Dicrimination Against Dalits

Published on: July 1, 2012

Four Dalits slain in Srikakulam


Srikakulam (AP):

Four Dalits were killed and 25 injured in an attack, allegedly by members of a backward class community, at Lakshmipeta of Vangara mandal, 55 km from Srikakulam, on June 12. The condition of four, admitted in the Rajam area hospital, was stated to be critical.

As the majority of police personnel had been drafted for by-election duty in Narasannapeta, the attackers, backed by ‘village elders’, took advantage of the situation to indulge in a bloodbath. Police reached the spot two and a half hours after the attack that took place at 8 a.m.

According to the police and locals, differences arose between the two communities over the use of leftover land alienated for the Madduvalasa reservoir. The government acquired lands for the reservoir but a portion remained vacant. With both sections claiming ownership, the district administration’s efforts to bring about a rapprochement did not bear fruit. A police picket had been posted in the village to avert clashes. But after several police personnel left for poll duty at Narasannapeta, the dominant section went on the rampage, attacking the Dalits with crude bombs, sickles, hatchets, axes and other weapons. The shocked Dalits could neither retaliate nor run for safety.

Dalit associations, in support of Left parties, took out mass rallies in Rajam and Vangara mandals, condemning governmental inaction. The state government decided to inquire into the Lakshmipeta incident under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The government will pay compensation of Rs two lakh to each bereaved family member.

The Hindu, June 13, 2012 and The Asian Age, June 14, 2012

Manual scavenging figures shocking: Jairam Ramesh

New Delhi:

Union minister for rural development Jairam Ramesh has termed as shocking the figures about the number of manual scavengers highlighted by the census this year but also accepted that the government had not yet discussed the issue in Parliament. According to the census data, there are 7.5 lakh families involved in manual scavenging in the country.

Mr Ramesh was speaking at the release of a book on manual scavenging, Adrishya Bharat (Invisible India), in New Delhi on June 8. The book was released by four women – Narayanamma from Andhra Pradesh, Mahjabeen from Jammu and Kashmir, Saroj from Haryana and Maya Gautam from Uttar Pradesh – engaged in eliminating manual scavenging.

Mr Ramesh said earlier he was under a false impression about the status of manual scavenging in the country due to the stands of different states that they had abolished it. "The census figures this year were shocking. It is a serious issue… but we have not been able to discuss this in Parliament yet."

He was surprised that the problem of manual scavenging existed even in states which are otherwise considered progressive, like Kerala. He said the proposed Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Bill 2012 is being drafted but added that the problem would not be rooted out by legislation alone and needed campaigns and social transformation.

Journalist Bhasha Singh, author of the book, said: "The issue of manual scavenging is deeply related to the larger issues of caste and untouchability in India. After exploring manual scavenging being practised in the country, I can say this practice still continues all because of the casteist mindset of political leaders and policymakers."

"It is such a shame that in the last budget, Rs 100 crore was allocated but not even a single rupee was spent for the rehabilitation of manual scavengers. What kind of ‘rehabilitation’ is this when their children, who have stopped being one, do not get scholarships? Do you want them to continue with the practice of carrying human excreta?" asked Ms Singh. She said the plight of manual scavengers in states like Uttar Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and Gujarat was worse.

The Hindu, June 10, 2012

Untouchability in Jammu and Kashmir


A single bench of the Jammu and Kashmir high court on June 13 directed the state government to ensure that members of a particular community did not face harassment for using water from the village well in a village of Kathua district.

The directions were issued in a petition filed by inhabitants of village Rasooh, tehsil and district Kathua, seeking directions to the state to proceed against the members of the upper caste who, according to them, were committing atrocities against members of the scheduled caste community for using the village well for drinking water. The petitioners claimed that untouchability was being practised at the village well, within the knowledge of state officials.

Justice Mohammad Yaqoob Mir issued notice to the chief secretary, Jammu and Kashmir, financial commissioner (home), director general of police, Jammu and Kashmir, divisional commissioner, Jammu, deputy commissioner, Kathua, senior superintendent of police (SSP), Kathua, and station house officer, Lakhanpur police station, returnable within three weeks. In the meanwhile, the court directed the deputy commissioner and the SSP, Kathua, to ensure that the petitioners are not subjected to any type of harassment and inconvenience. "They will also file their affidavits indicating therein as to what steps they have taken as against the allegations contained in… the petition," the court held. The petitioners contended that in a democratic country like India, it is unfortunate that even in the year 2012 such a practice of untouchability and casteism was being allowed and the culprits are left free.

Greater Kashmir, June 13, 2012

Dalit paraded half-naked by Gujarat cops


In an incident of police atrocity, a Dalit man was thrashed and allegedly paraded half-naked by the police at Ved village in Kautambha taluka of Panchmahal district on June 10. When Dalits of the village protested, the police assaulted them in a lathi charge. As if this were not enough, the police took the half-naked Dalit to Kautambha police station and registered a case against him for obstructing a public servant in the discharge of his duties. Moreover, the police allegedly did not allow him to wear any new clothes for the whole night.

According to eyewitness accounts, the victim, Raman Vankar, 38, was brought to the centre of Ved village at around 1 p.m. on June 10. Here the police allegedly stripped him of all his clothes, leaving him with nothing but his underwear. He was taken to the police station at around 3 p.m. Kanti Vankar, a Dalit man who lives in Ved village, told DNA that he was allowed to give some clothes to Raman at the police station only the next morning.

Further, despite the efforts of relatives and Dalit leaders, the police have not registered Raman’s complaint in the matter. The Dalits have accused a retired police inspector, GP Joshi, and a head constable, Dharmendrasinh Somsinh, of stripping Raman and beating him up.

Kanti Vankar said that after Raman was taken from the village, he was kept in the police lock-up overnight only in his underwear. Earlier: "The police took off his shirt and pants and beat him up in front of the whole village. No one was allowed even to go near police officials," Kanti said.

Bharat Ghoi, 40, a resident of Ved village, was an eyewitness to the incident. "Raman was brought to the centre of the village, his clothes were taken off and he was beaten up. He was then taken to the police station in the same condition," said Ghoi, who is a labourer.

The conflict between the Dalits and the police started after Joshi allegedly used abusive language against scheduled castes and hit one Arvind Vankar, a Dalit, on the head with an iron rod for releasing drainage water on the road. When Arvind protested, he was beaten up by Joshi who also called the police, including Dharmendrasinh.

Roxy Gagdekar in DNA, June 13, 2012

Orissa Dalit rape victim dies


The 19-year-old Dalit girl from Puri district in Orissa, whose alleged gang rape stirred the conscience of the nation and cost a minister his job, died in hospital on June 21 after undergoing treatment for more than six months. "She died as a result of septicaemia, acute respiratory distress syndrome and cardiorespiratory failure," Bhubanananda Moharana, superintendent of SCB Medical College Hospital, Cuttack, told reporters.

The alleged gang rape victim was found by the side of a road in a village under Pipili police station in Puri district, about 15 km east of Bhubaneswar, on November 28 last year. She had since slipped into a coma and been struggling for life at SCB Hospital. Police have arrested four persons in the case. 

The alleged gang rape of the girl had snowballed into a major controversy in the state with demonstrations by political parties, women, students and social organisations. The then agriculture minister Pradeep Maharathi, who represents Pipili assembly constituency, came under opposition fire after news surfaced that the Pipili police had not taken action even after the woman’s family members lodged a complaint. The woman’s family, social activists and opposition parties alleged that Maharathi was protecting the suspects and the ruling Biju Janata Dal headed by chief minister Naveen Patnaik found itself in the vortex of a political storm.

Following the intervention of the Orissa high court, the State Women’s Commission and the State Human Rights Commission, local police registered a case on January 9. The state government directed the police Crime Branch to investigate the case and later instituted a judicial probe. Maharathi also resigned as agriculture minister following public outcry over the issue while the Pipili police station inspector in-charge was dismissed from service.

Priya Ranjan Sahu in Hindustan Times, June 21, 2012

SC/ST discrimination: Low conviction rate a concern


The centre has expressed concern over the low conviction rate in cases relating to discrimination against SC/ST community members in Tamil Nadu and asked the state government to ensure that various steps were in place to address the issue. A suggestion had been given on including a compulsory paper in state government examinations regarding relevant legislation, social justice and empowerment minister Mukul Wasnik told the media.

According to 2010 statistics, the conviction rate, especially in relation to the Protection of Civil Rights Act 1955 and the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989, was a little over 24 per cent, he told reporters. "We have asked the state government to ensure there was no underreporting of cases, timely investigation and charge-sheeting, constant review of the performance of special public prosecutors and prosecution," he said on the sidelines of a review meeting on implementation of the relevant acts in the state.

While the relevant legislation allowed officers "wilfully" negligent in discharging their duties to be penalised, the state government has not found a single officer guilty under it for the past 22 years, he said.

"We have suggested that there be a compulsory paper in state government exams (held by the Tamil Nadu Public Service Commission) to make candidates well aware of the provisions in the legislation, as they are the ones who will be implementing them (after being recruited)," he said.

PTI, July 3, 2012 

Land recovery main focus at Dalit meet


A year ago when Chellammal questioned a non-Dalit for executing a lease deed on her paddy land in Narasinganallur village in Tirunelveli after getting a thumb impression from her alcoholic husband, she had to face the wrath of upper-caste members. Attacked by a group, one of her eyeballs came out with the impact. So great was the force that the 50-year-old succumbed to her injuries the next day. 

Chandra, another Dalit, faced stiff opposition from non-Dalits when she conducted the marriage of her son V. Ayyanar, an MPhil holder. They even tore the interview cards being sent to Ayyanar from various companies. The non-Dalits who grabbed Chandra’s paddy land in Vellalakudi in Vazhapadi wanted the only Arundathiyar family to leave the village.

So when the deceased Chellammal’s son, Lakshmanan, and Chandra along with 27 other Dalits raised their issues before the People’s Tribunal for Legal Redressal, an informal jury comprising activists, professors and writers, what they all wanted was their paddy lands back. The main focus was the grabbing of panchami land by the non-Dalits from the Dalits. At least 28 cases of land rights violation were heard at the tribunal conducted by Evidence, an NGO based in Madurai, on June 30. Among the 300 Dalits taken for study from the villages of Tamil Nadu, almost all were subjected to violations related to land rights.

About 3.2 lakh acres of panchami land were distributed to Dalits in 1892 thanks to the initiative by JHA Tremenheere, the then district collector of Chengalpet. A study conducted by Evidence claims there are only 1,26,113 panchami lands in Tamil Nadu now. "Only 3,000 acres of land are in the hands of Dalits. The remaining were grabbed from the Dalits over time," says the study. 

The jury however advised the victims to be more practical in taking their decisions. "If we ask you to come for a workshop or function, you will first ask whether we get food or travel allowance. You should realise the potential of the panchami lands and the role played by them in our lives. So you have to unite. If you don’t, you will not be able to reclaim your lands," said P. Sivakami, founder president of Samuga Samathuva Padai. 

Talking about an episode from her own life, the Tamil writer said it was her father’s decision not to sell his paddy land which helped her get into the Indian Administrative Service. "My father didn’t sell the paddy land. He was aware of grabbing. So I could complete my study from income we got from the land," she said. At least 300 Dalits from various parts of the state participated in the event. Grabbing of panchami land and other lands of Dalits is on the rise, according to Prof Palanithurai of Gandhigram University, a jury member.

MT Saju in The Times of India, July 1, 2012

Steep decline in asset poverty of Dalits, tribals

New Delhi:

The past decade has seen the weakest sections of society make rapid gains in their material well-being, acquiring assets such as cellphones, televisions, two-wheelers and bank accounts though almost half the population of scheduled castes and tribes continue to live by the light of the humble kerosene lamp, much more than the national number of 31 per cent.

The latest data of census 2011, released recently, shows that the asset poverty of Dalits and tribals has declined substantially. In fact, the decline in the number of Dalits and tribals without any assets is comparable to the numbers nationally. In 2001, 42.6 per cent of SC were without any of the 13 assets specified in the house-listing survey of the census. In 2011 this had come down to 22.6 per cent. Nationally, the percentage of households without any assets came down to 17.8 per cent from 34.5 per cent.

This means that nearly 80 per cent of Dalits had one of the specified assets, which include a bank account, radio, television, bicycle, car, telephone, mobile, computer and Internet connectivity. While half the Dalit population has a bank account, 40 per cent have TV sets and 51 per cent have telephone connectivity. In 2001 just 25 per cent had bank accounts and 21 per cent had a television while a phone connection was available with just 3.5 per cent.

The decline in asset poverty of Dalits has been striking in the erstwhile ‘Bimaru’ states such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. While 67.5 per cent of SC in Bihar had no assets in 2001, this has halved to 38.9 per cent now. In Uttar Pradesh, where 26 per cent had no assets a decade earlier, the figure has come down to 15 per cent.

In Kerala, where the figure was 47 per cent a decade before, it is now 11 per cent. In Bengal, where 38 per cent had no assets earlier, it is 28.3 per cent.

Ownership of motorised vehicles has increased from 5.3 per cent to 11.9 per cent.

In the three states of Orissa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, as well as in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, where the tribal population has been facing the brunt of Naxal-state crossfire, asset poverty has declined.

About 37.3 per cent of ST households all over the nation were found to be without any of the specified assets in the house-listing survey done as part of census 2011. In Orissa, it was 37 per cent; in Chhattisgarh, 35 per cent; in Jharkhand, 27 per cent. In Maharashtra, which has a sizeable tribal population, households with no assets were 43 per cent. However, 10 years before, ST households with no assets comprised 55 per cent of the community in Orissa, 49 per cent in Jharkhand, and 44 per cent in Chhattisgarh.

Today 22 per cent of ST households own a television set, 33 per cent have landline phone connections or a cellphone and 44 per cent have a bank account.

However, the majority of SC and ST still have no electricity. In Uttar Pradesh, 74 per cent of SC households depended on kerosene for light. In West Bengal, it is 56.4 per cent; in Orissa, 63 per cent; in Jharkhand, 60 per cent. Nationally, the dependence on kerosene as the sole source of light was only 31 per cent.

Census commissioner C. Chandramouli, who said the findings on asset poverty showed improvement in the lot of the SC and ST over 10 years, agreed that the lack of electricity and other basic amenities overshadow other gains. "That is the significance of the census. It tells you the gap between putting an electric post in a village and bringing electricity to a house," he said. The fact that more than half the population of Dalits and tribals rely on kerosene for light reveals that electric posts have not become electric connections, he said.

Business Standard, June 22, 2012

 Orissa temple a statement for Dalits and womanhood

Dhamra (Bhadrak):

The Maa Dhamarai temple in Bhadrak district is more than a typical Hindu place of worship; it goes against two trends in Orissa. The temple is not only accessible to Dalits but also has women priests – again Dalits – in a state where a patriarchal society frowns on this very concept.

Denial of access to Dalits has been a rule, usually unwritten, in a number of Orissa’s countless temples. In July last year the chairman of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, PL Punia, was denied entry to a temple to goddess Kali in Puri district. In 2005 four Dalits had faced massive opposition from upper castes when they tried to enter a 300-year-old Jagannath temple in their village in coastal Kendrapara. Those Dalits did gain entry a year later, following a directive from the Orissa high court, but the general trend continues elsewhere.

The standout Maa Dhamarai temple is on the outskirts of Dhamra, a fishing village about 20 km from the ballistic missile launch pad of Wheeler Island.

"Before Maa Dhamarai, there is no caste or gender discrimination. She is a woman, after all," says Rabindra Nath Majhi, who looks after the temple’s day-to-day affairs. "It is the priestesses who are allowed to perform certain rituals. We men don’t even dare look at the goddess in the dark. Only a woman can look at her from up close," says Nityananda Das of the temple management.

At the break of dawn every day hundreds of Dalits as well as upper-caste members from villages throng the temple as priestesses Bimali Majhi and Laxmi Behera perform the rituals, chanting hymns and making offerings to the goddess. The temple caters to villages under Dhamra and Jagula gram panchayats which are dominated by Kaibartas, a fishing community. There is also a legend around how Dalits came to have their "own" temple.

According to local folklore, the goddess, a vegetarian living at a place called Satabhaya, had five sisters who were non-vegetarian. The legend goes that they disliked their sister’s food habits so much that they pushed her into the sea. Some five decades ago when some members of a fishing family cast their net, it became so heavy that they could not lift it for days. When they finally managed to do so, what they found in the net was a large rock. The king of Kanika, Sailendra Narayan Bhanjadeo, under whose kingdom the Dhamra panchayat fell, claimed to have had a dream the same night, in which the goddess had sought a temple built for her near Dhamra. The stone was first worshipped in a thatched house and later shifted to a concrete temple in 1998. One of the goddess’s specific wishes was that she should be worshipped by widows from the fisherfolk community.

That is how Bimali Majhi got her job. Majhi, over 70 and a Dalit, is a widow from a village in Chandbali block of Bhadrak district. Married in her teens, she lost her husband to a violent land dispute a decade later, came back to her parents’ home and looked after her three children as well as those of her brothers. Shortly after the children married, the presiding dehuri (village priest) of the temple died and the search for a new one stopped at Majhi’s door. Her roots lie in one of the two fisherfolk clans that had been "ordained" for the job.

"I don’t know any formal hymns like the Brahmins do in pujas. For me, it’s a heart-to-heart talk with the goddess," says Majhi, who has been serving in the temple for 15 years along with co-priestess Laxmi.

For fisherfolk, the goddess is the only insurance for a successful trip into the Bay of Bengal. "All fisherfolk who make a trip to sea offer their prayers at the temple before they start out in the morning. I have never seen any fisherman who has gone to sea without visiting the temple," says Sudarshan Behera, an elderly villager. "I have even seen scientists from the Defence Research and Development Organisation offering prayers at the temple before they go for the launch of a ballistic missile."

Debabrata Mohanty in The Indian Express, July 3, 2012

Archived From Communalism Combat,  July 2012, Year 18. No. 167 - Dalit Drishti