December 03, 2009
Dalits suffer because they won't carry the dead
I was saddened, but not surprised by a report I just received in an email from Dalit activists in central India. Dalits there have stopped carrying the carcasses of dead animals. Someone has to do the job, but they are being told that is the only career they can have…and then despised because of it. Now that they have stopped in protest, local shops won’t sell them products, they’re banned from public transportation, and not allowed to get water from public wells. And more.
As one colleague mentioned in a subsequent email to me, forcing people to clean up dead animals is actually outlawed as an atrocity under Indian legislation which went into effect in 1995, called the “Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act”. However, this report also illustrates that, although India’s laws may be good, local officials often ignore the rule of law and many Dalit communities don’t have the resources or knowledge to pursue the matter legally.
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SOCIAL BOYCOTT OF DALITS IN MADHYA PRADESH
(Excerpts from Fact Finding Report issued by Nagrik Adhikar Manch & Yuva Samvad)
The situation in the Gadarwara Sub Division of Narsinghpur District, Madhya Pradesh state has been in a state of constant flux since last 3-4 months. The Dalits living in the villages adjoining Gadarwara have been condemned to a life of fear and intimidation. Their human rights and dignity are at stake.
Obviously there is a concrete reason behind this sudden spurt in violence against them. They have refused to remain subservient to the interests of the upper/dominant castes and have decided to speak up.
Instead of taking concrete steps to guarantee the human rights of dalits granted to them under Constitution, the administration has preferred to remain silent or at best supportive of the interests of the dominant castes. One can easily see why Madhya Pradesh happens to be the state which tops the list of atrocities on tribals and stands second when it comes to cases of atrocities against Dalits. (The incidents are occurring in villages about half-way between the state capital, Bhopal, and Jabalpur.)
Affected Area: Dalits (Ahirwar community) in Gadarwara and adjoining villages
Villages visited by the Fact Finding Team : Nander,Madgula, Devri and Tekapar
Date: 7th and 9th November 2009
The Ahirwars make almost half (38,000-40,000 ) of the total population (70,000-80,000) of Gadarwara. Around 80-85 percent of the people in this tehsil are engaged in agriculture or related work. Agricultural labourers and landless peasants comprise a majority among them. Most of the agricultural labourers belong to the Dalit communities and among them the
Ahirwars (Chamars) predominate. …There are over 700 surnames in this caste.
The Ahirwars Resolution giving rise to the present oppression
Ahirwar Samaj Mahaparishad [reached] a general consensus…about abandoning the obnoxious practice of carrying of the carcasses of dead beasts; to rid them of the centuries old practice of being looked down upon by the varna (upper) castes as carriers of the carcasses and consequently untouchables. Ahirwars in many villages actually discontinued this practice from July-August onwards. The Ahirwar Samaj Mahaparishad resolved in October 2009 to abandon this practice by the community en masse at the state level.
A Detailed Report of the Fact Finding Team and Its observations
Despite repeated complaints against the oppression faced by the dalits at the hands of the dominant castes and demands for action against them, the attitude of the administration has remained apathetic. This despite the fact that Dalits in 5-6 villages have filed complaints of physical harassment and oppression.
[Dalits denied] access to daily utilities
1.There is ban on them on making any purchases from the only provision shop in the village.
2.They are not allowed to get water from a public tap.
3. Ban on travel by public transport
4. Stopping vegetable and food vendors, newspaper boys including dhobis (washermen), nais (barbers) from entering Dalit localities
5. Stopping access to flour mills for grinding corn
6. Ban on entering the Village Panchayat Bhavan
…Bimla Bai was threatened by non-Dalit Devendra Kumar warning her not to step in their fields failing which they would strip her naked and parade her through the village.
…In a meeting organised by the Village head (Sarpanch) in October 2009 to resolve the issue, more than hundred people belonging to non-dalit castes who were carrying different arms, literally pounced upon the Ahirwars and tried to intimidate them. The Ahirwars who had gathered there hoping for a peaceful and respectable solution, literally had to flee the place to save their lives.
…The landless Ahirwar peasants cultivate the land of the upper caste people on lease on expence sharing basis (batai). Under it all expenses right from bowing to harvesting is done by the person taking the land on lease and he is given 1/4 to 1/10 portion of the harvest by the landlord However, when the crops bowed in June reached the harvesting stage some influential landlords refused to allot any share to the cultivators and in fact harvested the crop with Harvester Combines and took it away. The Ahirwar community [at least 12 families] which faced drought last season is on the brink of starvation. If the same state of affairs continues, it is feared that there would be starvation deaths in the area.
…Munna Gurjar forcibly dumped the dead animal in front of the house of Malkham Singh Ahirwar. Similarly dead animals are being dumped in the pokharee (small pond) in front of Vishal Ahirwar's the house. People hailing from influential families even dumped the dead carcass in front of the Community Hall.
Action by Administration
People from Deori have complained twice to the Sub-Divisional Officer, (Anuvibhagiya Dandadhikari) Gadarwara but the SDM has merely consoled them and has not bothered to take any action against the perpetrators. The matter has been kept hanging till date.
…In the second week of October some people from the Ahirwars were summoned by the caste people and they were pointblank asked whether they will or will not lift the caracasses of dead animals. The Ahirwars conveyed to them the community decision. The next day a fiat was issued by the caste people warning the Ahirwars that if by any chance the Ahirwars pass through their fields they will have to pay a fine of Rs. 1000/-
The intimidation did not stop here. A strict ban was imposed on availing the village facilities of shop for things of daily use, use of public tap water system, flour mill and other public places. They used to take clay for building from public places but a total ban on such use was imposed. Netram Ahirwar informed us that the work of digging for clay has always been a community effort but now they threaten us if we take clay.
…Their pressure tactics also [deprived Dalits of] 100 days employment [guaranteed by a Central/Federal government program for the poor]. The Dalit Ahirwars receive hardly 10 to 15 days of work and that too with difficulty.
…The people of Tekapar have been kept under threat by the influential castes. They are threatened that should they dare to complain they will have to face the music. In spite of this the Ahirwar people had made representations against the injustice to them in writing to the Sub Divisional Magistrate on 8th October 2009. Despite this the status quo remains and no action has been taken to ameliorate the situation.
[Similar reports from two more villages deleted.]
The Conclusion and The Way Out
…After meeting hundreds of people from the four villages in MP the Fact Finding Team has observed how the Collective Decision of the Ahirwar Community (Dalit) of not undertaking the inhuman and unconstitutional work has become a question of prestige. The caste people are endeavouring for the reversal of this decision through social, economic sanctions. The caste people desire that the Dalits should abandon their struggle for self-respect and continue to undergo the social and cultural slavery…
Posted by klajja at December 3, 2009 11:28 AM