Suman Tayde, 14-month-old Dipti’s grandmother is growing anxious as the child has gone without milk since Saturday. The village hasn’t run out of supplies, but since October 12, Dalits of Vairagad village in Maharashtra’s Buldhana district have been facing a social boycott. This includes inaccess to the flour mill and other shops in the village.
On Monday, Suman went to Balaji Kunte, a caste Hindu, and tried to convince him to spare some milk for Dipti. Balaji Kunte’s wife told her, “If we give you milk, our caste people would punish us with social boycott.”
“We are living on rice. Now they (caste Hindus) are threatening that the road leading to our locality would be blocked”, said Tulsabai Telgote, Suman’s neighbour. “Frightened by this, our girls have not stepped out of house since Saturday,” Tulsabai added.
On January 26, 2013, caste Hindus in Vairagad refused to allow Dalits to put up B.R. Ambedkar’s photo alongside those of other leaders during the Republic Day ceremony.
“We were silent then but on the day of Maha Shivratri in May this year, they uprooted a Panchashil flag (a Buddhist flag) near the Ambedkar statue. They put up a saffron flag in its place”, claims Jagdish Bhandare, an elderly man. Most of the Dalits in Vairagad are landless laborers, and work in farms belonging to caste Hindus. Since the Maha Shivratri incident, labourers from the Dalit locality haven’t been allowed to work in the farms, they claim.
On October 12, however, tensions flared up with the caste Hindus allegedly attacking Dalits over a dispute. Dalits claim that the upper castes Hindus resorted to verbal abuse of Dalit women, hurled stones at the Ambedkar statue and filed “false complaints of thefts” against Dalit men leading to the arrest of 15 Dalits under different sections of the Indian Penal Code.
“On October 12, some of our women were offering prayers near the Ambedkar statue to the Bodhivruksha tree before leaving for Nagpur to attend the Dhammachakra Pravartan Din ceremony at Deeksha Bhoomi (Celebrations of Dalits converting to Buddhism on October 14, 1956 under the leadership of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar). Some caste Hindus came and spoke to them in a lewd manner”, recalls Ratnabai Wankhede.
“Suddenly, they attacked us. Within five minutes, the village Sarpanch Amol Sathe came with other caste Hindus and started beating us”, she said. Meera received severe injuries on her hand during this attack.
The police who reached the spot lathi-charged the Dalits and not the caste Hindus, they say. “Police even arrested 15 Dalit men on false charges of stealing a Goddess’s ornaments from a temple near the Ambedkar statue. They did not register our complaints”, alleged Meera.
“After the Maha Shivratri incident, autorickshaws did not take us to school. We had to walk for more than three kilometres to our school in Undri village”, said Shivani, a secondary school student adding that some of “them (caste Hindus) wrote abusive words about us and Baba Saheb ( Dr.Ambedkar) on the road leading to our school”.
But the caste Hindus and the police have denied all the allegations. According to Police Inspector Santosh Tale, there is no “boycott” of Dalits in Vairagad village.
“There was a small incident and some political elements are trying to take advantage of the situation by flaring up sentiments. We have arrested 15 people from the Dalit locality and 10 people from the caste Hindu locality for rioting for October 12 incident”, Inspector Tale told The Hindu .
Buldhana Superintendent of Police Shamrao Dihgavkar supported the claims of Inspector Tale and said the situation in the village is peaceful after a “small incident”.
On the false cases of theft on Dalits, the SP said, “Only an inquiry into it can make the things clear.”
Caste Hindus refuted the allegations that there is social boycott of Dalits in the village. “Ours is a peaceful village. It was small incident but some political elements are trying to disrupt peace here”, said Mangesh Sathe, the Sarpanch’s brother.
Amol Sathe, the village Sarpanch, who represents the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has been booked and was arrested under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989 on Monday.
He has been released but has been prohibited from entering the village, said the SP.
Some of the Dalits don’t want to stay in the village anymore. “Give us alternate land and we will shift out of this place otherwise someday, they (caste Hindus) will kill some of us”, shouted Sindhu Tayade, another woman injured in the October 12 attack, in front of the deputy collector who came to take the stock of the situation.