A village situated on the outskirts of the Madhya Pradesh capital epitomizes a distressing reality, wherein barbers not only refuse to trim the hair of Dalits but also forbid their entry into temples.
This revelation, despite the modern era's progress, is truly astonishing. Even after 76 years of India's independence, individuals belonging to the Scheduled Castes continue to endure the deplorable treatment akin to untouchability.
The Kodia village, located approximately 30 kilometers from the capital city of Bhopal, serves as the focal point for this disconcerting issue. Within this village, a Valmiki family experiences the social ostracism imposed by the upper caste community.
Determined to delve deeper into this matter, The Mooknayak team embarked on an investigation and subsequently compiled a comprehensive report.
Kodia village, situated within the Phanda block and Huzur assembly segment of Bhopal district, is home to a population of approximately two and a half thousand residents. This village stands out for its immaculate cleanliness and the availability of essential amenities. Government hospitals, ration shops, schools, well-maintained roads, and access to clean water through taps are present throughout the village. The dominant communities in Kodia village are the Mewada Rajputs and Gaur Kurmis.
In the early hours of the morning, The Mooknayak team embarked on a journey from Bhadbhada Road in Bhopal, taking approximately one hour to reach the village via Neelbad and Ratibad. Upon our arrival, we witnessed Mukesh Valmiki and his wife Rajkumari diligently engaged in the task of cleaning the village. Their unwavering dedication to their work was apparent, as even during our conversation, their attention remained fixed on their responsibilities. It was approximately 11 o'clock in the morning when Mukesh shared that he begins his cleaning duties at 5 a.m.
Once Mukesh and his wife had completed their work, they graciously led us to their modest abode located at one end of the village.
The small dwelling consisted of two rooms with a thatched roof made of tinshed, and tarpaulin serving as an outer layer. It was evident that the size of the house was insufficient for the entire family to sustain themselves comfortably.
Mukesh shared that he, his wife, their two sons, and seven other family members, including their spouses, resided in this humble dwelling.
Mukesh fulfills the role of a sweeper in the Gram Panchayat of Kodia, with his wife selflessly assisting him in the village's cleaning duties without any remuneration. Their younger son, Satish, serves as the driver of the garbage van belonging to the Gram Panchayat.
Mukesh informed us that his monthly salary from the Gram Panchayat amounts to three thousand rupees. To supplement their income, their elder son works as a drummer during wedding ceremonies. It is through these combined efforts that their family manages to sustain themselves. Rajkumari, Mukesh's wife, sadly disclosed that they are denied entry into temples, emphasizing the discrimination they face.
Mukesh revealed that his family has endured the wretched practice of untouchability for generations. They are denied the basic right to be treated as equals alongside the upper castes in the village.
Even the local barber refuses to cut their hair, perpetuating the discrimination they face. Adding to their distress, the owners of tea shops, who serve tea to others in glass and clay cups, provide Mukesh and his family with disposable cups, further highlighting the social divide.
Mukesh's younger son, Satish, holds the position of a garbage van driver in the Gram Panchayat and actively participates in door-to-door garbage collection within the village.
Satish shared his experiences of being subjected to disdainful gazes from the community. People avert their eyes upon encountering them, and the upper caste individuals go to great lengths to distance themselves from even the slightest contact with Satish. He is also denied the right to sit on chairs at the local tea and snack shops, emphasizing the systemic discrimination faced by his family.
Kodia village is home to four prominent temples, namely the Ram Janaki Temple, Shiva Temple, Hanuman Temple, and Dev Narayan Temple. The Dev Narayan Temple holds significant religious importance for the Mewara Rajput community, serving as their ancestral place of worship.
In addition to these major temples, the village boasts a total of nine temples, varying in size and stature. Regrettably, the entry of Dalits has been prohibited due to the prejudiced mindset of certain individuals who uphold the caste system.
In our pursuit of understanding the caste dynamics within the village, we attempted to contact Seema Rajput, the elected Sarpanch of Kodia. However, her husband, Uday Singh Rajput, answered the call instead.
Despite our request to speak with Seema, Uday Singh claimed that she was not available at the moment. When confronted about the evident and overt practice of untouchability in the village, he denied any caste-based discrimination against Dalits. He attributed such actions to long-standing traditions that have persisted through generations, downplaying the severity of the issue.
In order to gather the perspective of the local administration regarding this issue, The Mooknayak team reached out to Akash Srivastava, the SDM (Sub-Divisional Magistrate) of the Huzur area. Expressing disbelief, the SDM remarked that the existence of untouchability in independent India appeared implausible.
He mentioned that he had recently visited Kodia as part of a program but had not received any complaints regarding such practices. The SDM acknowledged that it was through the team's inquiry that this matter had come to his attention. He assured that he would personally visit the village and meet with the Valmiki family, who are the victims of discrimination.
During the conversation with The Mooknayak, Vijay Shravan, the state spokesperson of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Officer Employees Association, expressed his deep concern over the occurrence of caste-based discrimination in the village. He regarded it as an unfortunate reflection of the state of our society and its class divisions.
According to him, the presence of such oppressive practices near the capital city highlights the apathetic approach of the administration towards addressing these issues. He emphasized the need for immediate action to be taken against those responsible. Vijay Shravan further assured that he would raise this matter in the upcoming meeting of the Association ensuring that it receives the attention it deserves.
Advocate Mayank Singh, hailing from Bhopal, emphasized that caste discrimination, including the denial of entry into temples and mistreatment, is considered a criminal offense under the SC/ST (Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes) Prevention of Atrocities Act of 1989.
According to the law, individuals found guilty of such acts can face imprisonment for a maximum of seven years, along with fines, if convicted. This legal provision serves as a deterrent against caste-based discrimination and reinforces the protection of the rights and dignity of SC and ST individuals.