Wednesday, May 28, 2003, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

NCSC accepts Punjab’s explanation
Exempts Kashyap, DGP from personal appearance
Prabhjot Singh
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, May 27
In a late afternoon development, the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) has exempted the Chief Secretary and the Director-General of Police from their personal appearance tomorrow after accepting the explanation given by the Punjab Government over the Talhan Jat-Dalit dispute.

The Chief Secretary, Mr Rajan Kashyap, confirmed that the commission had allowed the state government to work out a negotiated settlement to the dispute. “We will inform the commission as and when settlement is reached,” he told The Tribune here this evening.

The Punjab Government had reportedly submitted a detailed explanation to the NCSC and held that efforts were being made at the district level by involving various agencies, including NGOs, to resolve this long-standing dispute between Dalits and Jats of Talhan village.

Sources reveal that the Talhan problem aggravated in January this year when the village’s powerful landholding Jat community launched a boycott of the Dalits. The Jats now neither sell the milk to them nor do they allow them to buy fodder. Further, the dalits are no longer engaged to work in their fields. The dalits are no longer allowed to use the fields to defecate.

It all started about a decade ago when the Shaheed Baba Nihal Singh Samadhi Sthal, a shrine to a carpenter-caste Sufi saint who lived and died in Talhan, began to attract pilgrims from Punjab and abroad. The offerings at the shrine were used to build a new building to house the shrine.

The problem started aggravating when the Dalits asserted that they had a share in the management of the Shaheed Baba shrine since it was built on village common land. In January last year, the Dalits obtained an order enabling them to participate in the election to the shrine’s managing committee. The Jats reportedly refused to respect the order, and the matter went back to the court. On January 14 this year, the Dalits got a fresh court order and won all the 13 seats as the Jats walked out.

The Shiromani Akali Dal set up an inquiry committee and held that because of meddling by certain political parties, an effort was being made to create a wedge between the Jats and the Dalits as Sikhism prohibits casteism.

In fact, the role of the Station House Officer of the police station concerned also came in for severe criticism as he led to the beating of the Dalits. The NCSC had sent its probe committee to Talhan. Based on the findings of the committee, the commission had decided to summon the Chief Secretary and the Director-General of Police, besides some other senior officials in Delhi, on May 28.

However, an explanation submitted on behalf of the Punjab Government and sent to the Commission through fax today was accepted to provide “interim relief” to the senior functionaries of the state administration. On May 17 when Mr Kashyap and the Director-General of Police, Mr M.S. Bhullar, were on a joint tour, instructions were issued to the district administration of Jalandhar to work out a negotiated settlement of the dispute.

Though the state government is hopeful for a negotiated settlement, both the groups appear to be adamant on their stands. While the Jats have been accusing the BJP of fuelling the dispute, the Dalits deny involvement of any political party and maintain that since they are 80 per cent of the village population and have the right to be adequately represented on the committee of the village shrine.Back

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