Editor's Note: Discrimination against communities deemed as lower castes is a part-and-parcel of life in rural India. Communities that command power and influence to ostracise and harass the lower castes at will and with impunity as police prove to be of little help. In this four-part series, we attempt to establish the prevalence and gravity of casteism in various states of India, its various forms, why the 'upper castes' prefer this approach and what the conviction rate is for crimes against those belonging to lower castes.
Ujjain/Neemuch: Madhya Pradesh has recently witnessed instances of social boycott of Dalits in Dewas, Ujjain, Indore, Ratlam and Neemuch.
On 14 May, members of upper castes boycotted Dalits of Kundi Kheda village of Mahidpur tehsil in Ujjain district, after a Dalit youth's wedding procession was taken out for the first time in the village.
The next day, Savarna Samaj, an organisation representing upper castes, called a meeting at the Ramkrishna temple in the village, where the order to boycott Dalits was issued.
During the boycott, Dalits had to fetch water from a source four kilometres away. They were also barred from using the flour mill in the village. As a result, they had to travel 20 kilometres to get wheat flour. However, after the intervention of the administration, Savarna Samaj called off the boycott after 15 days.
Manoj Parmar, a local Dalit activist, said that the district administration supported the Dalit community, but the mentality of the people hasn't changed and thus, the Dalits are still living in fear even after the boycott ended.
Dalits have to depend on the savarna community for employment. In the Kundi Kheda village, upper castes are numerically dominant " there are only 50 Dalit households, while there are 350 households of upper castes.
Dule Singh Suryavanshi, a relative of the Dalit groom whose wedding procession was taken out in the village, compared the 15 days of boycott to a nightmare. He said the upper caste community had cut off all links with them after the boycott. Since the shops in the village belonged to the members of upper castes, Dalits had to travel for 15 kilometres for purchasing groceries, revealed Suryavanshi.
A similar incident was reported from Barbodna village of Ratlam district in May. At that time, the wedding procession of a person belonging to a lower caste, Daya Ram Chauhan, was attacked.
Chauhan claimed that people belonging to upper castes assaulted him and his relatives, while also asking him to cancel the ceremony. After they lodged a complaint with the Namali Police Station, the upper caste community blocked the water supply of the area and prevented water tankers from supplying water to their colony.
The boycott was called off after a few days after the intervention of the Superintendent of Police (SP) Gaurav Tiwari.
Recently, a wedding procession was taken out amid heavy police security arrangements in Enabad village of Dewas district. The Dalit groom, Bhagwan Singh Pawar, approached the police fifteen days before the marriage and requested security measures. He sought police protection has a Dalit wedding procession had been attacked just 15 days earlier. With the help of the police, he visited the Ram temple in the village to offer his prayers. "Upper caste (people) would have never allowed me to perform a pooja in the temple after marriage," he added.
A few days after the boycott in Ujjain district was called off, another incident of boycott of Dalits was reported in Neemuch, where six to seven Dalit families of Mahagarh village in Neemuch district were boycotted after a minor conflict.
Samrat Gawari, a resident of Mahagarh village, said the clash began when he was having a cold beverage at a shop in the village. "A person from the Rajput community asked me how I could sit and drink in front of him," he said.
People from the Rajput community announced a boycott after this incident. Gawari said that the owners of water tankers in the village are Rajputs and thus, Dalits have been deprived of water.
A group of people went to the office of the SP of Neemuch with an application seeking protection from the Rajput community. A probe has been initiated. While the administration has deployed guards in front of the houses of Dalit families, it is not enough to protect them, said Gawari.
An upper-caste resident said that Dalits are now venturing out to other parts of the region for jobs. He claimed that they "show off" after returning from such places. He said, "They used to work in our fields and depend on us. If they are earning now, it does not mean they will get (the same) treatment as upper castes."
Discrimination and exploitation
Gopal Narayan Apte, an activist working for the rehabilitation of bonded labourers through his organisation Dalit Sangh, said that people from upper castes employ Dalits offering low wages, and if they refuse, the upper castes start conspiring against them. "Boycotting is also a way to mount pressure on them so that they can be exploited financially," said Apte.
Lack of employment and debts contribute to the continuing discrimination and exploitation in villages, said Apte. He cited the example of a Dalit labourer he had rescued in Bhatgaon village. The labourer had spoken against his employer " who belonged to the Patel community " in the court and was set free. However, after six months, he had to return to the same house, owing to financial problems.
Parmar said that even if Dalits try to break discriminatory social norms, there are harsh consequences that follow. He said that there are very few people who dare challenge upper caste people, due to which very few cases of discrimination come to light.
(The author is a Bhopal-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com)