When he bought a piece of land for Rs. 10 lakh from a Rajput family at Khalisha village in Bihar’s Bhojpur district last year, little did Ramlal Ram, a Chamar by caste, realise that it was just the beginning of his woes. In August, three months after the purchase, when he went sow the land, the powerful Rajput members staked claim to it and asked him to beat it, threatening to shoot him. Ramlal, however, mustered the courage to tell them that he had paid for paid for the land and that he had the papers. That reply infuriated them and they started raining blows. One of them fired in the air. Ramlal had no choice but to flee.

“They said, ‘Chamar hoke hamare chati pe baithega? [You will overpower us despite your being a Chamar?],” recalled Ramlal as he went weak at the knees and broke down during a public hearing on caste atrocities in Bhojpur. To his shock, the Rajputs also illegally transferred the land entitlement in the name of one of their relatives.

The hearing was organised by the Patna-based Dalit Association for Social and Human Rights Awareness.

Land, water, money, a desire to rise above destitution, entitlement to government benefits: the list of reasons that can fuel caste hatred is endless. Shivkumari Kunwar’s case shows how powerful castes use their traditional dominance to either keep the poor from their entitlements or appropriate them.

Though her land was approved under the Indira Awas Yojana for constructing a house, early last month a group arrived with sticks and batons, beat her up and even pulled at her sari. “We won’t allow you Chamars to build a house here,” they said, as they threatened to kill the middle-aged woman. To top it all, they foisted false cases on her.

“My mother struggled as a wage labourer, earning just Rs. 30 to 60, and educated me,” said a tearful Sameer, as he appealed for justice.

In the village of Balbatra, little did Lallan Ram imagine that a few drops of water could fuel caste hatred and get him thrashed. A cobbler who owned a small stall, he was washing his hands after lunch one day when a few drops of water accidentally fell on someone standing at the nearby pan stall. At this, the vendor shouted, ‘Maro saale Chamar ko [Beat up the Chamar]’, and a group clobbered Lallan Ram.

Lack of unity

Many Dalits recounted their agony of routine atrocities and discrimination in villages. Some like Sanjudevi’s husband, a tailor, were murdered for asking their rightful wages. However, “there is no unity among the Chamars, Dusadhs, dhobis,” rued Ramlal. “That’s why atrocities are being committedon us.”

Each of these is a caste name. Each of these is also used as an abuse while perpetrating caste atrocities of all shades and hues.

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