Discrimination writ large on 50 Dalit youth gathered in institute off Ahmedabad to learn empowerment skills

untouchable-prohibited-in-templesBy Rajiv Shah

Discrimination is writ large on their face, whether it was distribution of water, entry into the temple, getting haircut from the local barber, or constructing toilets. Around 50 of them had come all the way from different parts of India to be “empowered” at the Dalit Shakti Kendra (DSK), a unique institute about 20 kilometres south of Ahmedabad, set up by Dalit rights activist Martin Macwan more than a decade ago.

A few of them, like Babloo from a small village in Dehradun district of Uttarakhand, has faced attacks from dominant castes when they tried entering into the local temple. “We tried doing it by forming a group of 150. We were attacked. Police refused to take complaint. Even today, they threaten me”, he says.

Yet another youth hailing from a nearby village in the same district, Dinesh Jonsara, said, entry into the temple, situated in Lakshiyar town, is banned for Dalits even those who helped construct it. “My father was a mason. I helped him build the temple in 2009. The temple management was reluctant to even pay us, saying it was religious work. And after we built the temple, our entry is banned”, he says.

Telling a similar story, Mehul Rathod from Savda village in Patdi taluka of Gujarat said, “I did the painting work at the Ramji temple. They told is its God’s work, hence we shouldn’t charge any wages, though I managed to get my share. When it came to entering into the temple, we are barred.”

“This happened”, he said, “Despite the fact that the village has a Dalit Sarpanch, who has been a campaigner against illegal sand mining from the protected forest area of the Rann of Kutch, situated in the neighbourhood. He took out a rally against illegal mining. About 10 of us were beaten up. One of us was hospitalized. Later, there was a wider protest. Today, there is permanent police company posted in the village to maintain peace.”

The boys had come from Uttarkhand, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, and Gujarat – most of them Dalits or Adaivasis – to learn technical skills and interact with Dalit rights activists on the need to stand up against discrimination. The 45-day programme ended last week.

In a quick survey, of the 50 boys who had gathered for interaction with Counterview, 20 said there were separate cups from “untouchables” at village tea stalls; 14 said temple entry was banned; 12 said, Dalits had separate cremation grounds in their villages; and 10 said they witnessed “violent attacks” on Dalits when they protested against an untouchability practice.

Ramsingh Sanehi from a rural area next to Pamgarh town in Chhattisgarh, said, the Dalits in the village from where he hails are not allowed to take water from the common water source, a well, when persons from the dominant castes are there. “We cannot touch their buckets. There have been police complaints, but things have not changed”, he said.

Making a similar complaint, Lalu Ravidas, who hails from Jharkhand’s Navadi village, about 26 km away from Bokaro Steel Plant, said, “Our children are made to sit separately in schools.” He added, as for toilets, “90 per cent of the households in the Dalit basti do not have them, with the government not providing the funds it had promised in order to build them.”

Jaiprakash Kol and Jitendra Kol, who is from separate villages in Riva district of Madhya Pradesh, complained that access to water, even from the handpump, was a problem, especially when an upper caste person was around. “There discrimination in disbursement of funds for building toilets, for getting work under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, in providing midday meal to children”, both of them said.

The interaction revealed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s much-hyped campaign to build toilets 110 million toilets across India by 2019 may have lost steam. Majority their houses “did not have toilets” as the Government of India funds, which were to be given to the villagers to build toilets, had not been disbursed to them.

Arvind Chaudhary – who hails from Aruvari village in Allahabad district – said, “Of the 250 Dalit households in a village of 1,500, just one per cent have toilets, and no funds have been given.”

Asit Ranjan, who is from a neighbouring village, however, says, “After Mayawati became Uttar Pradesh chief minister, Dalits feel empowered. Gone are the days when the barber wouldn’t entertain a Dalit, or temple entry was banned. Now, we propose to take the fight for toilets.”

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