In 2018, Madhya Pradesh witnessed 7 deaths, including of 5 Dalits, during clashes that erupted in Bhind and Morena.
In a creaking brick house with a tin shade roof, Mohan Singh, a 60-year-old daily-wager of Galla Kothar, in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, owns a shiny 315 bore rifle, perhaps his most expensive possession. The British military Lee-Enfield rifle worth Rs 1.15 lakh is neatly tucked in a narrow old cabinet in a house that lacks even the most basic equipment.
The rifle stands testimony to the distrust of government machinery that has filled Mohan Singh after his 25-year-old son Deepak Jatav was shot dead in the April 2018 caste protests in India.
A nationwide Bharat Bandh called by Dalit groups over the Supreme Court order to amend the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 had taken a tragic turn as ‘anti-social elements with criminal cases’ mixed with Dalit protesters had indulged in violence, killing many.
Madhya Pradesh had witnessed seven deaths, including five Dalits, who were killed during clashes that erupted in Gwalior’s Bhind and Morena districts. Galla Kothar and Bhim Nagar, situated on the outskirts of Gwalior city, saw clashes between its large Dalits populace and upper-caste residents, with the latter allegedly attacking Dalit neighbourhoods, armed with firearms.
Singh, who merely earns Rs 200-300 a day, applied for a licence four months after the Bharat Bandh violence. But it was only last year, on 18 September 2019, that he got the licence of his 315 bore rifle.
“We need arms to protect ourselves as they (the accused) are free. They often indirectly threaten us to kill us…,” said Mohan Singh, adding that the local administration supports them because they are rich and powerful. “Paise wale hain iseliye murder kar ke bhi bahar ghum rahe hai. (They’re roaming free, even after murder, because they are rich).”
Recalling an incident after the 2018 Bharat Bandh violence, Mohan Singh’s wife Dropadi Jatav said, “Someone tried to break in at my house in the middle of the night. They also climbed on our walls in a bid to enter our home. They were armed with firearms. But we locked ourselves in the room and only opened it after they left. There’s a constant threat looming on our head.”