Other States

"They said we were polluting the water source": in Shivpuri, access to water riven by caste

The family of the Dalit man who was killed by forest officials in Shivpuri district.  

At Fatehpur village in Shivpuri district, even water is riven by caste fault lines. As with territories — roads, shops, playgrounds and trees — split among groups, a mutual pact forbids a Dalit person from drawing water from gushing pumps and teeming wells held by Thakurs, an upper caste, enjoying piped connection at home, a luxury still a far cry for others.

On February 16, however, more than 50 members of a Mehtar family lost their only potable water source — a hand pump near a forest post — as foresters shot dead Madan Balmik while his family drew water from there. The other pump is used only for washing purposes.

“They said we were polluting the water source as we were lowly,” said Ms. Mamata, aunt-in-law of Madan, 38.“Where do we go to fetch water now?”

Like every day, Ms. Mamata, along with Madan’s wife and two daughters, sauntered to the pump, 200 metres away, clutching steel pots for the second round around 2.30 p.m.. As one of the daughters swilled a pot, some water splashed on a forester, who, enraged, hurled casteist slurs at them, and shot dead Madan when he reached the spot to quell tension.

After thrashing the women and hitting his brother Pankaj with rifle butts, the family alleged, foresters, and even villagers, left Madan, with more than 50 pellet wounds, unattended on the road for three hours. “Thakurs have vehicles but they refused to take him to hospital as they said touching him would pollute them,” said Ms. Babita, another relative. The family, which owns only two wheelers, could finally arrange for a vehicle, but Madan died on the way to the hospital in Karera, 25 km. away.

Two rifles seized

The police have seized two rifles, registered a case against 14 officials under the Indian Penal Code and The Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, and arrested six persons so far.

From four brothers brought to the village in the early 20th century to serve upper castes — carry human excreta on heads and skin carcasses — to their children completing primary school, taking up stable jobs in cities and grandchildren even graduating from college, the family’s tale is that of resilience and rise to overcome a repressive social predicament.

“Our father made sure we study. Now, our assertion in the village has riled the upper castes, which is denying us even water. We refuse to serve them. Most accused foresters belong to the upper castes. They know us well,” said Ms. Babita, a domestic help at an MLA’s residence in Uttar Pradesh.

Despite having left manual scavenging years ago, six siblings are still involved in sanitation work. Madan’s father, Mahattam Balmik, 61, the eldest sibling, became the first to land a government job, as a forest guard, 40 years ago, which caused an upheaval in the village. Despite this, the family doesn’t have toilets at home and still defecate in the open.

A fourth generation member, Madan’s daughter, who goes to Class VII, said the teacher still made Dalit children spruce up the school. “She hands us brooms as soon as we reach saying we’re destined to do such work, while Thakur children study in classrooms. Also, we’ve been asked to carry separate utensils so that the midday meal isn’t polluted for other children who get utensils at the school,” she said.

The family claimed riding a mare during wedding procession is forbidden for them, as is eating meals in plates similar to those used by the upper castes persons during functions.

“After bhaisahab was killed, we had to travel to Karera to get tonsured,” said Mr. Pankaj. Madan’s son Bimal, 16, feared he would not be able to appear for his Class X board examinations starting March 3 in order to support the family. His father made ₹3,000 a month by selling chicken and worked as an agricultural labourer for ₹250 a day.

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Printable version | May 7, 2021 11:49:50 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/in-shivpuri-access-to-water-riven-by-caste/article30892629.ece

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