Editor's Note: Discrimination against communities deemed as lower castes is a part-and-parcel of life in rural India. Communities that command power and influence to ostracise and harass the lower castes at will and with impunity as police prove to be of little help. In this four-part series, we attempt to establish the prevalence and gravity of casteism in various states of India, its various forms, why the 'upper castes' prefer this approach and what the conviction rate is for crimes against those belonging to lower castes.
Satna: While modern society likes to believe that caste-based discrimination is decreasing, it’s what is keeping three standard five students in Satna district of Madhya Pradesh from going to school.
As the Madhya Pradesh government was celebrating ‘School Chale Hum (let’s go to school)' on 24 June — the day schools in the state reopened after summer vacation — the primary school in Putrichuwa village of Majhgawan block witnessed zero attendance.
The three students — who belong to the Domar community, incidentally the same as Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar — stopped going to school months before summer vacation. They are yet to rejoin after the vacations ended.
Sachin Bansal (name changed), 10, while playing with his siblings at the playground in school’s campus, said he does not come to school once the vacation ends. “We can roam everywhere in school during vacations. We can even touch the hand pump, but during school days, we are not allowed to do such things because of untouchability," said Sachin.
After four years of being treated as an untouchable by his teachers and peers, Sachin dropped out of school. He said the teachers would make him sit away from other students, and never stopped other students from making casteist comments.
Nisha Bansal (name changed), 10, who used to study in the same school as Sachin, said they faced discrimination from people of other communities and they would protest, but when the teachers would indulge in such behaviour, opposing them wasn’t an option.
“When I oppose our teacher, they beat us, and that's the only time when they touch us without caring about our caste,” she said, adding that she was instructed to sit at least four feet away from others.
Manju (name changed), one of three students of Domar community, said she has found mud in her mid-day meals and suspects that someone puts it there deliberately.
She said that while she is hoping to just complete her education at the primary school, she fears her teachers wouldn’t allow her to pass the exam without meeting the attendance criteria.
Phool Bai (name changed), the mother of Sachin Bansal, said her children have questioned her about untouchability, but they have resigned to such behaviour from the residents of the college.
However, school authorities denied the prevalence of untouchability. Manjula Shrivastava, assistant teacher and in-charge of school, said the students have not been attending school despite several attempts to inform the students and parents about the school's opening.
Manjula said most of the students belong to the Mawasi community, and only a few are from the Domar community. She said that though she is trying to make people aware of the evils of untouchability, parents of the students ask her to not make Domar students sit with Mawasi students.
Madhya Pradesh is ranked third in terms of cases of atrocities against members of Scheduled Caste. As per the latest statistics by the National Crime Records Bureau, Madhya Pradesh reported 3,294, 3,546 and 4,922 cases in 2014, 2015 and 2016 respectively.
While the statistics show the rising trend of atrocities against members of lower castes, government officials seem to be caught unaware. Satendra Singh, District Collector of Satna, pleaded ignorance of the issue.
Krishna Mohan Tiwari, director of the Social Justice Department of the Madhya Pradesh government, said that this issue does not fall under the ambit of his department. The Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment is responsible for the implementation of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 except the administration of criminal justice in regard to offences under the Act.
Despite several attempts to contact him, TP Singh, District Education Officer of Satna, was not available for comments.
According to data by the National Crime Records Bureau, Madhya Pradesh did not register even a single case under the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955, in 2016. There was only one case registered under this act during calendar years 2006 to 2008 in Madhya Pradesh. Article 17 of the Constitution of India has abolished the practice of untouchability; its practice in any form is forbidden and it is an offence punishable in accordance with the law. An Act of Parliament, namely, the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955, prescribes punishment for the enforcement of any disability arising from preaching and practice of untouchability.
Stigma upholds casteism
Shiv Kailash Mawasi, an activist, said the Dalits are being discriminated against not only by members of the upper caste, but by other Dalits also. He narrated an incident from a few years ago when he was disallowed from drinking water from a well — which belonged to a member of upper caste — by a Dalit woman.
Rajaram Mawasi, a resident of Putrichuwa, said it’s not only the kids who face discrimination, but also the villagers during the collection of forest produce. People from upper castes capture ‘Mahua’ trees with a cloth or stick, and then no one can pick produce from those trees except people from a particular community, he informed.
Rajju (name changed), 12, a member of the Mawasi community, said that he was forced to take baths after playing with children of Domar community. His grandmother wouldn’t even allow him to enter the house after he had played with his friend from the Domar community. However, Rajju himself faces discrimination as he not allowed to touch anything whenever he goes to Thakur Muhalla.
(Author is a Bhopal-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com.)
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Updated Date: Aug 06, 2019 17:02:33 IST