Far from freedom: Dalits lead deplorable life in Orissa village

Akshaya Kumar Sahoo

Even after 62 years of India’s independence, freedom still eludes dalits in Orissa. They are still in chains, subjected to the alleged oppression and exploitation by the upper caste people in their own village.

Nearly 150 kms from the "shining" capital city Bhubaneswar, people — mostly the dalits — are found to be living in almost the dark days of the medieval period. Caste conflicts and supremacy of the upper castes over the local dalits still prevail in the area.

Here is just one of the several instances that depict the deplorable condition of the dalits living in the region.

Trilochan Malick, 45, is a sharecropper. A resident of Tala-Kasipur village under the Nihalprasad police station in Dhenkanal district, he finds it very hard to manage his five-member family with his meagre income from agriculture.

On March 25, 2007, Trilochan, who belongs to Pana community, had a scuffle with one Bauribandhu Tarai of his village. Both of them came to blows over sugarcane cutting.

Bauribandhu, who belongs to the fisherman community, complained that his caste status was affected as the "untouchable" Pana community man Trilochan touched his body during the scuffle.

In apparent bid to punish Trilochan, Bauribandhu decided to lodge a complaint against Trilochan. While in the police station to lodge the complaint, Tarai met Sangram Keshari Satpathy, the local Zilla Parishad member. Mr Satpathy, a Brahmin by caste, asked Bauribandhu to go back to village, assuring that the matter would be solved by the village committee.

In the committee meeting held in premises Shiv Temple, it was decided that Trilochan would pay Rs 2,000 towards the medical expenditure of Bauribandhu and Rs 20,000 for "harming the caste status of the complainant" to avoid ostracisation and live in the society.

The penalty was too high for Trilochan. He sold all his belongings — utensils, goats stored grains. Still he could not collect the penalty amount. Finally, he borrowed money from the local moneylenders at hefty interest rates.

With no money in hand, he stopped sending his children to schools. He also discontinued his share-cultivation activity as he did not have the money for buying seeds, fertiliser and pesticides.

From a tiny farmer, Trilochan turned into a daily-wage earner. As he failed to make both ends meet, he has not yet paid back his debt.

"I was a small farmer. Now I’m an agricultural labourer. I do not know if I can repay my debt in the near future," he laments.

"Trilochan’s is a clear case of atrocity and punishable under the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. The committee members, who subjected him to such inhuman behaviour, need to be punished. But nothing such has happened. Despite our repeated requests, the district administration has not yet cared to bring the culprits into the book," says Bikram Jena of Orissa Dalit Adhikar Manch.

Situated on the bank of the river Brahmani, Tala-Kasipur, a part of the Kasipur revenue village, has a population of around one thousand comprising Brahmins, fisherman, washerman, gardener and confectioner communities.

The village lacks a good road communication. Majority of the Pana community people are illiterate and do not own any agricultural land. Most of the Pana children do not go to school either because of the aloofness of the ignorant parents or because of their precarious financial condition.

Almost all the Pana community people work as daily wage earners. The male members of the community till the land of Brahmins to eke out their living while women folks make bamboo works to sale them in markets.

Narayan Mallick, 60, says the Panas of the village in the past were being engaged by the local zamindar as their musclemen for forcible to occupation of land of other people, including the debt defaulters.

In return, the Zamindar, who belonged to the Brahmin community, allowed them to till the occupied land and enjoy a portion of the produce after giving the lion’s share to him.

After independence, although the zamindari system was abolished, the Pana community continued to suffer. Even today, the are being treated like bonded labourers of the upper caste people.

The division and disparity is visible in many ways: each tea stall in the village has two sets of glass — one set for the upper caste people and the other set for the dalits.

The dalits cannot touch the village wells and ponds used by the upper caste people. Nor can they participate in the religious festivals and village fairs along side the upper caste people.

"The dalits are denied basic living conditions in the village. Apart from other restrictions, they are also denied to participate in the panchayat meetings. Their point of opinion is never taken into consideration by the village committee," says Bikram.

Arun Khote, PMARC


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