Gwalior, April 6, More than a dozen Dalit residents of the Galla-Kothar area in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh have applied to the police for licenses to carry firearms.
This development has come exactly a year after the ‘Bharat Bandh’ was called by Dalit groups across the country on April 2, 2018.
Dalit homes in the Galla-Kothar area of Gwalior district were allegedly attacked by upper-caste mobs on that day and the clashes left seven dead, including five Dalit protesters – two of whom were allegedly shot and killed. Two others were hit by bullets but survived.
One of the slain was a young man called Deepak Jatav, 22, who was standing in front of his father’s tea stall when the bullet pierced his bodies. Now, his father too has applied to carry firearms.
“On Tuesday, that tea stall cart lay abandoned in the Gallar Kotha area of Gwalior as people avoid it since it is the “shop of a Dalit”. And with the wounds and fear from last year’s violence still fresh, Deepak’s family has also applied for five gun licences and several residents in the locality want firearms saying “self-defence” is the only option,” The Indian Express reported.
“The influential Thakurs issued a diktat after the incident to not drink tea at my shop. Log aana bandh kar diye, bandh karna hi pada (gradually customers moved away, I had no option but to shut it,” said Deepak’s father Mohan Jatav, 56.
Raja Singh Chauhan, one of the four accused of killing Deepak, is preparing to contest the Lok Sabha polls and polishing his oratory skills after being “approached” by a senior Uttar Pradesh politician.
Raja is a member of an influential Thakur family in the neighbourhood which runs a slew of businesses and owns multiple shops. Raja was seen firing shots from a revolver in several clips that went surfaced on social media after the violence.
A resident of the Chauhan Pyau area, Raja told The Indian Express that Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party chief Shivpal Yadav has “approached him” and offered the Gwalior Lok Sabha ticket.
“Shivpal Yadav has approached me to contest polls from Gwalior and I will contest. Raja Bhaiya from Pratapgarh is also in the know. My father has been with the BJP since its Jan Sangh days,” said Raja in the report.
Town Inspector Yeshwant Goyal said in the report that the chargesheeted was filed eight months ago on charges of murder and that the trial is on. All the accused are out on bail.
According to Raja, he did use firearms. “They attacked us because they thought they targeting an influential family will create a fear psychosis. We are kshatriyas, and when we are attacked we will have to respond. We used licensed weapons but did not kill anyone,” he said in the report.
“This sentiment now echoes across Dalit bastis, particularly the youth. Like 25-year-old Shailendra Singh Jatav, who said, “Why do you think those who died belong to our community alone? The situation would have been different had we been armed for self as well,” Indian Express reported.
In the Gwalior clashes, Deepak Jatav and Rakesh Tamotiya were allegedly shot dead. Four months later, eight residents of Galla-Kothar applied for licenses to own 12-bore rifles and Mauser pistols.
Most of the applicants are daily-wage workers or employed at private firms. One source of the residents’ insecurity is the alleged inaction of the police when upper-caste mobs attacked their colonies.
“The police were mute spectators on April 2 last year, while people were killed,” alleged Babulal Jatav, a local leader to The Wire. “The following day, it was the police who attacked Dalit homes, vandalised them and arrested innocent youths.”
“We have lost faith in the police. We have understood that we have to defend ourselves.”
“Upper-caste men came armed with guns, swords and sticks, but we have no weapons to defend ourselves other than stones. If we had guns or Mausers, we could have given them a befitting reply,” said Jagdish Pal, 56, one of the men who applied to the Gwalior police for a gun license in August 2018, the report said.
“If we had a weapon, my son would have been alive because they wouldn’t have dared attack us,” Mohan Jatav told The Wire. “They can attack our colonies because they are armed with weapons and they know we have nothing to defend ourselves with.”
The superintendent of Gwalior police, Navneet Bhasin, confirmed in the report that he had received a number of applications for arms license from Dalit applicants in Galla-Kothar and Bhim Nagar area, which are currently under scrutiny.
“In a recently-held meeting with the district magistrate, I forwarded the five applications and soon we will issue the license,” said S.P. Bhasin.
About the delay, he said, “There was assembly election and now a general election. In between, a number of officials were transferred, including the district magistrate. But sooner or later, we will approve their arms license.”
“We abide by the law and are committed to protecting everyone,” Bhasin told The Wire. “But just like anyone, they have a right to get an arms license if they feel unsafe.”
Gwalior District Magistrate Anurag Chaudhari said the administration has disbursed Rs 8.5 lakh to both the families and will expeditiously process their applications for arms licenses and government jobs after the Model Code of Conduct is lifted, The Indian Express reported.
An administration official said in the report that Bhind district, which borders Gwalior, alone has 22,000 licensed-gun holders. “During assembly elections, over one lakh licensed guns were deposited from Morena, Bhind and Gwalior,” said the official.
On April 2, 2018, Dalits had called a Bharat Bandh to protest the alleged dilution of the SC, ST (Atrocities) Act which turned violent in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Punjab. Of the nine dead, six were killed in MP, two in Uttar Pradesh and one in Rajasthan.