By Ankit Varma:
India is a land of diversities, a nuclear power which worships snakes, the largest English speaking nation with a disappointingly low literacy rate of 74%. We claim to be the world’s largest democracy while our society continues to remain divided along religion and caste.
Caste system in its earliest form was nothing but a stratified socio-economic organization of the society devoid of any grading and equal opportunity for all. Over the years caste system like many other ancient systems went under changes largely due to the absence of a central authority which made room for the caste system to be easily manipulated and exploited by those in position of authority and power.
The caste system in its current form undermines the unity of the society and results in alienation of certain portions of our society. Humiliation and discrimination are not just long words; it’s a way of life for millions across the country. Discriminatory and degrading treatment justified on the basis of caste is not a rare sight in the country.
The nondescriptÂ village of Bhagna, half-an-hour away from the district headquarters at Hisar in Haryana tells another story of caste divide. On 20th May, 70 Dalit families decided to sit on an indefinite dharna demanding prosecution of members of upper caste under the schedule caste/schedule tribe act. The reason, extension of house on portion of community land by a family of chamar community was termed as encroachment and issue was taken up by the village panchayat. The root cause of the friction between the communities is the order given by the village panchayat and subsequently the court passed against the construction activity undertaken by the Dalit family. The village panchayat ordered construction of a wall around the disputed piece of land blocking access to the house of the Dalit family. These orders were upheld by the court and the village community was swift to act on the orders and the wall was constructed a day after the orders were passed by the court. This was followed by orders of social boycott of the Dalit community. The Dalit community has accused the village panchayat of foul play and claim that both the judgments have a very strong casteist under-tones. Bowing down to the agitation the panchayat demolished a portion of the wall but the wall was reconstructed the same night by those in position of power. This has only reinforced the divide among the communities.
Members of the Dalit community allege that this was not the first incident of caste based discrimination in recent years. Last year around 220 acres of panchayat land was distributed illegally to the villagers. Although promised 100 square yards under the Mahatma Gandhi Gramin Basti Yojana of the Haryana government, they were given away smaller plots. Jats, on the other hand, were allotted land in proportion to their existing holdings. Dalit families were also charged Rs.1000 for registration while it was done free of cost for the Jats. The deputy commissioner has declared the whole process illegal. Although a complicit in the illegal land distribution, Dalits launched a complaint only in December when they realized that they were being duped and will loose the portion of panchayat land being used by dalit kids. However the sarpanch and village elders are in no mood to back track on their decision. Their argument remains that upcoming six acre stadium will cater to needs of all communities. On May 28th the khap panchayat met to resolve the issues. This meeting was also attended by members of the Dalit community. However Dalit representatives refused to negotiate and hence truce could not be reached.
Questions have also been raised on the leadership heading the Dalit protest. Three men Balraj Saatrodiya, Virendra Bhagoria and Vedpal Tanwar have been accused of acting on political stimulus to score brownie points with the Dalits of the region. Responding to the allegations they have put the blame on the government for dragging its feet on the matter. Deputy Commissioner Agrawal has expressed his concern on the matter and has appealed to both the communities to come up with a solution acceptable to all the stake holders. But this won’t be easy because of the levels of distrust have reached a new low. Many Jat families are of the opinion that had the police not been stationed there to maintain the law and order situation, Dalits would have enacted a Mirchpur-like incident by burning their own house.