Archive for July 17, 2014

What is in store for women in the Union Budget 2014-15?

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Union budget 2014-15 offers up old and new schemes but fails to address macro-economic and social causes of exploitation and subordination of women

By Vibhuti Patel

The Union Budget 2014-15 will largely benefit the middle class, and offer comfort to middle and upper class women as consumers. Poor women will be crushed by the macro-economic policies that will fuel inflation, land alienation and higher fees for education and health facilities. This time even women’s groups have not raised their voice against gender non-inclusive aspects of the Union Budget.

After the terms Gender Budgeting and Gender Mainstreaming were officially introduced in 2004 by the UPA government, many State Governments like Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Orissa, Kerala, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Tripura, Nagaland, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand have adopted Gender Budgeting. Gender Budget Cells were designed to serve as focal points for coordinating gender budgeting initiatives within their Ministries and across departments.

Fifty six Ministries/Department have confirmed setting up of a cell/nominating a nodal person. This could materialize because the previous government’s Ministry of Women and Child Development, in collaboration with UN Women, had developed a Manual and Handbook for Gender Budget Cells for Central Ministries and Departments. The current Union Budget of 2014-15 has seen the Gender Budget Cells play a major role in budgetary allocations.

What is gender budgeting?
Gender Budgeting does not relate to a separate budget for women but involves comparative analysis and construction of general budgets from a gender perspective. It helps governments to decide how policies need to be made, adjusted and reprioritized. It is a tool for effective policy implementation where one can check if gender commitments are translated into financial commitments.

The Gender Budget Initiative is a policy framework, methodology and set of tools to assist governments to integrate a gender perspective into the budget as the main national plan of public expenditure. It also aims to facilitate attention to gender analysis in review of macroeconomic performance, ministerial budget preparations, parliamentary debate and mainstream media coverage. The Budget impacts women’s lives in several ways. It directly promotes women’s development through allocation of budgetary funds for women’s programmes or reduces opportunities for empowerment of women through budgetary cuts.

The Union Budget 2014-15 has retained all schemes for empowerment of women and girls of the last decade under the Women & Child Development with Rs 18691 crores allocated for Integrated Child Development Services, Rs. 715 crores for National Mission for Empowerment of Women (NMEW) and Rs. 400 crores for Integrated Child Protection Scheme. A new scheme was also launched– ‘Beti bachao Beti padhao’ with Rs 100 crore.

The schemes can be classified into 4 categories:

1: Protective Services:
These include allocations on women’s homes and care institutions, rehabilitation schemes for victims of atrocities, pensions for widows and destitute women, which are aimed at mitigating the consequences of women’s social and economic subordination, rather than addressing the root causes of this subordination.
For example Sabla, Swadhar-scheme for women in Difficult Circumstances, Ujjawala Comprehensive Scheme for Prevention of Trafficking and, Rescue, Rehabilitation and Re-Integration of Victims of Trafficking for Commercial Sexual Exploitation, Scheme of Short Stay Homes for Women and Girls, Scheme for welfare of Working Children in need of Care and Protection.

2: Social Services:
These include schemes for education and health of women, support services like crèche and hostels and also water supply, sanitation, and schemes on fuel and fodder, which contribute significantly to women’s empowerment, either directly by building their capacities and ensuring their material well-being, or indirectly through reducing domestic drudgery.

For example, the Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS), Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojana (IGMSY), General Grant-in-aid (GIA) Scheme for Assistance to Voluntary Organisations in the field of Women and Child Development, General Grant-in-Aid Scheme in the field of Women and Child Development, Family Counseling Centre Scheme, Rajiv Gandhi National Creche Scheme For the Children of Working Mothers, Nutrition Education and Training though Community Food & Nutrition Extension Units(CFNEUS), Kishori Shakti Yojana (KSY), Nutrition Programme for Adolescent Girls (NPAG)

A sum of Rs.100 crores is provided for “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao Yojana”, a focused scheme to generate awareness and improve the efficiency of welfare services for women. This is the first year of the scheme, if funds of Rs. 100 crore are utilized by the state, we can pressure the government to allocate more funds.

New small savings scheme: A special small savings instrument to cater to the requirements of education and marriage of the girl child is to be introduced. This would be in line with schemes like Kisan Vikas Patra or National Savings Certificate.

The budget promises drinking water and sanitation. Government would strive to provide toilets and drinking water in all the girls’ schools in the first phase.

The budget also promises that school curriculum will include gender mainstreaming. Gender Mainstreaming is the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programmes, in all areas and at all levels. It is a strategy for making women’s as well as men’s concerns and experiences an integral dimension of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes in all political, economic and societal spheres so that women and men benefit equally and inequality is not perpetuated. The ultimate goal is to achieve gender equality.

3: Economic services:
These include schemes for training and skill development, and provision for credit, infrastructure, marketing etc. which are critical to women’s economic independence and autonomy. For example, the STEP Support for Training and Empowerment of Girls, General Grant-in-Aid Scheme for innovative projects, working women’s hostels.

The Union Budget 2014-15 has promised easy loan terms where the government will offer concessional loans to women in rural India at 4% in some districts and 7% in others for women self help groups under a scheme called Ajeevika.

4: Regulatory services:
These include institutional mechanisms for women’s empowerment, such as State Commissions for Women, Women’s Cells in Police Stations, awareness generation programmes, which provide institutional spaces and opportunities for women’s empowerment.

For example International Women’s Day – Stree Shakti Puraskar, Childline Services, Grant-in-Aid for Research, Publication and Monitoring.

An outlay of Rs. 50 crores has been allocated in the current budget for pilot testing a scheme on “Safety for Women on Public Road Transport”. The Union Budget 2014-15 also allocates a sum of Rs. 150 crores on a scheme to increase the safety of women in large cities. Budgetary provision is also made from Nirbhaya Fund for “Crisis Management Centres” in all the districts of NCT of Delhi in government and private hospitals.

After the nationwide outcry following on the brutal gang rape of a young physiotherapist in Delhi in December, 2012, safety of women gained prime importance in public discourse. As a result, the previous government was forced to announce a Nirbhaya (the name by which the rape victim was referred to) Fund of Rs. 1000 crores in The Union Budget 2013-14.

However the past record of this outlay is abysmally poor. Official admission of 500% rise in reporting of rape cases has not galvanized governance structures to ensure speedy justice to the victims of sexual violence. The Nirbhaya fund is not used for preventive measures such as construction of night shelters for women, Information desks for women at railway/bus stations and help-lines connected nation-wide, one-stop crisis centers in the public hospitals and half way homes for elderly women along with pension (Rs. 1000 from central and Rs. 1000 from state government per single woman) safe public toilets for women, safe public transport, safety on roads, bus stations, railway platforms and trains.

Nor does it address public education campaigns about new laws such as Amendments in the Indian Evidence Act, Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act, 2013, and Protection of Children from Sexual Offense Act, 2012.

Women in Science and Technology
Budgetary allocation of Rs.53 crores under ‘Disha Programme for Women in Science’ to increase the representation of women and girls in science and technology fields through conferences, training programmes, networking platforms and to enhance its activities with regard to education, training and empowerment of women.

Women entrepreneurs however had expected an offer of soft loans and subsidies with financial institutions providing more working capital assistance. They felt that the budget should look at policies that will make micro credit systems and enterprise credit systems available to women entrepreneurs at all levels and help organise training programmes to develop professional competencies in technical, managerial, leadership, marketing, financial, production process and other skills.

Tax Relief
The Union budget 2014-15 does not offer any relief to women tax payers. On the contrary, the Finance Minister’s budget announcement had nothing specific for women.

The middle class will be happy with the increase in personal income tax limit from 2 lakhs to 2.5 lakhs. Senior citizens’ Income tax exemption limit has now been raised from 2.5 lakhs to Rs 3 lakh. The Investment limit under Section 80C has also been hiked to Rs 1.5 lakh from the current Rs 1 lakh, while the FM increased housing loan interest rate deduction limit to Rs 2 Lakh and the PPF (Public Provident Fund) deposit ceiling is raised to Rs 1.5 lakh per annum from the existing Rs 1 lakh.

Right to Pee:

A great improvement in women’s lives can be made by the provision of easily accessible, safe and clean toilet facilities. Massive allocation from budget on sanitation must be earmarked for toilets in public places for women and girls in Indian cities as they travel long distance for work and education. Working women need functioning toilets at railway stations and bus stations. Women homemakers have to attend social functions, visit market places, take children to gardens and hospitals. Women from both, slums and non-slum background need public toilets. Similarly in rural areas women need toilet facilities, so they don’t have to use the fields in the cover of darkness.

In general, the union budget needs a clearer commitment to the female workers as only financial clarity and commitment will bring responsive outcomes.

A tribute to Satyarani Chadha, the face of India’s anti-dowry movement

Satyarani Chadha by Sheba Chhachi

With the demise of Satyarani Chadha, Indian women’s movement loses a stalwart warrior

By Juhi Jain

Satyarani Chadha, a stalwart of the 1980s anti-dowry movement in Delhi, a founder member ( along with Shahjehan Aapa) of ShaktiShalini, a women’s organization cum shelter for girls and women survivors of dowry and domestic violence, passed away this week. In her late 80s Satyaraniji was battling cancer and dementia for the last few years.

I met Satyaraniji (or Mataji as she was known to many) for the first time in the 80s at a meeting to discuss the dowry death of a young 19 year old girl in a posh locality in South Delhi. The distraught parents of the deceased girl sat numb staring into space, the atmosphere was heavy and no one knew what to do as the police had refused to register a case of murder.

Satyarani Chadha immediately took the parents to the police station and ensured that the FIR was recorded. Her words, ‘rone se kaam nahi chalta (it does not help to cry) hume apni betiyon ke liye sirf insaaf chahiye, tumhe hamari madad karni hogi (we want nothing short of justice for our daughters, you will have to help us)’ to the station officer resonated with a firm commitment to the cause for justice. The parents left the police station feeling confident and hopeful; young activists like me felt empowered and in control. This is how we have known Satyarani Chadha- strong, confident and ready to help. But she was not always like this.

Satyarani Chadha did not have the benefit of either vernacular or English education, nor the privileges of an elite class. She was a shy, middle class family woman until the tragic death of her 20 year old, six month pregnant daughter Kanchanbala, with 100% burns in her marital home. This event in 1979, 35 years ago changed her into an activist and a relentless crusader for women’s rights and justice. Along with the parents of over 20 dowry victims, she spent 27 years of stubborn pursuit and dogged determination, battling legal cases and visiting courts, till she finally got justice when the High Court upheld the conviction of her son-in-law for abetting Kanchanbala’s suicide.

Turning her grief into courage and deriving strength from her personal trauma Satyarani embarked on a life long struggle through her organization ShaktiShalini for women survivors facing domestic violence, dowry abuse and harassment in their marital homes. She spent many years guiding, counseling and supporting parents and girls facing harassment and violence at the hands of their husbands and in-laws for dowry.

Satyarani Chadha by Sheba Chhachhi

Sathyarani Chadha, staged portrait at Supreme Court, Delhi, 1991 (from Seven lives & a Dream) photo by Sheba Chhachhi

The image of Satyarani holding her daughters graduation photograph and sitting on the steps of the Supreme Court became synonomous with the anti dowry protests in the country. These were instrumental in bringing about two vital amendments to the anti dowry law of the nation, thus strengthening the rights of women and girls.

The first amendment, made in 1983, changed the definition of dowry in the law to include any demand for gifts at any time during the marriage. The second amendment was brought about in Section 113 A of the Indian Evidence Act (of 1986), according to which an abetment to suicide was presumed if a married woman killed herself within seven years of marriage and if her husband/in-laws had subjected her to any form of violence and cruelty.

I lost my daughter 35 years ago but in that process I saved thousands and thousands of others. But in the end, what did I get? He is alive, married and absconding, he is not in prison, but my daughter is dead. This disillusionment with law will always stay with me

But the victory in her daughter’s case and the reforms in the law were of little comfort for Satyarani Chadha. She said, “I lost my daughter 35 years ago but in that process I saved thousands and thousands of others. But in the end, what did I get? He is alive, married and absconding, he is not in prison,” she said of her son-in-law, “but my daughter is dead. This disillusionment with law will always stay with me.”

The Indian women’s movement will always remember Satyarani Chadha as a woman of grit and courage, with an undying perseverance and a staunch commitment to fight the social menace of dowry and violence in marital homes. She continued till the very end, a persistent struggle for women’s dignity, demanding from the government land on which shelters and homes for girls and women who were being harassed and subjected to violence in their marital homes could be built.

Satyaraniji, we salute and celebrate you, with fondness and admiration; we will undoubtedly miss your comforting presence but you will always dwell in our hearts inspiring, guiding and motivating us. At a time when the laws she helped strengthen are coming under adverse scrutiny by the Supreme Court with the judgment on no automatic arrests following 498A complaints, she will be more sorely missed. We must pledge to continue her struggle as it is not over still.

Featured photo: Satyarani Chadha, Anti- Dowry protest, Delhi 1981 by Sheba Chhachhi

SC judgment on anti dowry law sparks protests from women’s groups

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Women’s rights activists are outraged as Supreme Court directs the police not to make immediate arrests under section 498A

By Team FI
Sparking nationwide outrage from women’s rights activists, the Supreme Court of India on Wednesday ruled that Section 498 (A) of the Indian Penal Code is used as “ weapon rather than shield by disgruntled wives” against the husband and his relatives.

The Apex court has further directed that the summary arrest on registration of the complaint must be stopped. Instead, the police must seek approval from a magistrate, stating good reasons for the need to arrest.

Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code was enacted in 1983 following a large number of dowry related murders where brides were murdered (mostly by burning) for not bringing enough dowry to the husband’s household as part of the marriage. Section 498A is a non- bailable offence and it protects women from being subjected to harassment and cruelty by her husband and his family.

After the introduction of the 498(A) several women came forward to lodge complaints of harassment against their husband’s relatives. The dowry demands were often accompanied by physical and mental violence. In these cases arrests following complaints were useful to stop the physical abuse. Indeed in the face of considerable societal consent and toleration both of dowry related torture and torture of women in the home, that these provisions of immediate arrest were found useful.

The judgment was delivered by Justice Chandramauli Kr. Prasad and Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose in petition filed by Anresh Kumar. “The fact that Section 498-A is a cognizable and non-bailable offence has lent it a dubious place of pride amongst the provisions that are used as weapons rather than shields by disgruntled wives. The simplest way to harass is to get the husband and his relatives arrested under this provision” states the judgment.

“It is a terrible judgment that takes the clock back over four decades” says Kavita Srivastava of People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). Kavita Srivastava demands that the Bihar government should move a curative petition challenging the judgment.

The court has also issued a set of directions to the state and the Police ‘to prevent unnecessary arrest and causal and mechanical detention.” The directions are:

a) All the State Governments to instruct its police officers not to automatically arrest when a case under Section 498-A of the IPC is registered but to satisfy themselves about the necessity for arrest under the parameters laid down above flowing from Section 41, Cr.PC;

b) All police officers be provided with a check list containing specified sub- clauses under Section 41(1)(b)(ii);

c) The police officer shall forward the check list duly filed and furnish the reasons and materials which necessitated the arrest, while forwarding/producing the accused before the Magistrate for further detention;

d) The Magistrate while authorising detention of the accused shall peruse the report furnished by the police officer in terms aforesaid and only after recording its satisfaction, the Magistrate will authorise detention;

e) The decision not to arrest an accused, be forwarded to the Magistrate within two weeks from the date of the institution of the case with a copy to the Magistrate which may be extended by the Superintendent of police of the district for the reasons to be recorded in writing;

f) Notice of appearance in terms of Section 41A of Cr.PC be served on the accused within two weeks from the date of institution of the case, which may be extended by the Superintendent of Police of the District for the reasons to be recorded in writing;

g) Failure to comply with the directions aforesaid shall apart from rendering the police officers concerned liable for departmental action, they shall also be liable to be punished for contempt of court to be instituted before High Court having territorial jurisdiction.

h) Authorising detention without recording reasons as aforesaid by the judicial Magistrate concerned shall be liable for departmental action by the appropriate High Court.

i) We hasten to add that the directions aforesaid shall not only apply to the cases under Section 498-A of the I.P.C. or Section 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, the case in hand, but also such cases where offence is punishable with imprisonment for a term which may be less than seven years or which may extend to seven years; whether with or without fine.

j) We direct that a copy of this judgment be forwarded to the Chief Secretaries as also the Director Generals of Police of all the State Governments and the Union Territories and the Registrar General of all the High Courts for onward transmission and ensuring its compliance “

Copy of the judgment

Featured photo courtesy: Zubaan Books

Bhagana rape in the context of Dalit rights to common land

Dalit -rights-India

This is a status report on Bhagana by AFDR, PUDR and WSS

A joint team comprising Association for Democratic Rights (AFDR) from Punjab, People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) and Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) from Delhi visited Bhagana village of Hisar district on May 13, 2014.

The main purpose of this visit was to meet the villagers after the gruesome gang rape incident of the four Dalit girls earlier on March 23 by five men of the Jat community and to understand its links with the ongoing struggle that the Dalit community has been waging since May 2012 for access to common land.

Following the incident of gang rape, 90 families, largely from the Dhanuk community, came to Delhi and sat on a dharna at Jantar Mantar on April 16, demanding justice and compensation. Then, on June 4, which also happened to be the first day of the Parliament session for the newly elected government, the Delhi police forcibly evicted them from the dharna site along with other groups sitting at Jantar Mantar. The police used brute force to drive away the protesters, ostensibly, for ‘security concerns’ in view of the upcoming session of Parliament. Some women activists from Delhi were also roughed up and were even hit on their private parts by the women police.

In Bhagana, our team met Dalit residents of the village, the sarpanch and other men from the Jat community, and the people sitting in protest at the Mini Secretariat in Hisar. The team visited the offices of the DM and SP in Hisar and met one of the local lawyers, who has been appearing on behalf of the Dalits. We also met the survivors and representatives of the Dalit community sitting at Jantar Mantar in protest.

This is an update on the detailed report brought out by AFDR and PUDR on Bhagana in 2012 titled, This Village is Mine Too.

Sexual assault on the four girls

Four young Dalit girls from Bhagana were abducted by five Jat boys from the same village on the night of March 23, when they had gone out to relieve themselves. They had been stalking them for quite some time. The girls were dragged into a car, sedated and gang-raped. Later, they were taken to the Bhatinda railway station, about 170 kms from Bhagana, and were left there. One of the girls recollected that though she was aware of being raped by her abductors, she was in no state to resist because of the effect of the drugs she was forced to take.

The morning after their disappearance, the girls’ families had approached the sarpanch of the village, Rakesh Panghal. He belongs to one of the most powerful Jat families of Bhagana, owning around 44 acres of land. Instead of taking a serious note of it and suggesting filing a complaint for missing persons with the police, the sarpanch initially tried to laugh it off and interpreted the incident as a possible case of elopement. When the families persisted, he finally relented and admitted of knowing the whereabouts of the girls. On the morning of March 25, he took the parents and relatives of the girls to the Bhatinda railway station. The girls were there. The sarpanch accompanied the girls in a car while the relatives were asked to come by bus. Throughout the journey, the sarpanch kept intimidating the girls, telling them to forget the incident and warning them of dire consequences for their families, if they went ahead with filing a police complaint.

Undeterred by the threats, the girls and their families went ahead and filed a police complaint on the same night. FIRs were filed on March 25 [FIR no. 299/2014] at the Sadar Police Station and the girls were made to undergo medical examination to ascertain rape and physical assault. Charges have also been levelled against the accused under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POSCO), the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 [Section 3 (1) xi] and under several sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) [Sections 363/366/366A/376/120B/328]. Initially, the police was showing reluctance in filing the case and sending them for medical examination. However, pressure from the families and local Dalit activists forced the police to file an FIR and arrange for medical examination of one of the four girls at 11.00 in the night. The police called the other three girls the following day for medical examination.

One of the victims, an 18-year-old girl, in a complaint filed has alleged that five youths kidnapped her and her three friends, including two minors, on March 23 and gang raped them after giving them some drugs. The accused include two brothers named Sumit and Lalit, and Sandeep who are residents of Bhagana and two unknown youth from a nearby village. One of the accused in the incident is the nephew of the sarpanch.

When the team met the sarpanch and other representatives of the Jat community, they tried to underplay the accusation of rape, maintaining that it was a clear case of elopement. Others alleged that one of the girls was having an affair with one of the Jat boys. The sarpanch and his associates denied that there existed any caste-induced disharmony in the village. According to him, all the people in the village lived in an atmosphere of perfect bhaichara (harmony) and that it was only a section of people responsible for creating problems in the village. According to them, they were doing this to get money from the government.

The accused were arrested on March 29 and April 1. The girls were given a compensation of Rs 1. 2 lakh each and two of them got an additional Rs 65, 000/ each from the state government.

In our interactions with the people, some women shared openly how these incidents of sexual violence were not new to the area. Earlier they would be hushed down but now people are willing to speak about them and even file cases. This became possible because the community came together to resist the routine caste violence, injustices and other atrocities, including sexual violence, being perpetrated by the Jat community.

Some recalled a rape incident that had happened a long time ago. A 12-year-old girl was gang-raped all day long by some members of Jat community. The victim finally succumbed to the injuries. We were also told of another rape incident, about six-seven months ago, of the daughter of a migrant worker from Delhi, working at the local water reservoir. The father of the girl was badly beaten up, when he protested.

In recent times the sexual attacks on Dalit women have become more frequent in Haryana. These attacks are intended to show the power of the dominant castes

Some villagers felt that the immediate provocation for this incident was the altercation that took place sometime ago between the father of one of the girls and the sarpanch. The sarpanch had threatened him that someday he would teach him a lesson.

With so many families having moved out, the fear and insecurity of those who remain seem to have increased much more. Some women expressed how they lived with a great deal of fear in even going about their daily chores or moving around the village. No one dares to go out alone. On the other hand, the March 23 incident, the subsequent arrests of five Jats and the complicity of the sarpanch and his uncle have made the Jats harden their stand, though; they are also scared. To understand the current situation, we need to have a closer look at the socio-economic relations in the village itself.

About Bhagana

Bhagana village is about three hundred years old. The two significant communities inhabiting the village are Jats, who form 54%; and Dalits, who form 24% of the population.

Like any other village in Haryana all Dalits in Bhagana are landless wage labourers. Their only source of livelihood in the village is working in the fields of the dominant caste group (Jats), who own most of the land in the village. The Jats of Bhagana are related to each other and enjoy strong unity.

Dalits in Bhagana are on the three sides of the village, while Jats and other upper caste families live in the centre of the village. Chamars and Dhanuks are the two main Dalit subcastes, who live on two sides; while a small section of the other Dalit castes, like the Valmiki community, lives on the farther side of the village.

There are two kinds of crop sharing systems practiced here – siri and batai. The Dalits and other backward caste groups take plots on batai, which is a crop-sharing arrangement where the bataidar cultivates the land and the produce is divided between the landowner and the bataidar. After the social boycott, Dalit families are not getting any work in the village. They travel daily to the nearby villages in search of work. Migrants also swarm the village to work as agricultural labourers. The other system of agricultural labour is that of siri, whereby the labourer enters into a bond and he is paid a consolidated amount and for that period is bound to the landlord to do all kinds of tasks. Although Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) is operational in the block of Bhagana village, only 50 percent of funds seem to have been officially utilized. The people we spoke to were unaware of this though mention was made of another government scheme in operation until some time ago.

It is interesting to note that when the Jats had also started an agitation a few years back to be included in the Other Backward Castes (OBC) category so as to avail reservations and other benefits, one of the centres of the rail roko agitation was the Meyer Railway Crossing that is right outside Bhagana village. According to some of the people we met, their harassment at the hands of the Jat community has intensified since then.

On Shamilat deh land
One of the major contentious issues between Dalits and Jats in Bhagana is the right to use and access to shamilat deh land. Shamilat deh refers to common land belonging to village panchayat. There is an estimated 280 acres of such land in Bhagana, which is practically in the hands of Jat farmers of the village. Out of this, 60 acres has been distributed among people through auction, which was organised by the panchayat. As per the existing legal provisions, it is the responsibility of the panchayat to distribute the shamilat deh land amongst the landless farmers in the village, including Scheduled and Backward castes. In the panchayat of 14 members, six members belong to Dalit and other castes while the rest are from the Jat community.

According to the Punjab Village Common Lands (Regulation) Haryana Amendment Act of October 9, 2013:
A Panchayat may, gift, sell, exchange or lease the land in Shamilat deh vested in it under this Act to such persons including members of Scheduled Castes and Backward classes on such terms and conditions, as may be prescribed.

Since this land was already being used by Jats for their personal use or for planting trees, the situation worsened after this amendment. Hundreds of trees planted were sold and money was pocketed by the panchayat. The demand for the distribution of this land was raised by Dalits. One of the villagers, who is leading the Dalit community in the struggle, alleges that the village head has grabbed 40-50 acres of common land for his personal use.

In 2012, around 222 plots of 100 yards each had been carved out. A list was made by the self-appointed 21-member committee to implement the scheme. An amount of Rs 1,000/- was collected from each family under the pretext of allotting plots. According to the sarpanch, 123 plots were allotted to Dalit families. However, the panchayat chose to withhold the legal documents instead of handing them over to the allottees. Dalits contend that the plots allotted to them are the ones that were refused by the upper caste people as those were part of the cemetery. While carving out plots, many trees had been felled. We were told that trees were sold at Rs 5000-10,000 each and the money was kept by the panchayat. As of now, the Dalits have no legal entitlement to the plots they were allotted.

It was only when the Dalits started registering police cases against the atrocities and social boycott steps taken by the Jats that the panchayat and the village elders began the process of giving the land. But that process too had to be suspended as it was being done in illegal manner, using threat and intimidation

On March 21, 2014 a case was filed by Dalits for the distribution of shamilat deh land and was dismissed by the High Court of Punjab and Haryana. However, the judgment upheld the distribution of shamilat deh land and stated that it could not intervene as there was a mechanism in place for approaching the higher authorities for implementation of land distribution.

On social boycott
In March 2012, the Jat community under the leadership of Panghal Khap, one of the many clans of the community which all Jats of the village belong to, announced a bandi – social and economic boycott – on the Dalits of the village. The boycott was in retaliation of the Dalit protest against the decision of the panchayat, headed by Rakesh Panghal, to allocate the common land of the village, including the playground on the outskirts, to members of the Jat community.

The dominant caste often used social boycott as an effective instrument to teach a lesson to questioning Dalits

As mentioned in the earlier joint report of AFDR-PUDR, the dominant caste often used social boycott as an effective instrument to teach a lesson to questioning Dalits. When there was a conflict between Chamars and Jats over the issue of the playground and Ambedkar chowk, Jats imposed social boycott on Chamars.

This meant ban on the use of all common resources and services in the village. Dominant castes stopped employing the Chamars in their fields and ordered the shopkeepers not to sell goods to them. Over 137 families, largely from the Chamar community, fled Bhagana as a result of the severe social boycott that was affecting not only their routine daily activities but also their livelihood. They have been sitting in protest outside the Mini Secretariat in Hisar for the past two years, demanding justice. However, the Dhanuks, who are the second largest Dalit community, decided to stay back in the village. They continue to work for Jats and other dominant castes. According to the lawyer, representing Dalits in the social boycott case, fifty families have since returned to the village.

Vijendra, one of the villagers, told us that the remaining Dalit families were neither allowed to go to the shops in the village nor work in the fields. One of the young boys of this community told how the bandi or social boycott in their own village over the last two years have aggravated their hardships and pushed them further to the margins. They are being neglected and denied access to water. They cannot roam about freely as they are routinely threatened by Jats. Dalits no longer want to live in the village and would prefer to settle down somewhere in towns.

Apart from the Dhanuks and a small number of other Dalit communities, there are migrant workers through whom Jats are getting their agricultural work done. When the Chamars left the village, the Jats managed to cajole the Dhanuk community not to go with them. However, as we have seen, even the Dhanuks have had to face the brunt of the dominant community.

An elderly person who relies on daily wages shared with us how difficult it has become now as they are having to travel almost 8-10 kms to get some work for the day.

Many from the Dalit community reiterated the decision to leave the village as the only solution to their woes. Their earnings have dwindled and in the face of the situation where they are having to face social boycott and have no work, they are left with no other choice but to migrate elsewhere. We need to see the implications of social boycott and how it is a violation of basic democratic rights of an individual as it affects their right to livelihood as well as free mobility among many other things.

When once the Dalits complained that despite having been settled in the village for over a hundred years they have got no land to work on, they were told by a panchayat member to send their girls to them and they will have land to till

This is the kind of humiliation they are subjected to on routine basis. It is true that a girl of any other community in the same situation too might be equally vulnerable to sexual assault but the confidence with which the Jat community operates in the village shows their power and domination over the poor Dalits. Their confidence that they could terrorise victims of their sexual violence into silence, surely arose not only from the gendered and patriarchal notion of ‘shame’, but also from the fact that they were Dalits, who would think many times before daring to take them on.

Conclusion
The sexual assault on the four girls is clearly a casteist attack that is often used to assert caste domination. It was intended to silence the people, who dared to question their authority or power. It has compelled the Dalits to leave the village. The fact is that casteist and patriarchal forces are feeling emboldened because they feel that the Haryana administration and the police are with them.

The administration and police have time and again protected the perpetrators not only in Bhagana but also in the entire state

The incidents in Bhagana are a perfect example of the impunity that the powerful and dominant caste groups enjoy when they commit crimes on the oppressed and marginalised sections of society. Their confidence that they can get away with anything they do makes them repeat these crimes again and again.

AFDR, PUDR and WSS demand:

1. A fresh FIR must be filed naming the sarpanch and his uncle for intimidating the victims to remain silent about their complicity in the crime committed.
2. Arrest of members of the illegal committee that carved out the Shamilat lands should take place immediately.
3. The administration must ensure that the social boycott of Dalits is ended immediately. And those responsible for this prosecuted under relevant laws.
4. Every Dalit family must be given access to water and other facilities like any other family in the village.
5. Dalit families must be provided protection so that they can return to their village and it also must be ensured that they are not pressurised and intimidated for withdrawing the cases.
6. Restoration of land use rights over Shamilat land should happen without any delay. Access to common lands by Dalits should be upheld in practice by all concerned.

Featured painting courtesy: Savi Savarkar