Dalits Become Brothers and Sisters During Elections, But Turn Untouchables Once Polls are Over — a Ground Report

“Forget about entering temples, they (people belonging to the socially influential ‘upper’ caste) don’t even let us climb its stairs,” alleged the socially outcasted in Sehore and Vidisha districts. Notably, Vidisha parliamentary constituency has been represented by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, former Union Minister Sushma Swaraj and ex-Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, while Sehore is Chouhan’s birthplace.
They have endured violence, marginalization, stigma and prejudice for millennia.
They have endured violence, marginalization, stigma and prejudice for millennia.Representational image

Bhopal/Vidisha (Madhya Pradesh): Dalits in India are equal citizens allegedly only till elections. Once the polls are over, they allegedly become untouchables and face unimaginable discrimination. They have endured violence, marginalization, stigma and prejudice for millennia. The community, also referred to as the “untouchables”, experiences lifelong marginalisation, exclusion and breaches of their human rights from birth. They are not allowed to go to temples. Even the priest does not come to their house.

We take you to a few villages in Bhopal, Vidisha and Sehore districts that are inhabited by Dalits only. Ichhawar, which is 70 kilometers from the district headquarters of Sehore, has not more than 100 households.

Residents alleged they have not got land lease and a house under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana because of discrimination.

“The condition of my house has become such that even our relatives have stopped visiting us,” said Leela Bai, a villager, alleging that they face discrimination against at every step.

Resham Bai said she had observed fast and performed puja (worship) at her place. But she alleged the temple priest refused to come to her place.

“They don’t allow us to go to the only Ram temple in the village. Forget about entering the temple, they don’t even let us climb its stairs. As part of marriage rituals, coconuts are offered to the God in the temple. Since we are not allowed to enter the temple, we give the coconut to people belonging to the ‘upper’ caste who go inside and offer it to God,” she narrated.

When there is a puja (worship) in the temple, she said, they sprinkle turmeric and rice outside and come back.

The people of this Dalit village said they have raised the issue many times at the village panchayat and with ‘upper’ caste people, but to no avail.

They said casteism does not spare them even after death. They made separate arrangements for burning their dead as they are not allowed to share the village crematorium.

Baldev Singh Jangra was born in this colony and now his children are also growing up there. He said he has been facing the discrimination since his childhood.

“We never have any temples for offering prayers. The places of worship in our village are under their (‘upper’ caste communities) control, and we are not allowed there. We go to the temples sometimes and perform darshan from outside as our entrance is forbidden. Isn’t it caste discrimination?” he said.

Recalling an incident, he said a fellow villager had once gone to a temple to attend a religious gathering. “He went inside the temple to take prasad (offering made to God). The ‘upper’ caste people threw him out, asking him to stand outside,” he alleged.

Outside the hamlet, there is a hand pump from where the residents collect water. The villagers said the hand pump is their only source of water because the water connection that has come in the village is just for name sake.

Madanlal said he along with others had given money when the water pipeline was being installed, but it turned out to be of no use. They alleged this is also due to discrimination.

“Neither do we have access to the most basic need of water, nor do we get a land lease or have a temple to perform puja. If we organise prayers at home, we don’t find a priest to enable it. The pandits (priests) don’t come to our homes because we belong to ‘lower’ castes and are ‘untouchables’. We are humiliated by calling us ‘chamar’ (generally cobblers by profession), ‘dhobi’ (who are traditionally washermen), ‘balai’ (generally weavers by profession), ‘bhangi’ (traditionally sweepers), etc,” he alleged.

The alleged discrimination is not just restricted to Kheri village only, they said, it happens to Dalits across the state and country for that matter.

The residents of Chandbarh, which is adjacent to Sehore district headquarters, said that Dalit families in rural areas of Sehore district have to face discrimination and humiliation in their everyday life.

The area has a significant population of the Dalit community. The people here said they have now built a separate temple for their community so that no one stops them from offering prayers inside it.

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The land for the construction of the temple has been donated by one Basant Kumar Malviya.

He said a temple exclusively for Dalits was needed because the community is not allowed to enter into other temples in the locality.

Bhandaras (community kitchens) were organised everywhere, especially in temples, on the occasion of the consecration of the Ram temple in Ayodhya on January 22. When my fellow community men went there to have food, they were made to sit at a distant place and were fed,” he narrated, adding that the hatred against the Dalits can be gouged from the fact that local temples don’t even accept our monetary donation.

“At the time of voting”, he said, “they (the politicians and ‘upper’ caste people) call us as their brothers and sisters. A few politicians sometimes have food with us in our homes. But it always proved to be an optics as once the elections are over, the situation is back to square one. They begin abusing us as earlier and keep us away”.

Ratanlal Ahirwal looks after the Dalit temple in Chandbarh. He alleged the structure needs further construction work but the ‘upper’ caste people are causing “unnecessary drama”.

He said even after so many years, the government has not given land lease for a temple.

The Sehore district administration is accused of ignoring the issue of discrimination in the society. On March 19, women belonging to Muskura village at Sehore tehsil created ruckus at the collectorate after they were allegedly stopped from drawing water from a public tap.

They handed over a complaint in the form of a memorandum to the district magistrate. They have mentioned the alleged discrimination they face in everyday life.

Talking to journalists, the protesting women said, “There are 60 to 70 houses of our community in the village. People of other communities do not allow us to collect water from public taps. They ask us to collect water from elsewhere but not from the taps on which they claim their ownership. Harijan (Dalit) localities are faced with unimaginable untouchability.”

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However, Sehore District Magistrate Praveen Singh rejected the allegation of discrimination. “The incident of Muskara village is being investigated, but there is no such untouchability,” he claimed.

Rather he said some women of the village had come to the collectorate and submitted a memorandum to the joint collector, mentioning the issue of water crisis in the village.

“I myself had gone there to probe the matter. Some issues with regard to water were brought to our notice. There are nine bores in the village, out of which seven have now been fixed and started functioning. We did not find anything related Dalit atrocities and untouchability,” he said.

When asked about alleged untouchability being practiced at Kheri and Chandbarh, he said he has got the information about it only through the media.

He claimed to be sending teams of officers to both the places for a probe. “I am sending a team and whatever is necessary will be done. Action will be taken on the basis of the outcomes of their findings,” he added.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological mentor of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that has a significant presence across the length and breadth of the state, apparently acknowledged the alleged caste-based discrimination, describing it a “serious issue”.

“Untouchability has been prevalent within the Hindu society since the first day of its establishment. We are working among people to weed it out,” said a senior RSS functionary.

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“One group of the Hindu society does not allow the other to enter temples. There are difficulties in taking water from ponds or wells. A section of the society is not allowed to share even crematorium. It is unfortunate and is happening at smaller places, especially in villages. In urban areas, it is less visible or almost non-existent. But it’s a truth that the practice unfortunately is still there. So, we are trying to remove it,” he said.

Vidisha parliamentary constituency has jurisdiction over Kheri and Muskra villages. The seat has been represented in the Lok Sabha by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, former Union Minister Sushma Swaraj and ex-Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.

Sehore district is also Chouhan’s birthplace. Now the question arises that despite big names being associated with this constituency, why the alleged inequality prevalent in the society has not been abolished till now.

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