Saturday, September 18, 2004

Dalit farmers face harassment in MP village

Saturday, September 18, 2004 (Mundla):

Close to 20 Dalit farmers in Madhya Pradesh have returned home after harassment by upper caste thakurs forced them to flee their villages.

The farmers had left their homes in Mundla village a month ago and returned only after the local sarpanch backed them against the thakurs terrorizing them.

Dalits boycotted

The trouble began in 2002 when the state government distributed over 35 acres of land to Dalit families. The thakurs, afraid the Dalits would no longer work as labourers, began boycotting the community.

"On August 13 the upper caste thakurs of this village held a meeting in the temple and decided to boycott the 19 families, which got land," said Kailash Patel, the sarpanch.

"They stopped using them for work. Anyone who associated with the Dalits faced a fine of Rs 5000. There was a lot of tension after that," Patel added.

"The villagers decided in the temple and said they would beat up the Dalits. So I thought my life was in danger and ran away from the village," said a Dalit farmer, Babulal.

But after the village sarpanch stepped in, he forced the local police station to file an FIR against the thakurs and asked the Dalit men to return home.

Fear runs high

While the Dalits have returned to the village, fear still runs rampant within the community.

"I am very afraid. If they kill my husband why should I live? I have small children. Who will look after them?" lamented Teju Bai.

The district administration admits there is fear in the village, but maintains it can do little to intervene.

"This is basically a problem between the Dalits and the thakurs. The administration has nothing to do with it," said Sheela Deshpande, SDM, Sihor.

The Dalit villagers got their lands under former Chief Minister Digvijay Singh's Dalit agenda. They dreamt of social equality, but changing social and political dynamics have left their dreams in tatters.

Source: NDTV, September 18, 2004

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