Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Chamars face starvation after upper caste blockade

Manoj Shrestha

Rajbiraj, November 2:

Hundred Chamar families are in a state of starvation due to economic blockade imposed by the so-called upper caste people in Bisaharia VDC of Saptari. The blockade, which began from Kartik 3, has prevented Chamars from practising their profession or earning their livelihood through other means, lamented the Chamars while talking to this daily. Fifty-five years old Sonia Devi Ram showing a baby on her lap, said, “It has got nothing to eat for the last two days. If such a situation continues, this baby and we all will die of starvation.” Ram Chandra Ram, Jagadish Ram, Sukal Ram and Bechan Ram, who were working in Amin Yadav’s household, were fired from their jobs. Over 400 Chamar women lost their job of harvesting in a local landlord’s field. The loss has affected them dearly, putting at stake their survival itself. Blockade and starvation have forced over 70 students of local Mahawi secondary school to abandon their classes. According to the Chamars, their castefolk are denied even the right to buy medicines from local medical stores. When Jeevan Ram went to buy medicine for his wife, Satuniya Devi, the shopowner refused to sell him the medicine.

Their social mobility has also been blocked. “We are not being allowed to visit public places, medical stores, grocery stores or ponds,” said the Chamars.

The blockade began after people from Yadav and Dev communities accused the Chamars of refusing to dispose of four animal carcasses or play Dhol during Dashain. The Chamars later dug up the animals for their skins, ex-ward chairman Tek Narayan Yadav alleged. He added they also refused to play Dhol during Dashain. “Why should we employ them when they do not follow traditions?” said Yadav, adding, “The blockade can be lifted after negotiations.” The Chamars number around 800, from the 100 families living in Bisahariya VDC ward nos. 4,7 and 8 on the banks of Saptari district’s Khado river. A Dalit activist, Bhola Paswan, said although the blockade was lifted for three days — from Kartik 7 to 9 — it was re-imposed.

Chief District Officer Ananda Raj Pokhrel told this daily he had asked the deputy uperintendent of police, Sanjaya Singh Basnet, to try and end the blockade.

Source: The Himalayan Times, November 2, 2004

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