity with DDVA and strongly protested police action. Large posse of policemen were also present near Moonak SDM Court.(Ajit 11th September 2007) The DDVA legal coordinator Mr. Jagjiwan Singh was forthright in sending information to the Punjab State Human Rights Commission, Senior Superintendent of Police, Sangrur, Director General of Police, Punjab, National Commission for Scheduled Castes, New Delhi that SHO Lehra has fully failed to protect the fundamental rights of the DDVA activists as guaranteed under Article 14,19 and 23 of Constitution of India and abated the crime with the landlords. It was also made clear that the aim of the Pad Yatra was to create awareness among the poor and landless people about the laws for the welfare on bonded labour including Minimum Wages and other social legislations. Hence they requested that complaint should be registered against the SHO, Moonak and the landlords for violating the provisions of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989 and illegally detaining them under custody. Another astonishing fact was that all the DDVA members were brought to the Moonak, SDM court in handcuffs and a large number of landlords were also present in the court complex to tease and humiliate the dalits. This matter was brought to the notice of the Senior Superintendent of Police, Sangrur through Sh. Jagjiwan Singh (Legal Coordinator, VSJ) that his subordinate in the police hierarchy have violated the directions given on the handcuffing of under trials in bailable offences. The police deliberately produced all the accused in hand cuffs before the Sub Judge. The inspector Nahar Singh and Sub Inspector Surjit Singh were suspended including 30 police constable under section 188, 107 and 151 of Indian Penal Code. The Judge also took cognizance of this and ordered the police for the opening of handcuff and released them (Punjabi Tribune, 22nd September 2007).On the very first hearing the judge made the remark that the action of the accused was not a threat as there was no breach of peace and public tranquility. Hence he made the orders to discharge DDR. There was a deliberate design in the entire incident as one of the primary purpose of the administration was to please the landlords who were present on the occasion to see the dalits demanding their legal rights and entitlements were humiliated; they were also delighted to see that the dalits were not only punished but the administration was also suppressing their voice. This incident is an eye opener to fact that the upper castes in Punjab suppress the dalit voice which has been provided to them in the Constitution of India. During this time the press reporters of various newspapers were also present and asked the DDVA activists about the object of their Pad Yatra. They were told by Mr. Jai Singh, The Patron of DDVA that the Pad Yatra (Long foot March) was organized to sensitize the poor people of Punjab on the issue of prevalence of bonded labour in agriculture and brick kiln and the social legislations formulated in this regard by the Government of India, such as Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1976, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989,
The Minimum Wages Act 1948 and the provisions of Land Reforms Legislations on access of land to the landless. Mr. Jai Singh also apprised the press reporters that the landlords deliberately organized resistance and confrontation at various places as scheduled in their Pad Yatra programs ( Ravinder Bhardwaj,12th September 2007, Rojana Spokesman- Clash Between Upper Caste and dalits, Page 13.) The Pad Yatra of DDVA activists was widely appreciated by various activist organizations and they also condemned the arrest of DDVA activists. They also demanded immediate release of the Pad Yatries. Radical People’s Forum Punjab and Mazdur Mukti Morcha Punjab criticized Punjab Government for arresting DDVA workers and asked for their immediate release. They also pointed out that the devide of dalits and landlords were widening since the Akalis came to power. The lanldords anticipated that the neglect of the rightful demand of the bonded labourers and the land rights of the dalits eventually would lead to disastrous consequences (The Punjabi Tribune, 18th September 2007). On similar tone, The Spokesman, Mr. Ram Kishan of Ravidas Naujawan Sabha and Ravidas Mandir Committee condemned the arrest of the activists of DDVA who were sensitizing the deprived sections on the issue of bonded labour including the issue of women cattle cleaner being engaged as bonded labour and child bonded labour (Sukhwant Singh,Rojana Spokesman, 10th September 2007). Dr. Amar Nath Bassi, Punjab Pradhan, Democratic Bhartia Samaj Party was equally emphatic in his criticism of the arrest of the activists of DDVA and their leader Sh. Jai Singh on raising the just cause of the suffering and deprived people of Punjab. They were also critical of the antagonistic attitude of the landlords by resisting the Pad Yatra of the DDVA activists through show of confrontation and violence (Nawan Zamana, Kapurthala, 15th September 2007). The action of the State Government was also strongly condemned by Sh. Lahori Ram Bali, a veteran Ambedkarite.
Though the arrested Pad Yatries were freed from the charges under section 107/151 of IPC but the case under section 188 of IPC was pending. They were freed on 20th September 2007. The poor people were unable to bring surety for their release. The judge agreed to free them on personal bond. The case went on for five long years, i.e., from 2007 to 2012. Free legal aid was requested but till the end it was not provided by the Court. Many people during the long litigation felt sick or were placed in difficult situations and hence could not appear before the court. They were unable to file their bail applications. Hence they had no option than to plead guilty and request the Court to take mercy on them. Many of the participants were erstwhile bonded labourers or daily wage workers and hailed from the most down trodden economic condition. The Court fined each one of them a nominal amount.
The village named Khandi falls under the taluka of Chuda of district Surendranagar. The brief fact of this case is as under: That the victim Tejalben d/o Budhabhai belongs to Valmiki Community which is considered as Schedule Case. The victim went for a nature call at around 8.00 o’clock in the night and her family members were having their food. At that time main accused Ravirajsingh Jatubha and Dasaratsingh Merubha came there on bike and forcefully taken the victim. Thereafter all the accused namely Ravirajsingh Jatubhai, Dasaratsingh Merubha, Natubha Vakhatsingh, Rajubha Vakhatsingh, Vinubhai Dahyabhai all residing at Khandia have rape her and abused her.
The victim was threatened by the accused that if she declare and tells anybody regarding the episode they would kill her family members and thereafter at around 3.00 o’clock early in the morning the dropped me at Dhandhuka and all the accused wane away from there. Thereafter the victim to taken to the government hospital at Limdi. Regarding this incident FIR was registered. The statement of the victim under section 164 of code of criminal procedure was recorded.
Victim has 3 acre and 4d land at Navin Cooperative Chira Chaas. Accused wanted to occupy the land and asking the victim to sell the land. But the victim does not want to sell the land so the accused abused the victim and threatened him to sell the land, on the day of the incident they not only abused but beaten the victim.
Legal Standard Breached:
Amritpal Singh (15 years) is from village- Jasseana, tehsil & District- Shri Muktsar Sahib and belongs to Majhabi Sikh caste (Scheduled Caste). He has been working as “siri” and Domestic servant since 2011, for Inderjit Singh who belongs to Jatt Sikh community.
He is also from the same village. At the time of joining the work, he was given an advance of Rs.15000 (Rupees fifteen thousand rupees) which they spent to built their house. The employer fixed his annual wages Rs.28,000 (Rupees twenty eight thousand) for the first year and Rs.30,000 (Rupees thirty thousand ) for the second and third years. He starts his work from 4:00a.m and up till 9:00p.m. The employer is not allowing him to go to his house. On several requests the employer allows him to go to his house after four or five days only for one hour. The employer is providing him three times meals. During the work period he got skin infection on his right foot, he was unable to walk and he could not go to the work. The employer Inderjit Singh and his son Channa Singh came to his house on 13-8-013 around 6:00a.m and abused Amritpal Singh and his family members on caste basis. They threatened to family that if they will not send Amritpal Singh to their work then they will exceed the bonded debt of Rs. 35000 (Thirty five thousand rupees). They had beaten up Amritpal Singh. When family tried to escape their child then the employers threatened them that if they won’t send Amirtpal, then they could also extract their money though polic, and take labour force from family members as well. The employer has not paid the three years wages of Amritpal Singh but to extract the bonded labour and bonded debt, he is harassing to Amri pal’s family.
Our field animator Jaspal Singh has approached to the family and VSJ filed a complaint to the District Magistrate of District Shri Muktsar Sahib by presenting them before the District Magistrate. The case is under consideration.
Darshan Singh S/o Kuda Ram is R/o Village- Teja, tehsil & District- Patiala belongs to “Bazigar” which has been declared as a Scheduled. He was employed by Mahant Jatinder Das, Dera Thandi Ram, Naudha Mishri Mohala, Near Jattan wala Chaunkda, Patiala, District- Patiala and working as a “Siri”(Bonded Labourer). He worked for the employer continuously for 10 years. His wife Jasvir Kaur also worked for the employer for two years to clean cow dung. When Darshan Singh joined the work of the employer he was given Rs. 18000/- as advance amount which he used to bought a new buffalo. The employer fixed his annual wages Rs. 18,000 for the first year.
The employer has taken his thumb impressions on many blank papers as Darshan Singh is an illiterate man and he did not know why the employer has taken his thumb impressions on these papers. Darshan Singh was working from the sunrise to sunset. During the wheat and paddy transplantation season the employer extracted work from him day and night and did not allow him to go to his house when he requested the employer to go to his house then hardly he was allow to go only for one or two hours to eat food in his house. The employer was not allowing him for any weekly rest or overtime. Whenever Darshan Singh falls sick or could not attend the work due to any other urgent work then the employer charged him an fine of Rs.600/- per day and night and adds this amount in the advance amount and charges the interest of 3% per hundred per month on the whole amount. The employer never paid his earn wages whenever Darshan Singh demands his wages from him the employer gives him only Rs. 1000 or 1500 per month. Darshan Singh’s wife was managing the household expenses. The employer stopped to give any expenses to Darshan Singh and he was facing starvation. He demanded his wages from the employer but he refused to pay that and imposed an amount of Rs.1, 00,000/- on him as an debt advance. The employer was threatening Darshan Singh that if he will not pay the bonded debt or will leave the work he will hand him over to police and will extract bonded debt from him with the help of police. Darshan Singh approached to VSJ for help and the complaint for his release and rehabilitation was sent to District Magistrate, Patiala on dated 27-7-013 through Registered post. Darshan Singh is physically free but no action has been taken against the employer to extract the bonded labour and bonded debt from him.