19th February, 2016 will be remembered by the people of Haryana. This was the day when, a protest by the Jat community for inclusion in the quota under the OBC category, turned violent and snowballed out of hand into days of violence and rioting, leaving behind at least 12 dead and roughly Rs. 33,000 crore in losses. During the protests, nearly all areas which saw active protest reported arson, looting and (in the case of NH 1 near Murthal) alleged mass gangrapes.
Less than two weeks later, the Haryana Assembly unanimously passed a bill giving Jats and 5 other castes reservations in the state.
On 24th February, 2016, the Haryana government appointed retired IPS officer Prakash Singh “to inquire into the acts of omission and commission on part of officers of both police and civil administration during the Jat quota agitation which resulted in violence, blockade of roads and extensive damage to public and private properties.”
On 28th February, 2016, the first FIR was filed in connection with the alleged mass gangrapes committed near Murthal on the intervening night of 22nd-23rd February.
New reports have now come in, with the Prakash Singh Commission getting ready to submit their report. As per sources quoted, the state administrative and police machinery had completely broken down over the course of 3-4 days at the height of rioting in worst affected districts. Having interviewed approximately 3,000 witnesses, there were reports of policemen deserting their posts and, in many cases across districts, joining the protesters. Deputy Superintendents of police gave testimony to the commission of the constabulary refusing orders and joining their community members in the protests.
When the commission visited the location of protests, locals reported complete lack of police or any other state government department presence in the areas. A woman relative of cabinet minister Abhimanyu told the commission how she had to run to Rohtak Deputy Commissioner DK Behera’s car to avoid physical assault.
Senior officers are now being questioned as to their decisions and actions during the protests. While Haryana Police is collating a list of all personnel who had gone away without leave during the protests, there are also instances of senior officers giving controversial orders such as the IGP summoning the Jhajjar SP to Sonipat. SP Sumit Kumar left with a large contingent of men while Jhajjar was overrun by protesters. When SP Sumit Kumar tried to make his way back, it took several hours to cover the 30 odd kilometres from Rohtak.
All this points towards a complete breakdown of governance and law & order in the area, with senior officials being left helpless due to a near rebellion like situation amongst the ranks. With police posts deserted, fire officials refusing to come out and district officials not even picking up the phones, what does it say of the state of the government in the state?
With the recent power struggle in Uttarakhand being criticised by the government, one can’t help but wonder which state needs president’s rule. With senior officials admitting to being left helpless, can we continue to trust the same officials for the safety and security of innocent civilians?
Senior IAS officials reportedly stayed put in their homes, only to send their juniors to government offices. While there were emergency meetings held twice a day, it has been reported top officials of Haryana Police failed to take corresponding action against the riot.
The Jat quota, while passed, has been taken at gunpoint; as one politician had said on record. With goons rioting, looting, killing and raping on the streets and highways, there isn’t much more needed to be said about how hopeless the situation was allowed to become.
In such a scenario, the IGP, who was sent out of the state because he “is a dalit and could be targeted by the mobs” speaks volumes. It took the Army and other paramilitary forces 2-3 days to bring calm back to the state.
In light of all this, can we allow the state of Haryana to continue functioning (or dysfunctioning)? If the onus has to be put, how many lower level officers and constables would have to be rooted out due to failure in performing their duties and abandoning their posts and civilians in their care to a mob?
Ranveer Raj Bhatnagar