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Caste powder keg explodes

Chandigarh, Aug. 31: At least 50 houses belonging to Dalits were razed in a town in Haryana in one of the worst instances of caste violence in the state.

Jats went on a rampage at Butana Barha in Sonepat’s Gohana, 200 km from Chandigarh, to avenge the murder of a financier from the upper caste on Saturday.

The incident comes a month after the brutal Gurgaon beatings in which the role of Haryana police drew wide condemnation. Unlike the Gurgaon crackdown where the police were accused of displaying unusual zeal in baton-charging Honda employees, inaction by the law enforcers is being blamed for the caste flare-up.

“Some people of Balmiki Basti had murdered one Baljit on August 27,” said Sonepat superintendent of police Anil Rao. “We had sent teams to arrest the accused. But mischievous elements today inflamed passions.”

The houses of seven of the accused were first torched. “Some others too caught fire due to the exploding cylinders,” Rao added. Four Dalits have so far been arrested for the murder.

Baljit, a financier, was beaten to death at the shop of a photographer after a quarrel. The residents of the small town had demanded the arrest of the other accused and had called a panchayat today.

Close to 2,000 Dalits had fled their homes since Monday, fearing a backlash by the Jats.

The Dalits in the area have claimed that local BJP MP Kishan Singh Sangwan’s son was involved in the attack and he was present at the panchayat.

Sangwan, however, denied his son’s involvement. “A CBI probe will reveal the truth. Some politicians hostile to me are trying to drag me into the matter. They will not succeed,” he said.

Inspector-general of Rohtak police range V.N. Rai, who is camping at the village, said the situation was under control.

Twelve shots were fired in the air to disperse the unruly crowd. The administration has imposed Section 144 in Gohana.

The police have registered a first information report against 23 persons. They are yet to be arrested.

A 51-member committee was constituted by the panchayat to meet the district administration. Top officials and a police team were present at a rest house in the town but they could not prevent the flare-up.

“The members of the committee had informed us that they wanted to submit a memorandum to the officials but some antisocial elements went to the crossing where the houses of the accused were located,” an official said.

“Police intervention forced them to keep away but some elements entered the houses and set them on fire,” he added.

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