For Babita Sharma it was a nightmarish experience on February 22 at NH-1 when, at around 3 a.m., a mob pounced on her family and others, beat them up, damaged their car and compelled them to chant “Jai Jat”.
Babita beseeched the hooligans with folded hands to spare their lives. “Burn our car, but please for god’s sake don’t harm us,” she implored.
The incident took place at Murthal in Sonipat district while Haryana was convulsed for over a week by the Jat community’s agitation for reservations in education and jobs.
The violence that took place during the agitation claimed the lives of at least 16 people and is estimated to have caused property losses of Rs.20,000 crore ($3 billion).
Babita is now at Guru Teg Bahadur (GTB) hospital here, looking after her injured husband Satish Kumar Sharma who has multiple fractures in his hands. He is now awaiting surgery.
Her nephew Harjinder received 25 stitches in his head. Her son and another nephew were traumatized by what they experienced but were, thankfully, unscathed, she said.
Babita also sustained injuries due to broken glass.
The Delhi-based family was returning home after a pilgrimage to Naina Devi in Himachal Pradesh. They knew about the Jat agitation and would have avoided taking the route through the troubled areas.
“We decided to take that route after being told that the Jats’ demands have been heeded and the agitation has subsided,” said Satish, Babita’s husband.
Passing the “Sukhdev Dhaba” near Murthal at about 3 a.m., the family saw cars halted due to a protest.
“There were men in blue uniform, so we felt safe. Suddenly they (security personnel) started chasing a violent mob and we were left unguarded. It was then when scores of armed youth came out of fields and started attacking everyone and misbehaving with women,” Satish recalled.
They were trying to drag people out of their cars and command them to chant “Jai Jat,” which the family shouted repeatedly, Satish said.
“My wife pleaded with them to spare our boys. They replied in abusive language. They tried to open the door to attack my wife, but thankfully couldn’t. They did get my door opened and attacked me. They were all young men,” he added.
There were many cars on the highway at that time and the rioters kept targeting them as they moved on, Satish said.
“By the time they were finished with us, my nephew was bleeding, my wife was injured and we were all very scared. They went on attacking others and we didn’t know what to do. That’s when my nephew, who was bleeding, ran to hide in the paddy fields,” he said.
The rest of the family followed him and stayed hidden for about an hour.
“From the fields we kept hearing terrible noises. People were screaming and shouting. The mob was also setting some vehicles on fire and poking the tyres to deflate them,” he said.
They then moved towards a farmhouse, where a farmer, Master Om Singh, helped them, gave them some painkillers, got their car fixed, accompanied them to the police station and then escorted them out of the area.
Om Singh is, interestingly, a member of the Jat community.
“These people were very frightened and stayed hidden in a field until one of them approached our house for help. I called them in as it was not safe out there; we too feared that the mob might attack our house,” Om Singh told IANS.
Asked about the reported incidents of rapes in Murthal, Om Singh said: “Lots of things were going on out there. I didn’t see anything as terrible as rape. I also heard that some miscreants from other communities might have been involved.”
Satish said the police in Murthal, when approached, asked them to “collect a copy of the FIR later”. The police also did not bother to arrange for any medical aid for the victims of the violence.
“Only after this matter was highlighted by the media did the police contact us. We had to go in this condition back to Murthal Police station on Wednesday. Then they inquired and registered FIR,” said Babita.
She said she was doubly thankful to god about her family’s safety after looking at the deluge of media reports that said gang-rapes and other terrible things might have taken place at Murthal.
“After we learnt about rapes and other incidents that went on near Sukhdev Dhaba, we thanked god that we made it out safe. Their intentions were clearly not good. But what happened since then has not been good either,” said Babita.
Her husband started to receive proper medical treatment four days after the incident, on Saturday, only after Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) chief Swati Mailwal arranged to get him to admit to GTB hospital, she said.
Earlier, the family also suffered the insensitivity of the Lal Bahadur Shastri (LBS) hospital, where they first went for medical treatment. The officials of the city-based hospital told them not to divulge the actual incident as the cause of their injuries.
“At emergency ward of Shastri hospital, they advised us to say that we were injured in a bike accident and keep quiet about the violence in Murthal,” Babita said.
The family was received with neither sensitivity nor urgency at LBS hospital, even though the doctors did their part, she said.
“My husband with multiple fractures and injuries stood in the queue for hours waiting for reports, which are yet to come. It seemed like they didn’t care; we had to take our nephew to a private hospital where he received 25 stitches on his head,” she said.
Asked about Babita’s experience, official of the LBS hospital refused to believe it.
“I can’t believe it. Why will the staff say that? Staff in not the politician, why would they give this type of advice. These things are always distorted and told to journalists. I’ll just find out about the medical aspects and let you know,” Amita Saxena, LBS Hospital Medical superintendent, told IANS.