Thursday, September 19, 2002

Violent caste politics in Chitraakoot

Radhika Bordia

Thursday, September 19, 2002:

In Chitraakoot, the presence of police is an ominous reminder of the cracks in the Uttar Pradesh ruling coalition.

In the Dalit quarter of Bhanri village on the night after voting for the BSP in the UP Assembly elections in February, 16 Dalit men and women were severely beaten. The Dalits claim the action against them was taken at the behest of a BJP activist.

One of those beaten, Harish Chandra Ahirwar, a Dalit leader and active BSP worker, died in the violence.

"All night they thrashed us repeatedly using sticks and kept saying why have you voted for the elephant symbol. You can ask anyone, the pradhan was involved in this," recalls Sundi Devi, mother of Harish.

The pradhan she names is Badri Prasad Tripathi of the BJP. Technically it's his wife who is the pradhan. But in reality it is Tripathi who controls the village and is alleged to have hired three men with criminal histories to kill Harish.

"He used to tell the people not to be oppressed by the upper castes and because of him people had started to assert their equality. The pandits could not bear to see this so they eliminated him," claims Harish's widow.

A case was registered against Tripathi and the other three. All four were sent to jail and 11 Dalits including Harish's family were given gun licenses to protect themselves.

But seven months later Tripathi is out on bail back as the defacto pradhan.

The dividing line between the upper caste area and the Dalit basti has always been very distinct in this village. But after the February incident there is a new sense of fear and tension throughout. Infact the villagers say that the pradhan is not implementing any of the Dalit schemes.

The pradhan for his part says he has been framed. His bitter description of the BSP exposes the fault lines of what has always been seen as an uneasy political alliance.

"For a long time they said they would have nothing to do with us as we are a party of the upper castes. But now that we have given them our support and they are in power they should ensure that we are not harassed," says Tripathi.

Source: NDTV, September 19, 2002

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