//Caste-based discrimination and corruption pushing 83 families to death in Orissa

Caste-based discrimination and corruption pushing 83 families to death in Orissa

Caste-based discrimination; Land rights; Right to food; Corruption; Rule of law

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received the information that 83 Dalit families of Ranapada village have been deprived of their food security by non-Dalits from about 54 neighboring villages. It is reported that the reason for the aggressive discrimination against the Bauri families (Dalits) is because three women from Bauri community tried to enter the Hindu temple on August 28, 2010. The temple priest and non-Dalit villagers refused to allow the Dalit women to worship in the temple and even charged INR 50,000 as a penalty from the women. When the Dalits refused to pay the penalty, non-Dalit villagers who had leased their farmland to the Dalit families for sharecropping promptly took the land back. Furthermore, non-Dalit villagers from 54 villages collectively went to Dalit hamlet of Ranapada village and threatened to kill and assault the residents. The police have failed not only to take any affirmative actions in the case, but also were assaulted by non-Dalit villagers. The police have arrested only four of the accused, allowing other accused to freely threaten the victims. 83 Dalit families who depended on the farmland of the non-Dalit villagers have lost their only source for food and face hunger.

CASE DETAIL:

On August 28, 2010, the upper caste priest of a local Hindu temple and one Mr. Karunakar Bhoi, who is also from the upper caste, denied three women from the Bauri community of Ranapada village from entering the temple. When Karunakar saw the three women trying to enter the temple, he abused them by referring to their caste and suggesting their ‘low origin’ and said: “who gives you this right to enter the temple?.” The women asked back: “Why are you behaving like this, are we not human beings or Hindus?” The priest and the other upper caste, who were at the temple, refused the women entry to the temple, and charged a penalty of Rs. 50,000 (USD 1,110) on the women.

The women were forced to admit that they would pay the penalty, under threat. The following day, the women filed a complaint regarding the incident at the local police station. The complaint was registered as a case, with no. 160(36) against Karunakar Bhoi for offenses punishable under the Indian Penal Code, 1860 under Sections 294, 323, 341 and 806 of the Code.

On September 8, non-Dalit villagers, mostly from the upper caste, from 54 neighboring villages held a meeting near the temple where the women were denied entry and went to the Ranapada village with the plan for attack the Dalits. They shouted at the Dalit villagers and threatened to kill them. Mr. Dwijaraj Pradhan allegedly threatened in the public that: “Today we will beat up all the Dalits. All Dalits should come out of the houses, we will kill you otherwise.”

At that time, Mr. Gadadhar Bhoi, Mr. Golekha Bhoi, Mr. Kalu Bhoi, Mr. Nakula Bhoi, Mr. Iswar Das and Mr. Rajkishore Bhoi, six Dalits residing in the locality, were on their way home from the market approached the non-Dalit crowd. Spotting them, the upper caste villagers surrounded them and assaulted all the six Dalits. Then the mob dragged Gadadhar Bhoi into a small cabin and locked him inside. At about midnight they tried to set the cabin on fire with Gadadhar Bhoi inside.

The police arrived to rescue Gadadhar Bhoi. But the upper caste villagers surrounded the officers and reportedly assaulted them. The police however left the scene without arresting anyone. On the next day the Dalit villagers filed cases against 73 villagers who came to attack them. Till today, only four out of 73 accused were arrested despite most of the persons accused of the crime reside in the locality. The fact that the upper caste villagers assaulted the police and that many of them, despite being named by the Dalits in the complaint, are not arrested by the police shows the power of the upper caste community in rural India.

On September 15, non-Dalit villagers once again organised a meeting in Raibidhar market reportedly to met out further acts of caste-based vengeance against the Dalit villagers. A police force was sent to the market to disperse the criminal gathering. However the non-Dalit mob pelted stones at the police, injuring several police officers. The police had to call for additional support of two more platoons to disperse the violent mob.

Meantime, on October 15, an independent fact finding team that conducted a field study on the issue found that not much actions were taken by the administration to prevent the ongoing and further brewing of caste-based and communal violence in the locality, resulting out of the innocent attempt of three Dalit women attempting to enter a temple. The fact finding team thus recommended the District Collector -the administrative head of the district – and other state agencies like the police to take immediate actions, first by conducting an inspection of the villages, paying compensation to the victims and immediate arrest of the rest of the other perpetrators and further to prosecute the perpetrators under proper offences under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 and the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Rules 1995. Expressing concern of the sudden lack of employment and the repossession of the leased farmlands the fact-finding team also urged the district administration to provide immediate employment for the Dalit families under the rural employment guarantee scheme. To date, none of these recommendations have been earnestly complied with by the administration.

Caste based discrimination and violations resulting in hunger and malnutrition:

Immediately after the incident, non-Dalit villagers who leased the farmland for share cropping to the Dalit villagers took the lands back. The upper caste landlords blocked access roads to the Dalit hamlets as well as some lands. The Dalit are denied all forms of labour by the upper caste. Even shopkeepers have started refusing to sell articles like vegetables or food to the Dalits. This has wrecked havoc in the 83 Dalit families who are now socially ostracised because they depended upon employment and agriculture in the farmlands of the upper caste. Today, all the families face starvation, hunger and resultant malnutrition. Throughout the country, social ostracisation and collective punishment is a common form of punishment meted out against the Dalits in India by the upper caste whenever the upper caste alleges challenges to the caste structure by the Dalits. In all such incidents, the relative economic superiority of the upper caste places them at an uneven level of bargaining position as against the poor Dalits. The upper caste communities use this as an effective weapon to force the Dalit communities into submission.

The failure of the state, and in particular of the district administration, in effectively challenging the upper caste works as a catalyst in such circumstances in favour of the upper caste superiority. In this case, despite several calls and complaints by the Dalit families, the state or district administration has not acted at all. On their part, the Dalit families on October 5, applied for employment under the right to work programme (MGNREG Scheme). The Assistant Block Development Office (ABDO) asked the families to submit a group application, which the families did. But the application was subsequently rejected. The Block Development Officer (BDO) also denied employment under the MGNREGS saying that there was no job for the Dalits. Even though there was a road construction work in January this year, the Dalits were denied employment once again.

Since there was no work, the 83 families applied for unemployment allowance under the MGNREG Act that guarantees unemployment allowance if an applicant for job under th
e MGNREG Act is not employed within 15 days from the date of application for work. However, the BDO denied the unemployment allowance also to the Dalit families.

In an attempt to prevent corruption the wages under the MGNREG is distributed through local banks. In a cruel twist of irony the local bank, the Union Bank of India, demanded the unemployed workers to pay Rs. 500 each as an initial deposit to open the bank account. This is against the government directive that directs banks to allow persons holding a job card under the MGNREG to open accounts with zero balance.

Finally when some work was made available, the work was only enough to employ 20 villagers. To ensure that everyone will be employed, the 83 families decided to divide the work among all the families, so that they could share the wages, Rs. 42,000 (USD 942) between them, for which the BDO agreed. Accordingly, 83 villagers worked for four days from January 3, 2011. Three months after completing the work, 80 villagers received payment. However, they were not paid the statutory minimum wage. It was increased from Rs. 100 to Rs. 125 per day since January 2011. An enquiry by the local human rights groups revealed that the members of the Panchayat (elected village council), have obtained signatures of the employees to be paid under the MGNREG, in blank muster roll instead the employee personally signing the register at the bank or in the presence of a bank employee, which is a violation of the MGNREG Act. It is suspected that the Panchayat members have played fraud upon the 80 employees since the Panchayat members have obtained the signatures from the employees in violation of the MGNREG Act. Beyond this four-day employment, there has been no other employment provided to the 83 families since then. Needless to say, all the 83 families are exposed to the food insecurity and hunger.

The District Collector denies the fact that the Dalit families are facing serious discrimination and boycott by the upper caste from 54 villages. Only after several complaints and demands from the civil society groups, he has assured that he would look into the matter. The Collector does not acknowledge the fact that he has a duty to implement and monitor the laws and policies that are related to the rights of all residents within his jurisdiction.

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS:

This case clearly shows how law and policies are flouted in implementation and realties far different from theories concerning rural poverty elimination and Dalit protection. The failure in the enforcement of domestic laws and policies allow discrimination against the Dalits. The resultant environment directly threatens their very right to decent existence and aggravates the food insecurity of the Dalits. This is the root cause why the Dalits are the most vulnerable social group who face severe child malnutrition and maternal mortality rate in India, a contributing factor for India to have the highest Hunger Index in Asia. The situation is further aggravated when the police and the district administration neglects their duties and fails to take actions.