Dalits don’t redraw the village map here, those who do get killed
Gujjar beats 65-year-old Regar to death for praying in upper caste temple, cops says cases of atrocities on lower castes on the rise
Bhilwara, June 10: Did they say something about caste loosening its stranglehold over rural India? That, post-Mandal, it is finally possible for lower castes to achieve previously unheard of social mobility? They were wrong. In a Rajasthan village, the archetypal evils of the caste system—separate wells, a bar on entry of dalits into temples, segregated houses—are not just alive, they’re causing deaths.
A simple act of faith proved fatal for Ghasi, from Bhadkiyan village in Kotdi tehsil, 50 kms from the industrial town of Bhilwara in southern Rajasthan. 65-year-old Ghasi, an SC/ST labourer belonging to the Regar caste, did the unthinkable: he dared pay obeisance at the Dooni Mata Devra built by the upper caste Rajputs and Gujjars in his village.
Suffering from typhoid for the past ten days, the drained Ghasi had walked across to the Dooni Mata Devra and bent his head in prayer. At this, say villagers, 40-year-old Narayan, a wealthy Gujjar and owner of 60 bighas of land, a tractor and two houses in the village, shouted across to him from his house opposite the temple: ‘‘Who are you to pray here?’’
Narayan rushed towards Ghasi and beat him to death with an iron rod. He returned to his house, where he lay down and started swigging liquor. Narayan was later arrested and charged under Section 3 Clause 10 of the Harijan Atrocity Act. However not a single official from the civil administration has visited Ghasi’s family till now, with either compensation or a word or two of sympathy.
Ghasi’s family is shocked and resigned. Says his 30-year-old son Shankar, ‘‘What revenge can a poor man take? We only hope the police hangs Narayan, otherwise he will return and kill us if he is freed.’’
The pecking order in Bhadkiyan village is well mapped out and rigid. The Regar community live in just ten huts in a village with 300. They are not allowed to enter the ornate marble floored Charbhuja temple which towers alongside the Devra. Instead, they pray in a simple Ramdevji temple—a mud-floored open shrine decorated with two stone slabs and a cloth flag. Nor can they offer prayers at the Dooni Mata Devra where the Rajputs and Gujjars conduct pujas twice a month on the occasion of Ashtami. ‘‘We just bow down and rub our noses on the floor from a distance,’’ says a villager.
The Regars, who have long abandoned their traditional occupation of skinning animals, still get their water from a separate handpump and well. The upper castes do invite them to weddings and other functions, but they are served food in a separate enclosure. And they dare not return the favour: no upper caste member is seen dining in their homes.
Not surprisingly, say the police, incidents such as Ghasi’s death are common. Informs ASI Noor Mohammad at the Kotdi police station, ‘‘The number of complaints under the SC/ST Atrocity Act has shot up recently. Under this act, anticipatory bail is not given and it is a non-bailable offence to be investigated only by a DSP rank officer. Whenever there is a complaint, we rush our force immediately.’’
Last month in Saharia village, ten kms from Kotdi, a dalit bridegroom was not allowed to remain seated on a horse when his wedding procession passed through an upper caste area. The police had to intervene and accompany the procession.