Five men broke into Dewa Ram’s shanty in Chak 68, Yazman, and assaulted him and other family members following a brief argument over Ram’s refusal to work at the fields of an influential landlord in the area. The beating left Ram’s wife Kishni with a broken jaw. She remains hospitalised at Bahawal Victoria Hospital where doctors have scheduled a surgery. Their daughter-in-law and some other members of the family were also beaten up. The incident took place on September 30. As the family approached Saddar police for registration of an FIR, there request was denied, Ram tells Daily Times. “We got together some other relatives and blocked the road leading to Yazman Mandi. We didn’t move until the police agreed to register our complaint,” he says. However, the police do not seem interested in pursuing the matter because the assailants are associated with a powerful landlord. They are now mounting pressure on me to withdraw the case, says Ram, a member of Hindu scheduled castes. He adds the landlord’s men were also threatening to kill him and his family if they pursued the case. “They [the landlord] are powerful and they belong to the ruling party. We are poor scheduled caste people,” he adds. But he is not the least bit unnerved. He says, “It is a routine practice for them [landlord’s men]. They enter our houses, beat us and drag us to the fields. They don’t let us eat or drink during work and they don’t even compensate us fairly. They even drag our young and unmarried girls to the fields and molest them and we cannot even question them. I’ve had enough of this. I cannot bear this any further.” Saddar police deny that they are pressuring the family to withdraw the case or delaying investigation. Bota Qamar, the ASI who has signed the FIR, says that the delay in registration of the case was because of the procedural requirements at the Basic Health Unit (BHU) where the injured went for treatment. Muhammad Aslam, the investigating officer assigned to the case, says police teams are carrying out raids on the basis of information shared with them by the family. “No one has been identified in the FIR. We proceed against suspects as soon as we get some information about them,” he says. He also claims that the family has requested the police to wait till a medical report is available from the BVH. Ram has revolted against forced labour on the fields of influential landlords but the lack of decent livelihood opportunities in the area means that such decisions aren’t very easy to take for scheduled caste Hindu families. These families provide help in the fields to landlords at the time of cultivation and harvest. They get 50 kilograms of grain for covering 3,700 kilograms of straw with mud. But in most instances, landlords force them to work but pay them nothing, locals say. Some also rear herds. Estimates by rights activists suggest that about 40,000 scheduled caste Hindus are registered as voters in Yazman. Most of them belong to Bheel, Menghwarh, Boria and Balmik castes. Sham Laal, a Hindu councilor from the area, tells Daily Times that Balmikis are mostly employed as sanitation workers in cities and are not found in villages. Most of the scheduled castes in villages are still leading a nomadic life. They have no fixed abodes and they sustain themselves mostly by hunting animals in nearby woods. “We hunt chameleon, fox, pig and any other animal we find in the woods. During difficult times, we make do with carrion as well,” he says. Laal complains that his community suffers extreme discrimination and the government seems helpless. “Muslims in the area don’t mingle with us. I don’t know why they hate us so much that they won’t eat or drink with us,” he says. The community does not build any temples in its katchi abadis out of fear of backlash, he says. They set aside corners in their homes for worshiphe says. He also complains about incidents where influential Muslim men abduct women from scheduled caste Hindu families and forcibly convert them and solemnise marriage with them. “In most of cases, these women are sent back or sold to other people overtime,” he says. “At least 74 plots of agricultural land in the area were allotted [by the government] to scheduled caste families but possession of none of these has yet been transferred to them. The government is helpless in the face of resistance put up by local influentials,” Laal says. Rights activists see a ray of hope in registration of the FIR on Dewa Ram’s complaint but they remain cynical about the police’s ability to take the case to its conclusion. “It is the first time an FIR has been registered in the district over a landlord’s highhandedness,” says a Christian lawyer working for protection of rights of religious minorities in Bahawalpur. “Most of the agriculturalists are from influential Jat clans so I don’t think too much will be achieved with the FIR,” he says. Published in Daily Times, October 7th 2017.