Monday, July 08, 2002

Caste wars rock Orissa again

Ashutosh Mishra/Bhubaneswar

Orissa's caste cauldron is simmering again with dalits of Brahmagiri in Puri district locking horns with the upper caste of khandayats out to grab their land. The war turned gory last week when hundreds of khandayats (kshatriyas) attacked the low caste kandras and bauris of Gadkokal village under Brahmagiri block while the latter were tending their 14-acre Bhoodan-donated land.

Three dalits, Nakul Bhoi, Duryodhan Bhoi and Banmali Bhoi, were admitted to different hospitals after receiving serious injuries while many others escaped with minor wounds.

Ironically, while the police is reported to have arrested some dalits in connection with the incident, the alleged upper caste goons are still roaming free.

Stung by the partisan role of the police and the administration, the dalits, now organised under the banner of Ambedkar-Lohia Vichar Manch, are planning to stage a dharna outside the Puri collector's office on Monday. The dharna would be the underdogs' declaration of full-fledged war against their tormentors.

The land, which has become the bone of contention, was donated to the dalit families at Gadkokal during the Bhoodan movement more than two decades ago.

Initially they sought to grow paddy on the land but frequent waterlogging soon forced them to consider the much more lucrative option of prawn cultivation which is still the rage in Puri district.

It was, perhaps, the success of prawn farming which drew the ire of the upper castes who began claiming that the land was disputed and belonged as much to the dalits as anybody else. The fact that it was Bhoodan-donated land made the matters worse for the dalits.

Shantilata Bhoi, wife of injured Shyam Sunder Bhoi, now cooling his heels in jail, said her castemen were caught between the twin batteries of upper caste persecution and police indifference.

While the officer-in-charge of Brahmagiri police station refused to entertain their complaint in the wake of the incident, even the superintendent of police and the district collector did not evince much interest in the case. "We are being forcibly evicted from our own land and on top of that the police are siding with the goons. What can be worse?" she asked, her eyes brimming.

Incidentally, this is not the first instance of a dalit-upper caste confrontation in Brahmagiri which has turned into a cockpit between the two sides for the last few years.

Not long ago, the area was in news when the savarnas ripped through a marriage pandal set up by the scheduled castes who were then saddled with a plethora of criminal cases in an obvious bid to break their spirit.

Source: The Pioneer, July 8, 2002

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