Ramashankar Mishra | Feb 10, 2019 | 7 min read
Patna: Surajpur, a sleepy hamlet in north Bihar's Samastipur district, is sitting on a powder keg. The members of Dalit community have not only been socially boycotted but also 'ostracized' for not disposing of the carcass of a cow belonging to a strongman of the village about three weeks ago.
Eighty-odd residents of Ravidas community, a 'Mahadalit' scheduled caste in Bihar, have been disconnected from the rest of the village falling under Ujiarpur block of the district. Roads leading to the hamlet have been blocked and inhabitants not being allowed to fetch potable water from nearby hand pumps.
"Gaon ke kuchh dabang logo ne hukka-pani bandh dar kiya hai. Bahar nikalna mushkil hai. Ghar mein bandh ho kar rah gayen hain (Some strongmen of the village have ostracized us. It is very difficult to step out. We have been confined to our houses)," lamented a local resident Suresh Ram.
The members of the rival community--Kushwaha, a dominant extremely backward (EBC) caste, allegedly looted the belongings of the Dalit community on December 29, a day after the scheduled caste people demanded adequate wages for lifting the carcass of the domestic animal.
Family members of Ram Chandra Sah, on December 28, approached 58-year-old Suresh Ram to dispose of the carcass of their cow on the outskirts of the village. However, the bargaining over the wages didn’t go down well with the Sah family members and they decided to teach the Ravidas community members a lesson.
Sah, an affluent man, held a secret meeting of a section of residents, known for their muscle power, and decided to punish the Dalits for defying their diktat.
Next morning, hundreds of lathi-wielding people reached the Ravidas Tola, hurled abuses on men and women and looted their belongings and didn’t even spare their makeshift temple.
The attackers also threatened them with dire consequences before leaving the spot. "They (strongmen) have prevented us from irrigating our land. As result wheat crops are withering away. We are at our wit's end what to do and whom to approach for justice?" asked another resident Santosh Ram.
The children of Dalit community have stopped attending their classes at the local primary school. "Our children are abused and harassed in school by those belonging to dominant castes," revealed Suresh, who had never witnessed such an ugly scene in the locality in the last five decades.
Though Dalits lodged a formal complaint at the Samastipur SC/ST police station, no action has been yet initiated against the offenders. "The matter is under investigation," said Kamal Ram, the station house officer (SHO) of SC/ST police station in Samastipur, around 100 km northeast of state capital Patna. The SHO said that the police received the complaint on January 13, Samastipur SP Harpreet Kaur was, however, not available for her comments.
A police team from Ujiyarpur police station led by its SHO Manoj Kumar Singh visited the village and tried to pacify the members of the rival group. Manoj instead of taking action against the culprit suggested the Dalits to reach a compromise.
“Had we been aware of this situation, we wouldn't have demanded wages and rather obeyed them. Our life has virtually turned into a hell. We are living under constant threat from influential people. However, we have been getting only assurances from the officials concerned," said Ajit Ram.
The mukhiya (head) of Pataili panchayat Laldev Singh, however, defended the Kushwahas and said that the Dalits were more aggressive on the issue. "Everything is in the knowledge of the senior police and administrative officials," he said, adding dispute over a plot of government land at the village was the reason behind the incident. He, however, admitted that denial of removing the animal's carcass led to the recent tension at the village.
Mahesh Ram, on the contrary, said, "The mukhiya will always side with the Kushwahas as he belongs to the same community."
This is not an isolated incident of atrocities against Dalits in Bihar. Recently, a 35-year-old Dalit identified as Yamuna Ram was shot dead at Tilathpur village under Piro police station in Bhojpur district followed by a rape of a woman of the same community in Raniganj police station area in Katihar district.
Last year, a group of Upper caste men had attacked the wedding procession of a Dalit groom Sudhir Paswan at Rajputana Tola under the Rajapakar police station in Vaishali district in May last year. Shockingly, the incident took place in the presence of the police.
The attack on marriage procession followed the lynching of a 55-year-old Dalit Nagendra Paswan allegedly by the members of Sahni (fishermen) community at Murtuzapur Dumri village in Vaishali district last year. The lynching led to violent protests by the members of the scheduled caste.
Ram Pratap Neeraj, a retired professor and former principal of MJK College, Bettiah (BRA Bihar University, Muzaffarpur) said that the cases of atrocities against the SC people have shot up alarmingly in the state. "It's a matter of concern for the NDA government both at the Centre and in the state," he added.
Bihar state crime record data revealed that a total of 5341 cases were reported under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989 in the state till September 2018 against 6826 cases in 2017. Similarly, 6065 cases atrocities were registered in 2014 followed by 6372 cases in 2015 and 5726 cases in 2016 respectively.
Neeraj said that the NDA government in Bihar would have to pay a heavy price for not taking the issues related to the Dalit atrocities on priority basis. Cases of rape, molestation, murder and violence against Dalit have gone up recently, which was a result of deterioration in law and order situation in the state.
Former minister Ramai Ram of Loktantrik Janata Dal, founded by Sharad Yadav, claimed that Dalits constituted about 16 percent of the total 104 million population in Bihar, which amply indicates their political strength. Taking a dig at the NDA government, Ramai said that nine Dalits were killed during protests across the country on April 2 over the March 20 (2018) ruling of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court, in its ruling, had said that the arrest of an accused under SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act is not mandatory as a recourse to a coercive action would be taken only after preliminary inquiry and sanction by the competent authority. The ruling triggered an unrest in many parts of the country.
Sensing the gravity of the situation, Nitish Kumar government decided to offer financial grants for civil services aspirants from SC/ST who cleared the preliminary examinations and also to give 15 kg of food-grain to every student in government hostels for underprivileged. The government also announced the setting up of a commission to look into the betterment of members of Dalit community.
A senior JD(U) leader under the cover of anonymity said, "The Nitish Kumar-led NDA government in the state has delivered some quick-fix sops to ensure that the anger building up among Dalits against the BJP doesn't scorch the JD(U) in the upcoming Lok Sabha poll."
The RJD, on the other hand, is not lagging behind in fanning the sentiments of Dalits against the NDA. A senior RJD leader and former Rajya Sabha MP Shivanand Tiwary said, "More than 70 percent Dalits are with us. Dalits have been deceived by the NDA leaders on one pretext or the other. They will certainly express their anger against the NDA government in the upcoming national election."
For the Bhim Sena, an organisation fighting for the cause of Dalits in Bihar, BJP is now the number one enemy. Its state president Amar Azad said, "We don't have any grudge against Nitish Kumar. But as Nitish's JD(U) is a coalition partner it too will have to face the consequences.”
More importantly, the conviction rate of cases is very low in Bihar (0.36 percent only). A recent verdict of a Bhojpur court in a Dalit atrocity case, however, came as a big solace for the ruling alliance in Bihar. Five accused, including an RJD leader were awarded seven-year jail term, 15 others were sentenced to two-year imprisonment for brutal attack on a Dalit woman and parading her naked at Bihiyan in Bhojpur district in August last year.
With the Lok Sabha elections around the corner, the common issue of debate in Bihar, where caste is a major factor in elections, is whether the Dalits like 2014 general election will repeat the same in 2019.The simmering anger among Dalits against the dispensation is palpable everywhere.
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