For almost 4 months they were boycotted by their village people, they were robbed of their livelihood and there was no end to their mental agony. They were not allowed access to public water sources nor allowed to use public loos, even the lone upper-caste doctor in their village refused to give them any medical care. They were not even allowed to dump the dung of animals they reared nor were they allowed any land to bury their deceased cattle. The newly married grooms and brides amongt them were not allowed to ride horses during the marriage processions. When it became unbearable the 70 Dalit families from Bhagana along with their cattle decided to leave their homes on the 21st of May, 2012. They went to the district headquarters in Hisar to seek help, they tried to draw the attention of administrative officers there by staging protests, they pleaded for help from our civil society, our police, the state chief minister and right upto our country's president. In Delhi, they sent their prayers and appeals to almost all political honchos but to no avail. To make their voices heard they even gathered for protests at Delhi's Jantar-Mantar (a regular venue for public protests in Delhi) and remained agitating from April 16, 2014 until very recently. All their cries for help remained unheard. They decided to give up on their homes, their village, their district and ultimately even their religion and only now upon their giving up on shitty Hinduism have they been given a bit of attention but there has still been no discourse provided in mitigating their concerns. Nobody within the administrative and media ranks has bothered to address the circumstances which lead these Dalit families from Bhagana to take such a drastic step!
The village of Bhagana is a mere 17km distance from the District HQ of Hisar. The village comprises of 59% Jats, 8% other upper-castes including Brahmins, the merchant classes and Punjabis as well as 9% other backward castes along with 24% Dalits. From the year 2000 onwards the Dalits started coming together and established an 'Ambedkar Welfare Committee' in their village, they started demanding equal rights and better living standards. They sought land ownership on the stretches which were not owned by anyone, access to common facilities in the village. The actual conflict began in 2012 when they sought to rename a public square in a neighbourhood with majority dalit homes in the name of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar and wanted to instal Ambedkar's statue. This was not to be approved by other privileged castes in Bhagana. The upper-castes had started to vehemently oppose welfare housing schemes meant for the Dalits just outside the village boundaries. The use of common facilities by Dalits in the village was increasingly bothering the upper-castes. In the wake of such developments it was becoming extremely difficult for a Dalit individual to tread normal life in the village. The village was turning into a living hell for any self-righteous Dalit person. When these Dalits kept to seeking an end to their growing ostracisation and wereagitating outside district HQ, State assembly as well as at Jantar-Mantar in Delhi, four minor dalit girls from Bhagana were abducted and gang-raped. The police investigations remained inconclusive and it further added to the agonies of Bhagana Dalits. After repeated assurances from former chief-minsters and the current hindu right-wing BJP's assurances for justice failed to yield, the agitating Dalit families sent an open letter to all the MPs who were to assemble for the monsoon session of parliament in Delhi that they would disown Hinduism and on 8th August 2015 in a rally at Jantar Mantar 100 Dalit families got converted to ISLAM. This has raised many eye-brows amongst the left, right and the center politicos. The ultra-right forces have termed this conversion as blackmail and has declared by taking the village council in confidence that the Dalits wont be allowed into Bhagana unless they come back into the fold of Shitty Hinduism. In the aftermath of these conversions the state under right-wing BJP ordered the police during the night of 10th August to evict the agitating Dalits outside the District HQs. Similarly the police came down heavily on the Dalit protestors at Delhi's Jantar Mantar by lathi-charging them all. The brute force of police action has injured 11 agitating Dalits. The recent turn of events has completely left the agitating Dalits in a bind. They are nowhere to go.
Dalit Activist Abdul Razzak Ambedkar who spearheaded the conversions is of an opinion that the agitation will only gather more momentum and the Dalits wont fear anyone and would go back to their own homes in Bhagana as its the right enshrined by the constitution penned by Dr. B. R. Ambedkar. He states that he and his Dalit brothers and sisters from Bhagana are fully aware that the conversions to Islam is bound to aggravate the issue and would be turned into a communal flashpoint but the Bhagana Dalits who converted to Islam would battle the arising tensions while continuing to follow ISLAM. Now physically injured Abdul and his allies from Bhagana are fully aware that their scheduled caste status would no longer remain after converting into ISLAM but he and his allies have far greater faith in the muslim brethren for much co-operation & dignity.
Those Bhagana Dalits who have bothered to convert into Islam have remained valiant in the midst of growing adversaries. Abdul has pledged that he will die as a muslim only and wishes that if his ancestors had sought refuge in Islam he and his dalit brethren would have enjoyed much dignity. His and allies have decided to fully adopt and adapt themselves as per the strictures of ISLAM and theres no going back. If shitty Hinduism has never cared for their plight then its best to disown it. Hope our decision pokes a major blow to the cause of creating India a Hindu state by the year 2020 under the very nose of a bloody Hindu Right-Wing Prime-minister. The author of this article covering the story of Bhagana Dalits had clearly sensed months ago that many amongst them were to disown Hinduism and most likely were to convert to ISLAM!
The reporter is of an opinion that he personally sees no wrong that Bhagana Dalits sought to convert into ISLAM as the Indian Constitution gives them the right to seek any religion but he sees no merit that conversions are to solve any of their hardships as it is always upto the diktats of the religious elites to take up a particular humanitarian cause. If the religions of the world were any sensitive to their followers the world would have been a far better place. Organised religions have always remained in the custody of the elites. Dalit Activist S. R. Darapuri, is of an opinion that Dalits have no choice but to agitate and no conversions are to benefit them. Them seeking Islam, Christianity or Sikhism would not guarantee them any dignity as casteism is very much being followed in these religions within the context of Indian sub-continent. Only Buddhism offers no such duplicity. Also, does any of these conversions actually help the cause of Dalit upliftment or it further exposes them to communal hatred? And also does a average muslim considers himself/ herself secure in the world which is becoming increasingly islamophobic? And in the midst of rising intolerance towards Islam would Islam ever come to the rescue of these men and women? Who will ultimately rescue these Dalits..the legacy of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar carried forward in India's constitution or the misunderstood Koranic and Sharia Laws? What about their tenacity in installing the Ambedkar's statue in the public square at Bhagana? Will the Muslim community give them the dignity they seek or use them as human shields against any communal flare-up in times to come? If the later happens it would only mean double jeopardy! Theres no doubt that the Dalits of Bhagana had to settle with Islam as against true justice and the constitution did guarantee them the right to seek their choice of religion however this has only aggravated their situation. The author highlights that in today's context the organised religions of the world needs more followers to assert their relevance but it's definitely not necessary for anyone in India to seek any whatsoever religious identity to remain relevant in fact they should evolve to disown religions all together and never let any religion abuse them. Disowning religious dogmas and strictures can go a long way in attaining freedom from the shackles of caste in India. India needs a religion-free democracy embedded in values such as equality, humanity, freedom and brotherhood for people to truly and fully live their lives.
(Author Bhanwar Meghwanshi is from the Indian state of Rajasthan and writes independently on issues pertaining to human rights). It has been translated by Mandar Effeminate.