On the night of March 23, 4 dalit teenage girls aged 13-18 were abducted from their village of Bhagana in Haryana’s Hisar district, drugged and raped. They had gone to a field near their homes to urinate, when they were attacked by five men (from the dominant Jat caste), drugged, gang raped in the fields and carried off in a car. They were found outside Bhatinda railway station in Punjab the next morning.
On March 23rd, when the parents of the missing girls approached the village sarpanch Rakesh Kumar Pangal and his uncle Virender for help, the sarpanch sent them home with reassurances. Within five minutes, he called them back, saying that all four girls were with his relative in Bhatinda, and were to be fetched the next day.
The next day their families, brought to Bhatinda by Rakesh and Virender, found the girls. Rakesh and Virender put the four girls in the car and asked the relatives to go back by train due to lack of space. En-route, the girls allege that Rakesh abused them, beat them and tried to threaten them to stay silent or else lose their lives. When they reached Bhagana around nightfall, Rakesh tried to drive them to his place, wanting them to agree to marry the rapists so he could claim the girls ran away from home to get married. The girls were eventually rescued from the car by Dalit youth.
The police delayed filing an FIR. And when one was eventually filed, Rakesh and Virender’s names were absent, despite the girls naming them in their testimonies. When the girls and their families refused to back down from their statement, they have been forced to flee Bhagana, and have since camped in Delhi, demanding justice.
Bhagana, like other parts of Haryana, has a history of atrocities against and eviction of Dalits. The Jats, during Rakesh’s tenure as Sarpanch, have socially boycotted the Dalits since 2011, grabbed 208 acres of their common land and not let any social welfare schemes be implemented. In 2011, 138 Dalit families left Bhagana, and have since been living at Hisar’s Mini Secretariat. About 150 Dhanuk families stayed back. The protest made no dent in the living conditions. Dalit girls are still harassed, molested and chased by Jat boys on their way to school, Dalit boys are beaten up for standing up for them, Dalit labourers are physically exploited and abused. Three of the Bhagan rape survivors had left school after Std. VIII, unable to face daily harassment. In 2010, Dalits had been forced to flee Mirchpur in Haryana. Now, there are only 40 Dalit families left in Bhagana. The protestors camped at Jantar Mantar in Delhi are very clear – they want rehabilitation in some other safe place, since they fear returning to Bhagana.
They have held sustained protests – at Jantar Mantar, at Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Hooda’s residence, at the SC/ST Commission. The television channels, usually avid to cover rape incidents, and which covered every minute of the protests that followed the December 16th gang rape – have, mostly ignored the Bhagana protests.
The JNU Students’ Union and various student groups including AISA, along with many Dalit organisations, as well as women’s organisations including AIPWA, have been with the Bhagana protestors every step of the way. The JNUSU has initiated a signature campaign to the President of India and a solidarity fund to support the protestors.
(This report has been prepared with some inputs from a report titled ‘Reliving a Nightmare’ by Aradhna Wal, The Hindu May 17, 2014)