This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by K. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

How A Mob Of 2500 People Burnt And Looted 42 Houses Of A ‘Banjara Basti’ In Rajasthan

More from K

By Kabir Sharma: 

On 15 September 2014, a day before the Rajasthan poll results were announced, about a thousand Banjaras from 6 districts of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh came together to demand justice for the victimized Banjara community of Dungari Basti at a protest organized by the Banjara Sangharsh Samiti at the Collector’s office in Bhilwada. “We are demanding the prosecution of the still at large main conspirators, provision of a relief package of Rs. 10 Lakh and return of the stolen jewellery to each family, as well as hastening the allocation process of the promised BPL cards and pattas. We will not stop till the people get justice” said Paras Banjara. He is the president of the Samiti that was formed in the wake of events of 19th august, when all 42 houses in the Banjara Basti of Dungari in Dhikola Panchayat of Bhilwada district, Rajasthan were burnt and looted of all valuables by a mob of about 2500 people.

About 2 kilometres away from the main village of Dhikola, the Banjara community settled in Dungari about 40 years ago. Now working largely as farmers, buffalo traders and labourers, they broke away from a traditionally nomadic nature to live more stable lives. Classified as a De-Notified Criminal Tribe, a hangover of the Criminal Tribe status imposed on them by the British, they remain a heavily stigmatized and oppressed community.

What I saw when I visited Dungari on 31st August was horrifying. All 42 houses had been burnt to rubble. Everything from the houses had been looted, and what was not, had been broken. The people were frightened, angry and in disbelief. Many were still wearing the same clothes they had been on the 19th, as they had none others left. In the habit of buying gold and silver with dispensable cash, and not keeping money in a bank or on them; the Banjaras had lost all they had- savings in the form jewellery carried over many generations, accumulated over decades and decades.

Each family took me to their house to show me how much had been destroyed, and have me photograph it. Even 12 days on, it seemed the village had not got much attention.

All houses had been destroyed with the same precision and hatred. The door broken down, jewellery boxes looted, cots, trunks, utensils, switch boards- smashed ruthlessly with rods; and finally the house sprayed with kerosene and set alight.

What remained was piled outside – Charred motorcycles, burnt grain, broken pots, plates and glasses, charred beds, burnt mattresses and blankets; smashed trunks, burnt bamboo, burnt bricks, disfigured grain canisters, broken jewellery boxes…

The mob had even vandalized the few tube wells the basti had- the pipes leading to them hacked, motors broken and thrown, rocks dropped into the bore to block water. Nothing left in the village had any value or use.

Not grain, not a cloth, not a cup, not a well.

*

According to eyewitnesses, the mob came from Dhikola, down the main highway towards Dungari in the morning, in full view of all. The rioters were armed with guns, iron rods, sticks and swords; many on foot and some on tractors and motorcycles. This was a strategic time to attack, as a majority of the Banjaras had gone on their annual pilgrimage to the Ramdev temple in Jaisalmer district, leaving their houses unguarded.

Picture of the mob from an eyewitness’s camera

At a meeting in Dhikola on the eve of the attack, it was allegedly announced that any household not wanting to participate in the destruction would need to pay Rs. 11, 000 as a fine. Only two families had the money and paid, and thus many people in the mob were there without choice.

A police chowki is located right on the main road between Dungari and Dhikola. According to the Banjaras themselves; the police had prior information about what was planned. They warned them to flee that morning, and also aided in their evacuation- maintaining they would be unable to stop the mob; and could only help them flee. The police allegedly stood by throughout the mob’s activities, from 8.30 AM to about 4 PM.

Kamli with her children and niece(youngest child on cot)

Kamli, a woman of about 28 was unable to flee, as she had an eight month old child with her; and her husband had gone on the pilgrimage. She described the riot to me- of the men climbing on her house; clubbing on the roof and walls with rods; breaking down her door and the locks of all her trunks; stealing the money and jewels before her eyes; and finally burning her house and motorcycle. They threatened her that if she protested, they would burn her as well, along with her two children.

“The mob had fit one tractor with a tank of kerosene oil, and the spraying machine normally used to spray pesticide in farms was used to spray kerosene on the houses.” An eyewitness recounted.

Three fire brigades which tried to come in to put out the fire were blocked by the mob, and so were people from nearby villages wanting to help the Banjaras. It was only after the Tehsildar and District Collector reached in the afternoon that some attempt was made to douse the fire.

The mood of the violence can be understood by the fact that after setting the houses afire, the mob members roasted chickens reared by the Banjaras on the same fire, and ate them.

*

Suresh Banjara, a spirited boy of 8, had been in the fields that morning and was unable to flee with his parents. When he returned, seeing the thousands of people around and the mob burning houses, he ran into his house to save his family’s money and jewellery. On seeing him running away with the box- the rioters hit him with sticks on his hands and feet, and snatched it from him. His dog Sheru protected him and attacked whoever came too close. When Suresh tried to save some other things, the mob locked him up inside his house, sprayed kerosene and put the house on fire. On hearing his screams some present people broke down the door and saved him. A man from Dhikola itself, who knew Suresh, took the courageous step of taking him away. A six year old boy, Batul Banjara, was also saved like this.

Suresh Banjara with his parents and the jewellery box

The children present in the primary school located in the village were saved by the courage of their school teachers- two women of a different caste who belong to another village. Having taken full responsibility of the children that morning, they hadn’t even allowed parents to take their children with them while fleeing. They both fought fiercely with the mob and saved the children from assault, getting injured themselves.

The strength of these individuals was in stark contrast to the impassivity the administration displayed.

*

The reasons for an attack of this scale are not understood properly. The construction of a new highway near the basti had caused the demand of the land to increase, and powerful men in Dhikola had allegedly wanted to occupy the land themselves and sell it to developers.

Further, opposite the Banjara basti some land belonging to the electricity board is given on lease for grazing to someone every year. This year, a Banjara had got the contract instead of a politically influential man from Dhikola, who had had it in all previous years. A major upset to the social status quo, a fight had ensued.

Many are of the opinion that since the same man had wanted the Banjara’s to move from the basti to allow the expansion of his factory, he had used this to instigate the mob.

“Such a criminal incident has taken place in his constituency, and neither the MLA nor the MP has even visited us. It is clear that they were party to it.” Sardar Banjara said.

*

It is ironic that at the time of the attack, an elaborate ‘Aapki Sarkaar Aapke Dwaar’ program-in which representatives from various ministries were visiting panchayat’s to address problems-was in a nearby village.

In a similar incident just two days later on 21st August, 6 kilometres from Dungari, a small settlement of the Kalbeliya tribe-another nomadic community-was attacked by a mob. Individual families of Kalbeliyas being displaced is not unheard of in Rajasthan.

Till date, these attacks have not had the national media coverage they need.

*

No prior threat had ever been made to us. We knew some people had been eyeing the land, but our relations were okay before this. The police told us to flee, so we just locked our houses and left. How could we have known something like this would happen?” asked Mohan Banjara.

“Look at the brutality. Had we been here, we would have been burnt as well. We are very scared now.” said Anichi, who returned to the village the first to find her son, Suresh Banjara.

Despite the District Collector and other officials having visited the village, the only relief that the families have received so far from the government has been a one-time grant of Rs. 50,000, and that too following the intervention of Mazdoor Kissan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS). The Sangathan facilitated a meeting between the Banjara’s and the Chief Minister of Rajasthan. It was only at her behest that the administrative machinery stirred.

A woman showing the box which had all her jewellery- now empty

FIRs have been filed by each household, and 43 people have been arrested so far, though the chief instigators are still at large. Bail petitions have been refused in the lower court; and the decision of Jodhpur High Court is awaited. The police are a continuous presence now; and will be deployed in Dungari for the coming 3 to 4 months.

*

There is an eerie silence about the issue in the area, and no one from any other community has visited the Banjaras to express their concern. On our way out, we drove through Dhikola. The entire village was deserted. Most people, terrified by the arrests and attention, had run away for the time being.

It is clear that the masterminds of this attack never thought that the weak Banjara community would ever get support from anyone.

“Constitutional morality is not a natural sentiment. It has to be cultivated. We must realise that our people have yet to learn it. Democracy in India is only a top dressing on an Indian soil which is essentially undemocratic.” as Dr. B.R. Ambedkar has said.

The crushing influence of the intolerant feudal system on the fate of this finally prospering marginalized community, an emerging trend of displacing the weak to make profit from rising land prices, and the ambivalence of the police’s response are questions that arise and must be addressed.

Note: This is an updated version of a previously published report here.

You must be to comment.
  1. Jess

    What kind of a police system do we have in which they humbly accept that they cannot stop a mob despite being fully aware about a pre-planned attack? This is not the first time this has happened.

  2. Tamanna

    Hi Kabir, can you pls provide me your email I’d? I ‘d like to help these people in some monetary way.I would need your guidance in doing so.

    Thanks.

    1. Kabir Sharma

      Hi Tamanna , Thanks for your concern.

      My email ID is sharmakabir@gmail.com

      Kabir.

  3. Aman

    From Youth ki awaaz i get to know so many things happening around us, but we dont see them in news or other social media.
    every article like this provokes my feeling of shamelessness. We are living in a modern world, Govt and Laws are there to protect the people, but as long as it is happening to someone else we dont bother.

  4. Shree Kritika

    After reading this article, I am just sitting and thinking- how a handful of ppl can turn so brutual? This all happened due to difference in social status- these all things are happening in so called educated 21st century. Theses attackers didn’t even thoght once b4 attacking their own brothers nd sisters.

  5. HP

    They should not have done that. One question still lingers, why were the banjaras a criminal tribe

More from K

Similar Posts

By Accountability Initiative

By Aaditya Kanchan

By Yuvraj Kumar

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below