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Bihar: A Dalit Community in Samastipur Faces Violence, Ostracisation For Refusing to Remove a Cow Carcass

"They are behaving with us as if we are not human beings," said Suresh Ravidas.

Patna: Surajpur village, a sleepy hamlet in Bihar’s Samastipur district, is sitting on a powder keg. The Dalit community in the village has been socially boycotted and confined into their houses for not following the diktats of some strongmen in the village.    

On December 29, members of the Ravidas community, a scheduled caste, said they would not remove the carcass of a cow without being paid fair wages for the same.  A cow belonging to one Ram Chandra Sah had died a day earlier. Sah’s family members had asked Suresh Ravidas and his kin to dispose the carcass.

Houses looted, barred from irrigating fields

Following the Dalit community’s refusal to remove the carcass, the strongmen barged into the former’s houses and looted their belongings. The women were thrashed in full public view by the Koeris — an extremely backward caste in Bihar but a dominant group in the village.       

The strongmen even blocked the road leading to the Dalit hamlet and prevented them from fetching drinking water from the nearby hand pumps. 

“They are behaving with us as if we are not human beings,” said Suresh Ravidas while speaking to NewsCentral24x7.  

The village, which falls under Ujiarpur block in Samastipur district, around 100 km north east of state capital Patna, presents a glaring example of rising incidents of atrocities against Dalits.  

“Life has virtually become hell for us. Some strongmen of the village have ostracised us. It is not safe to move outside. Most of the male members have deserted their houses and shifted elsewhere out of fear of attack from the men of the other caste,” 45-year-old Santosh Ravidas told NewsCentral24x7

He added that Sah, an affluent man in the village, had held a secret meeting of a section of residents known for their muscle power, and decided to ‘teach’ the Dalits a ‘lesson’ for defying the diktat. 

The next morning (December 29), hundreds of lathi-wielding people reached the Ravidas tola (hamlet), hurled abuses at men and women and looted their belongings. They also damaged the the makeshift temple where the Dalit community used to offer prayers.

“They (strongmen) have barred us from irrigating our land. As a result, wheat crops are withering away. We are at our wit’s end about what to do and whom to approach for justice” another resident, Bholi Ram, told NewsCentral24x7.

The children of the Dalit community have stopped going to the school. “Our children are abused and harassed in the school by the children of the strongmen,” 55-year-old Suresh told NewsCentral24x7, adding that he has not witnessed such an ugly scene in the locality in the last five decades.

A video of the attack that took place on December 29

Police asks victims to ‘compromise’

Though the victims lodged a formal complaint, no action has been initiated against the offenders. “The matter is under investigation,” said Kamal Ram, the station house officer (SHO) of SC/ST police station in Samastipur, around 100 km northeast of state capital Patna. He added that the police received the complaint on January 13.

Samastipur SP Harpreet Kaur, whom the victims had met at her office, assured prompt action but in vain. “I will inquire into the matter,” she said, when apprised of the police’s inaction. 

Residents said a police team from the Ujiarpur police station, led by its SHO Manoj Kumar Singh, visited the village and tried to pacify the situation. Instead of taking action against the culprits, Singh allegedly suggested that the Dalits reach a compromise. 

No recourse from the panchayat

“Had we been aware of this situation, we would not have demanded wages and instead obeyed them (Koeris). We are living under constant threat from influential people,” 25-year-old Ajit Ram told NewsCentral24x7

The mukhiya (head) of Pataili panchayat Laldev Singh, however, defended the Koeris and said that the Dalits were more “aggressive” on the issue. “Everything is in the notice of the senior police and administrative officials,” he said, adding that a dispute over a plot of government land at the village was the reason behind the incident. 

However, Singh admitted that refusal to remove the animal’s carcass led to the tension in the village.

One Mahesh Ram told NewsCentral24x7, “The mukhiya will always side with the Kushwahas as he belongs to the same community.”

Atrocities against Dalits continue unabated in Bihar

This is not an isolated case. Recently, a 35-year-old Dalit, identified as Yamuna Ram, was shot dead at Tilathpur village under the Piro police station in Bhojpur district. This was followed by the rape of a woman of the same community in the Raniganj police station area in Katihar district.

Last year, a group of upper caste men had attacked the wedding procession of a Dalit groom Sudhir Paswan at Rajputana Tola under the Rajapakar police station in Vaishali district. Shockingly, the incident had taken place in the presence of the police. 

The attack on marriage procession was followed the lynching of 55-year-old Nagendra Paswan, allegedly by the members of the Sahni (fishermen) community at Murtuzapur Dumri village in Vaishali district last year. The lynching had led to violent protests. 

Ram Pratap Neeraj, a retired professor and former principal of MJK College, Bettiah (BRA Bihar University, Muzaffarpur), told NewsCentral24x7 that the cases of atrocities against SCs have shot up alarmingly in the state. “It’s a matter of concern for the NDA government both at the Centre and in the state,” he added.

A recent verdict of a Bhojpur court in a Dalit atrocity case, however, came as a big relief. Five men, including an RJD leader, were awarded a seven-year jail term and 15 others were sentenced to two-year imprisonment for brutally attacking a Dalit woman and parading her naked in Bihiyan town of Bhojpur district last year. 

An official of the Bihar State SC/ST Commission Amit Kumar told NewsCentral24x7 that a large number of complaints are not reported to the police at all.

On the other hand, the Additional Director General, CID (Criminal Investigation Department) Vinay Kumar attributed the rise in the cases under SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act to awareness among the victims. He told NewsCentral24x7, “Earlier, cases were not reported to the police. Now, each district has a separate SC/ST police station to deal with such complaints. Even officers belonging to SC/ST community have been posted in those police stations to ensure justice to the victims.”

NDA’s fortunes hang in the balance

Professor Neeraj added that the NDA government in Bihar would have to pay a heavy price for not prioritising the issue of atrocities against Dalit. Cases of rape, molestation, murder and violence against Dalits have gone up recently, which was a result of deterioration in law and order situation in the state, he said.

Former minister Ramai Ram of Loktantrik Janata Dal founded by Sharad Yadav, claimed that Dalits constitute about 16 percent of the total 104 million population of Bihar, which amply indicates their political strength. He said that the March 2 Supreme Court ruling had triggered violent protests across the country in which nine persons lost their lives.  

Dalit community
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar

To placate the situation, Nitish Kumar government decided to offer financial grants for civil services aspirants from SC/ST communities who cleared the preliminary examinations and also announced provision of 15 kg of food-grain to every student in government hostels for underprivileged. The government also announced the setting up of a commission to look into the betterment of members of Dalit community.  

Speaking to NewsCentral24x7 on condition of anonymity, a senior JD(U) said, “The Nitish Kumar-led NDA government in the state has delivered some quick-fix sops to ensure that the anger building up among Dalits against the BJP doesn’t scorch the JD(U) in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls.”

Senior RJD leader and former Rajya Sabha MP Shivanand Tiwary told NewsCentral24x7, “More than 70 percent Dalits are with us. Dalits have been deceived by the NDA leaders on one pretext or the other. They will certainly express their anger against the NDA government in the upcoming national election.” Former chief minister and Dalit leader Jitan Ram Manjhi corroborated Shivanand’s claim.

For the Bhim Sena, an organisation fighting for the cause of Dalits in Bihar, Bharatiya Janata Party is now the number one enemy. Its state president Amar Azad told NewsCentral24x7, “We don’t have any grudge against Nitish Kumar. But as Nitish’s JD(U) is a coalition partner, it too will have to face the consequences.”

The simmering anger of the Dalit community is palpable everywhere. With the Lok Sabha elections around the corner, the NDA should not expect to repeat its 2014 performance in the state.

(Ramashankar Mishra is a Patna-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters)

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