Thursday, December 30, 2004

Pariahs are welcome as undertakers go to work

Sri Lankans of all castes and creeds pulled together to dig mass graves for reeking corpses strewn on the beaches as the death toll from the tsunami approached 22,000.

An estimated 1.5 million people in the south were left homeless, many sheltering in Buddhist temples and schools.

Buddhist and Hindu, Muslim and Christian were working together to bury the dead, treat the injured and rebuild in towns and villages at tourist beaches.

In the north and east, the Tamil Tiger rebels appealed for aid after their coastal strongholds were ravaged, leaving nearly 10,000 people dead in areas they control and 10,000 missing. Aid workers said residents were now threatened by thousands of plastic landmines unearthed by floodwaters.

There was little sign of the organised relief effort the Government is trying to mobilise; instead, people from inland were pouring to the coast to help.

Undertakers and coffin makers - pariahs in caste-conscious Sri Lanka - became heroes, braving the overwhelming stench of the bloated, fly-blown bodies they pulled from the debris.

"All of this lumber was meant for building furniture," said Eroll de Silva outside his Mugalle timber mill, a short distance from the beach at Unawatuna. "Now it will make coffins."

Buddhists hang white pennants outside their homes when relatives die, and these were hanging at about half the houses that escaped the direct onrush of Sunday's walls of water. The Christians flew black flags, the Muslims green. Hardly any family on the coast was unaffected.

Sri Lanka has endured two decades of strife between separatist Hindu Tamils and the Buddhist majority. There have also been tensions between Christians and Buddhists in the past year.

The disaster came a month after Tamil Tiger rebels threatened to break a three-year truce with the Government and resume the struggle for self-rule.

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald, December 30, 2004

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Dalit Tillers' 15-year fight for land

Kashipur (Uttaranchal): As 78-year-old Subedar Jasram got up to receive an award here, his misty eyes revealed everything about his 15-year-long struggle for getting back 1,168 acres of land.

Jasram and 150 families are still struggling to get their land entitlement despite a favourable verdict from the Supreme Court in February this year, says Grassroots Features. The struggle of the Dalits of Ambedkar Gaon in Shaheed Udham Singh Nagar district is a long history of betrayal and justice denied. The families were forcibly evicted in 1991 when the entire administration raided the village with bulldozers and trucks.

Women, old men and children were dragged out of their huts and put under arrest. When people resisted the move to demolish their huts and crop, they were beaten up. The brutal assault was mounted in connivance with a private company.

The Dalits were tilling land that was declared surplus by the Commissioner of Kumaon Division under the Uttar Pradesh Land Ceiling and Zamindari Act, 1973. About 878.67 acres was declared ceiling surplus land and 250 more acres were declared surplus in the name of a school.

The poor peasants, mostly Dalits, began to till the land in accordance with the provisions of the Land Ceiling Act under which any landless peasant would have ownership title of the land that he had been tilling for the past 20 years.

As long as it was wasteland, no one really bothered. But when the Dalits created a village there, Ambedkar Gaon, and the land became fertile, a private company claimed the land and approached the local administration.

Before the Dalits could get the land redistributed in their name legally, the private company moved the Allahabad High Court against the injunction of the Kumaon Commissioner.

Justice R.B. Mehrotra, who delivered the judgement in 1995, not only rejected the petition but also asked the state government to compensate the victim families for Rs.1 million.

The order was challenged in Supreme Court and in all these cases the Dalits were a party.

In 1997, social activists Vidya Bhushan Rawat and Namita Rawat who went to the spot on a fact-finding mission were targeted by upper caste Sikhs who were allegedly staying illegally in the disputed area.

As for Jasram, his credibility came under threat as people came to believe that he was receiving illegal gratification and not doing anything for them.

Vidya Bhushan Rawat started visiting Kashipur and Harinagar where most of the displaced families were staying. He advised them to form the Ambedkar Gaon Dalit Sangharsh Samiti so that the case could gain more weight in the Supreme Court.

"We had to fish out the old papers from the Registrar of the Supreme Court... Since it is difficult for poor people to pay a lawyer, they look up to NGOs like us to fight their cases," said Rawat.

While the case was continuing in Supreme Court, people in Harinagar started facing economic boycott.

Jasram's son, who was a resident of Harinagar, died in between and his paralysed wife passed away in April this year. In spite of these personal losses, Jasram did not let his morale sag.

And then good news followed.

"By justifying the ceiling law, the Supreme Court has clearly mentioned that the ceiling land given to the Dalits was right. Unfortunately, so far no action has been taken," says Rawat.

The Delhi-based Social Development Foundation (SDF) decided to honour Jasram for his commitment to the cause of the displaced Dalits of Ambedkar Gaon.

"I am happy my struggle has been recognised but sad that despite all efforts the state continues to deny me justice," says Jasram, with tears in his eyes.

Source: Indo-Asian News Service, Dec 19, 2004

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Quota system is borne out of discrimination

The need for reservation in various government sectors and institutions arises because of the discrimination present in the country.

This was stated by professor Bhalchandra Mungekar, member Planning Commission, government of India, while speaking on Reservation in the Private Sector at the 3rd ONGC Endowment Lecture at the University of Madras yesterday

He further said discrimination based on caste, sex and other factors were responsible to assure reservations to those affected and the victims of discrimination. He was especially highlighting the plight of the Dalits in the country.

Elaborating on it, Mungekar said the country had an unequal opportunity structure and the caste system prevalent in the country was defying any logic of division of labour.

Mentioning caste system as a psychological disorder of society, he said reservation alone had assured jobs even for qualified members of the SC/ST communities. He also observed that there were no Constitutional barriers for reservation in private sector and the effort, as promised in the ruling UPA government's Common Minimum Programme, could be realised in practice.

Professor S P Thyagarajan, Vice-Chancellor, University of Madras, in his address, stressed the need for economic reforms that were socially relevant. Dr A K Balyan, director (Human Resources), ONGC, many Dalit outfits and NGOs were present on the occasion.

Source: News Today, Dec 15, 2004

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Dalit village in TN awaits electricity

Sivaganga: A Dalit village in Sivaganga district of Tamil Nadu has been waiting for electricity for the past 56 years.


Their plight contradicts the Tamil Nadu government's claims to have achieved 100 per cent electrification of all villages.

Four of the houses here were built under the state government's group housing scheme. And although internal wiring has been done electricity has been denied for no reason.

Everyday problems

Half the population has migrated. While close to 15 families are still struggling, their school going children have been put in a local orphanage.

"As we are dalits, electricity is denied to us all. Villages around us have lights," says Vetachi, villager.

While there is no way to run pump sets, farmers draw water the whole day using primitive methods, just to save their crop so that they can have atleast one meal a day.

"If we get power, we can dig a well and can save our crop," says S Subiah, farmer.

Bureaucratic tangles

The electricity department blames it on the villagers for not approaching them formally.

While power connections need to be provided within 90 days, the department says the village may have to wait for yet another year.

"After getting sanction and funds we will complete the work. Time frame roughly upto six months to one year," says S P Balasubramanian, Superintendent Engineer.

Although there is a power line just 300 metres away from this village, such is the speed of the bureaucracy its going to take another year to connect this village.

While development has virtually come to a stand in this Dalit village, there are 78,000 similar villages in the country still waiting to be electrified.

Source: NDTV, December 14, 2004

Reservation in private sector is to give justice to dalits

Chennai: The proposed job reservation in private sector for backward communities should be treated as a compensatory policy for loss of jobs in PSUs after the economic liberalisation and privatisation policies, Planning Commission member Bhalchandra Mungekar said today.

"Reservation in private sector is to undo the damage done to the dalit communities over the last many decades. Nothing is more foolish than to presume that reservation will bring in inefficiency," Mungekar said in his address at the third ONGC Endowment Lecture at the University of Madras here.

Stating that there was no constitutional barrier for implementing reservation policy for private sector, he pointed out that thousands of jobs were lost in the public sector after the privatisation of PSUs and cost cutting exercise.

Mungekar, who handles education, labour and employment, social justice, and tribal affairs at the Planning Commission, said reservation should be considered as a means to provide "level playing field" for SC/ST communities to come into the social mainstream of the country.

He recalled how Indian companies sought level playing field to compete the might of MNCs and transnational companies during the opening up of the economy. Similarly, the SC/ST and the tribal communities need a level playing field to come into the social, cultural and political mainstream of the country.

Source: PTI, December 14, 2004

Sunday, December 12, 2004

BJP playing caste politics: Katiyar

"BJP should not indulge in caste politics. Instead they should encourage and promote leaders with popular support," Katiyar, who was replaced by Brahmin leader Kesari Nath Tripathi as state BJP president in the wake of the party's Lok Sabha poll debacle.

Source: The Indian Express, December 12, 2004

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Couple paraded naked as caste rears its ugly head

A young couple were tonsured, stripped and paraded naked in a Jharkhand village for marrying out of caste, and people were so incensed that they even beat up an old woman who tried to cover up the girl.

The sentence against Vishnu Naik, who belongs to a Scheduled Caste, and his wife Galo, from a Scheduled Tribe, was passed by the panchayat of Manhu village, just 40 km from here, Thursday.

But it had clearly not. The issue came up in the weekly meeting of the village council Thursday when the girl's father complained. The village elders agreed with him, condemned the marriage and agreed to the suggestion that one way of punishing them was to tonsure them and parade them naked.

"We are investigating the case and suitable action will be taken against the accused and people involved in the incident," Madhusudan Bari, deputy superintendent of police of the area, told IANS.

Source: Indo-Asian News Service, December 11, 2004

Paraded naked for marrying out of caste

By Manoj Prasad

KHUNTI: A couple in Manhu village of Khunti subdivision were tonsured and paraded naked on Thursday afternoon for daring to tie the knot last week against their parents' wishes, as they belonged to different castes.

Bishun Ghasi (20), a Dalit, managed to escape the wrath of a mob showering shoes and blows on him and informed the police at Torpa, 18 km from here. His wife, Galo, is an Adivasi. They were receiving threats from the village elders to end their affair or face social ostracisation. Police today raided the village and lodged an FIR against 10 persons, including the father of the girl, Bagun Munda. Torpa sub-inspector Ashok Bhagat said four village elders — Bhadrav Pahan, Birsa Pahan, Somar Pahan and B. Pahan — were arrested.

"The village elders did not accept the affair as the girl belongs to the Adivasi community and the boy to Ghasi. Her parents are against the affair," Bhagat said. The couple were paraded naked after a meeting of village elders, police said.

Source: The Indian Express, December 11, 2004

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Marginalized Indians Rally for Rights

Jayashree Maji and Rajiv Tikoo

New Delhi: It was a capital rally literally. Thousands of Dalits (oppressed people), tribals, workers and women assembled in Indian capital New Delhi on the World Dignity Day on December 5 raising demands for securing their human rights. The participants demanded the right to work, livelihood, food, health and education.

The convenor of the World Dignity Forum, Ashok Bharti, said: "What was more significant than voicing our demands was the fact that the marginalized sections signalled that they are willing to take on the existing political dispensation if their rights are not granted."

Enactment of a comprehensive legislation for unorganised laborers and artisans and job reservation for Dalits in the private sector in the country also figured amongst the demands. A member of the National Conference for Dalit Women, Kanta, said: "We want the private sector to provide job reservation to Dalits. The right to employment is one of our key demands."

The participants also demanded that Dalits among Muslims and Christians be designated as scheduled castes and wanted an end to the eviction of forest dwellers from their habitat.

Said Ashok Choudhary, national convenor, National Forum for Forest People and Forest Workers, "Through this rally we want to convey that all the marginalized sections can work together and fight for their dignity. It is difficult to fight individually." Added P Chennaiah, secretary, national coordination, Andhra Pradesh Vyavasaya Viritidarulu Union: "The conference drove home the point that the marginalized groups are not alone. They are a big group collectively and in a position to fight for their cause."

The next stage involves evaluating and analysing the event and formulating a strategy and action plan. That may be a matter of great deliberation, though. In the mean time the work at the grassroots level is going on. Elaborated Mukul Sharma, who is also a national convenor of the World Dignity Forum: "We will strengthen our regional processes by mobilization as well as advocacy and also prepare for participation in the World Social Forum 2005."

The World Dignity Forum 2004 was organized by the World Dignity Forum, which is dedicated to fighting against racism, discrimination and exclusion based on caste, class, race, color, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexuality and disability. The forum comprises of organisatiozs from all over India and includes the National Conference of Dalit Organisations, the National Forum for Forest People and Forest Workers, Lok Shakti Abhiyan, All India Pasmanda Muslim Mahaz, National Campaign Committee for Construction Workers, Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti, Andhra Pradesh Vruthidarula Union and Lok Shakti Shangathan.

There were also reports from other like countries like Nepal about similar rallies advocating the cause of the marginalized groups on the occasion of the World Dignity Day.

Source: Oneworld.net, December 08, 2004

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

47 years later, they troop to Dadar in Ambedkar's memory

Mumbai: By noon, the queue of crysanthemum-and agarbatti-clutching Dalits had snaked its way from the Dadar Chowpatty seaface through Siddhivinayak temple right up to the Century Mill grounds, Prabhadevi.

The thousands who poured into the city late for Dr B R Ambedkar's 47th death anniversary saw little chance of making it to the memorial before midnight. They set up their personal memorials in the sand—bowing before little circles of candle flames and roses. And then fanned out into the fetid Arabian sea.

Deepak Ramban (18), HSC student
I have been coming here since childhood, but this year I have brought my 80-year old grandfather for the first time. He faced discrimination in his village in northern Karnataka. My father became a construction worker in the city, but things are changing now. Thanks to government scholarships, I am studying commerce in a junior college in Malad. I am the first person in my family to reach this far. Some form of reservation is needed in the private sector because privilege is so well entrenched. I am proud to be a Dalit. Dr Ambedkar's blood is my blood, his philosophy is like a profound sea of knowledge, but every December 6, you have these political parties putting up their banners for easy publicity.

Hindurao Bansode (74), Volunteer guiding crowds
I dropped out of school in Std II. In my village in Sangli, Dalits were made to sit outside at a distance; people refused us water. It was humiliating. Thanks to Ambedkar and his great document, the Indian Constitution, all that has changed. Aaj, sare log school mein mix-up ho gaye hain. (Now, everybody mixes around in school).

On December 6, 1956, I was working in the Western Railway workshop at Parel when our telephone operator received a wireless message of Babasaheb’s death. Everybody rushed out to Babsaheb’s home Rajgruh in Dadar (E). That evening, his body arrived from Delhi. He had said: "I am born a Hindu but will not die one." So he was buried near the seashore, not in the samshaan ghat (crematorium) that you see behind his memorial. I have been volunteering here since 1988; the crowds increase every year. Things may have changed in my village but not in other Indian states. I still read about discrimination in the newspapers.

Source: The Indian Express, December 07, 2004

Entry into temples still a dream for Dalits

Hyderabad: Entry into temples for Dalits is still a distant dream in many villages in the state. Reason: The government was not properly implementing GOs 105 and 128 which relate to untouchability.

A couple of days ago, in Tadipatri of Anantapur district, Dalits were not allowed to enter the newly constructed Shirdi Sai Baba temple inaugurated by panchayat raj minister J C Diwakar Reddy. The Dalits were prevented from entering the temple even when Dharmavaram MLA Jayamma was inside. This is not a stray incident, says AP State SC & ST Commission chairman Justice K Punnayya. It is a common sight in most of the villages in the state. There are instances where Dalits are manhandled or subjected to social boycott for entering a temple. "Our information is that GO 105 and GO 128 related to untouchability are hardly implemented," Punnayya told The Times of India.

The state government issued the two GOs following recommendation of Justice Punnayya some time ago. According to the GO 105, an SI has to visit at least one village under his jurisdiction once in a week and ensure that Dalits get entry into temples. Similarly, Civil Rights Day has to be organised on 30th of every month.

Umpteen number of cases have come to the notice of the commission that Dalits were being barred from entering into temples. Not just temple entry, two-glass system hotels, eateries and tea joints had also come to the notice of the commission. Under this system, separate glasses are kept for Dalits. They are also not allowed to use public borewells and wells. He said they are even kept away from public meetings addressed by people's representatives.

For instance, families belonging to SC community were subjected to social boycott at Allapur village in Narayankhed mandal of Medak district, as Tukaram, 19, offered a coconut in Hanuman temple on June 29 this year. A government school teacher was allegedly behind this episode. In another incident some time ago, a Hanuman temple in Mahabubnagar district was closed on the pretext that it lost sanctity as a police officer took Dalits into the temple.

In Anantapur district, Dalits are not allowed to enter even bus shelters. A Dalit should not sit and travel in the bus, if he comes across landlord or other caste people in the same bus, Justice Punnayya said. The Commission has noticed that Dalits do not get possession of lands even though they have pattas. Neither police nor MROs are interested in addressing the issue. The government should look into this aspect. This assumes greater importance as government proposes to distribute surplus land to the landless, he added.

These kind of incidents are high in Rayalaseema and Telangana regions and the Commission was incorporating them in the report to be submitted in February next year. The Commission will also verify reports of district administration and police about the implementation of the GOs and other related issues after March next year.

Source: Sun News, December 07, 2004

SC comes to rescue of couple who defied caste to tie knot

New Delhi, Dec. 7 (PTI): The Supreme Court today came to the rescue of a couple, who defied the all powerful Panchayat in a Haryana village and the caste inequality between them to tie the nuptial knot, by ordering police protection to them.

A Bench comprising Justice N Santosh Hegde, Justice B P Singh and Justice S B Sinha, directed the Haryana Police to give adequate protection to the couple as and when they feel there was danger to their life.

The story of the couple, belonging to Badshahpur village in Gurgaon district, could well be the script for a Bollywood blockbuster.

The boy and the girl belonging to different communities fled to Muzaffarnagar and married in a temple on July 21, 2004. They also applied for registration of their marriage.

The girl's parents came to know about her stay in Muzaffarnagar, took her away and got married to another person. She escaped from her second husband's house and united with her first husband.

When both of them were going to register the marriage in Muzaffarpur, the police detained them and handed her over to her parents after warning them not to go against the wishes of the Panchayat and parents.

She escaped yet again, and this time without going to Muzaffarnagar, headed straight to the Supreme Court with her first husband seeking protection to lead a peaceful married life.

Source: The Hindu, December 07, 2004

Monday, December 06, 2004

Dalits demand 'restoration of dignity' on 'World Dignity Day'

New Delhi: To mark the 'World Dignity Day', eleven dalit organisations and activist groups from across India today joined hands at the 'Peoples' Dignity Rally' here to highlight the hopes and struggles of the underprivileged.

Demanding the right to reservation in private sector, legislation to protect the interest of unorganised workers and artisans and implementation of land and agrarian reforms, leaders at the rally said the move was imperative in order to address the concerns of the marginalised people.

Besides, they said, state governments should immediately stop eviction of forest tribes and slum dwellers from their habitation and accord 'schedule caste' status to dalits among Muslims and Christians.

The suffering and miseries of farmers, artisans, weavers, displaced people, unemployed youth and the downtrodden have long been ignored which needs to be corrected and addressed, they added.

The leaders later discussed strategies and plans of action against social exclusion, neo-liberal policies and religious fundamentalism.

The event also marked the formal launching of the 'World Dignity Forum 2004' to evolve a coherent agenda and influencing policy decisions collectively.

Rally leaders from organisations includings the National onference of Dalit Organisations, National Forum for Forest People and Forest Workers and Lok Shakti Abhiyan among others, later submitted a memorandum containing their demands to the Prime Minister.

Source: Webindia123.com, December 06, 2004

Tsunduru Massacre of Dalits: Trial started at Special court

The first witness Mr. Medikonda Subbarao testified on December 1, 2004 before the Special court set up at Tsunduru under SC/ST atrocities (prevention) Act, 1989. He identified about 50 culprits and narrated the sequence of events on August 6,1991. On December 2, the second day of the trial, the second witness boldly narrated the brutal massacre of Tsunduru Dalits. The Upper caste Reddy culprits were trying their best to pressurize the Dalit Witnesses to turn hostile. They are offering money and sending messages of threats. Despite all these attempts, Dalits have decided to tell the truth.

Dalits of Tsunduru waited more than 13 long years. They waited till their demands are met. They demanded a special court to be set up in Tsunduru under SC/ST Atrocities (Prevention) Act, 1989.They also demanded the appointment of Public prosecutors of their choice to argue their case in the special court. The Govt appointed Mr. Chandrasekhar and Mr.Siva Nageswara Rao, both Human rights activists, as special public prosecutors in the Tsunduru case. Dalits of Tsuduru forced the Govt to implement some of the provisions of the SC/ST Atrocities (prevention) Act 1989 for the first time in the history of the country.

The Upper caste culprits tried to delay the trial for several years through legal hurdles. Dalits bravely faced all these hurdles. Finally, the trail started.Unfortunately the press at the state and national level is not giving the attention it deserved.

It is our responsibility to extend our moral support to the Dalits of Tsunduru during the trial period. KNPS leaders have been camping in the village and also attending the trial. Except two or three members from NGOs and other organizations, no well-known organization or prominent Dalit leaders attended the trial.

I write this mail to request all Dalit, B.C, Women, Minority and People's organizations to send their representatives to attend Tsunduru trial and extend your moral support to the Dalit Witnesses and the families of Dalit victims. The trial will be held on all Wednesdays and Thursdays till the end of December 2004.

K.Satyanarayana

State Secretary,
Kula Nirmoolana Porata Samiti (KNPS)
ANDHRAPRADESH

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Dalits 'fished out' of village after dispute

Byas Shankar Upadhya

Rajbiraj: After a dispute over the issue of fishing at three local ponds, over 60 dalit families of Rampura located at Chhinamasta VDC of Saptari have been displaced from their village.

Locals allege that former VDC chairman Surya Narayan Mandal set fire to the houses of Rajendra Sada, Rajba Sada and late Madeshiya Sada yesterday. The Sadas are stranded after their houses were gutted. The fire was put out with the help of local Musahars (dalits). This morning, allegedly egged on by the former VDC chairman, 200 people of Mandal Kupahi, Khudiwkhari and Kundanma VDCs not only manhandled the dalits but also kicked them out of their houses.

The mob beat up the local Musahars including Rajendra Sada, Shiva Narayan Sada, Dilip Sada, Santosh Sada, Dhokai Sada, Basant Sada, Chandeshwor Sada, Gundeshwor Sada and Dudnind Sada and also shut them in Nachari Mandal’s house. Seven-year-old Santosh Sada sustained severe head injuries. The VDC is located 20 km south of the district headquarters, and no security force could reach there in time.

Taking the advantage of the absence of the security forces, goons also planted bombs and weapons in the dalits' houses to put them in trouble, alleged Kushumlal Sada, a victim. According to Sada, hired goons not only placed 10 bombs at each of their houses but also terrified locals by firing blank shots. Police have arrested Mandal, said police inspector Rewat Bahadur Khadak.

The root of the dispute lies in the fact that the landless Musahars had started cultivating public land located at Babaji Dyaura. Mandal had handed over the land to a local Chhatu Thakur. The Musahars, who had helped desilt the three ponds, were also denied the right to fish in the ponds. The dispute started on this issue, according to locals.

The Musahars claimed half the share in the ponds. After they laid claim, they were attacked allegedly at the behest of Mandal. Upendra Sada, Tetar Sada, Shivashankar Sada and Kusumlal Mukhiya who were on way to a neighbouring VDC in search of work, alleged they were attacked by Mandal’s sons Tej Narayan and Jay Narayan.

Source: The Himalayan Times, December 04, 2004

"I carry a 1 lakh prize on my head, but no police will ever touch me"

Ranvir Sena thumbs nose, warns of 'final war'

VARGHESE K GEORGE

GAYA: In a Gaya village, we wait outside a fortress-like house till word comes. Finally, its occupant Satyendra Sharma emerges, gun by his side, acolytes around him. He introduces himself as the Gaya district chief of the Ranvir Sena. "There is a Rs 1 lakh prize on my head. But no police will dare touch me," he declares.

Hours away, in Patna's State Secretariat, Justice Amir Das is presiding over a commission, appointed immediately after the Laxmanpur-Bathe massacre of December 1997. His brief is to investigate the political connections of the Ranvir Sena, and the commission should have finished its work in 1998.

"But the politicians I had summoned sought repeated adjournments. Now I hope to finish the report in the next six months," says Justice Das.

The politicians summoned by the commission makes for an all-party conference— Union Minister of State for Agriculture Akilesh Singh (RJD), former union minister C P Thakur (BJP), state Congress unit president Ram Jatan Sinha are among the 37 called in. In all, 336 witnesses have deposed before the commission. However, two leaders of the Ranvir Sena whom The Indian Express interviewed were confident they would get around the law, commission or no.

The media-savvy Sharma, who poses for photographs with his face covered, is clear: "Surrendering before the police is humiliating. I'll die rather than surrender." For him, it's a matter of community pride—Ranvir Baba, after whom the Sena is named, was a legendary Bhumihar warior who fought the Rajputs.

Sharma is a government servant, employed by the State Health Department. He has not attended office for years. He has even been declared an absconder, accused of murder. "But they have not dismissed me as yet," he says, almost beaming.

Sharma talks of the "final war". "I am serving the public without taking any salary," he says. "This is public service. Our fight is for pride. We will not give up until we finish them or we are finished." The other Ranvir Sena leader met us in a Patna hotel. He didn't want to be photographed, didn't even give us his name. His cronies called him "Netaji". Asked which party he was the "netaji" of, he says, "People call me sarvadaleeya (all-party man)." He boasts about ministers who host him in Delhi and Patna, senior police officials who are friends.

THE Ranvir Sena was formed in Belaur village in Bhojpur district in the early 1990s. It began as a confederation of small private armies maintained by landlords. Virtually every Bhumihar household in the Magadh region has been forced to accept the Sena's supremacy as custodian of the community's interests.

"They do [not] let us cultivate land unless we pay a levy to them," says a Bhumihar lawyer in Jehanabad. With the money thus collected, weapons are procured, legal defence is organised, and elections are fought—under various party banners.

Given this penetration, "disbanding" the Ranvir Sena, as governments and ministers periodically promise, seems a forlorn hope. Bihar must await a miracle.

Source: The Indian Express, December 04, 2004

Friday, December 03, 2004

In Bhagalpur, destitute are on Death Row while Ranvir Sena walks free


Of 38 waiting to die, most are below poverty line, no access to legal help

VARGHESE K GEORGE

BHAGALPUR: Shobit Chamar occupies the cell closest to the gate. But the gate near his block of 20 cells on the western side of Bhagalpur Central Jail doesn't open to freedom. It opens to the gallows. All that separates Shobit from the noose, besides a crumbling wooden door, is a mercy petition pending with the President. If it is rejected, he'll make that trip to the gallows.

True, no one has been hanged here for nine years but the block for condemned men is overcrowded. It has 38 inmates—the largest death row contingent in any Indian state. Shobit is among the five whose death sentence has been confirmed by even the Supreme Court. It's all proper: it has been run through the due process of law, lower court to high court to apex court. Yet only one of the five condemned men can remember the name of his lawyer.

Instead, they plead their innocence to those who don't matter, in a manner that will not help.

Krishna Mochi, six feet tall and well-built, with a handlebar moustache faces death for the Bara massacre. Shobit Chamar, short bald and ill with a weak heart, has been convicted for killing local landlord Hardwar Pandey and six members of his family in Bhabua district.

Shobit lets the tears roll down his cheeks. Krishna touches his ears with crossed hands and leans to the ground; Shobit sits with hands folded. "I have not done it."It is their last defence, their final appeal. Two Dalits, united in Bihar's collective tragedy.

Four of Shobit's relatives were murdered. Pandey, the landlord, was an accused in the case which never reached the trial stage. Some Left extremist groups set out to deliver private justice. Pandey and six of his family were killed. Shobit was accused of being one of the kilers.

"Four times I paid lawyers Rs 50 or Rs 100. They would come one day and then disappear," he says of his legal defence. He has spent 14 years in jail. Krishna, too, did not pay his lawyer more than Rs 100. He was in Bara village when the massacre took place in February 1992, but left for Punjab during the next agricultural season.

He came home after eight months, to find his family crying as he walked in. "I learnt my name was in the case," he remembers, "I ran back to the railway station, but was caught." Human rights activist P K Shandilya says that most condemned men on the death row are below the poverty line. Most have never voted in an election and never had access to private lawyers.

Even special laws like Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act seem aimed at such people. Not one member of the Ranvir Sena has been charged under TADA. Nor did the Sena figure in the Union government's list of terrorist organisations.

One TADA case is illustrative. In August 2003, 14 people were sentenced to life imprisonment by a TADA court in Jehanabad. The police said the accused were extremists, who had gathered at a house one day in 1988 to conspire. Apparently, they attacked a police posse. Four men were killed in the resultant battle — three by the police.

Vakil Ram, who the police said owned the house where the extremists had assembled, spent 15 years in jail as an undertrial. Then it turned out that the house didn't belong to him. Even police guns seem to target only one side of Bihar's unending caste conflict. In 1986, the police is fired on a CPI-ML public meeting in Arwal, killing 13. A rough survey indicates 35 incidents of police encounters since then, leading to the death of 250 suspected Left extremists.

Of course, the MCC and People's War insist that in many cases their cadres were shot after capture. This may or may not be true, but the fact is the list of "extremists" eliminated by the police includes even children.

Not once has a Ranvir Sena squad been surrounded and eliminated by the police. The Sena seems to dodge every official bullet.

Source: The Indian Express, December 03, 2004

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Massacres in Bihar never invited TADA until the victims were upper-castes


12 yrs after 36 were butchered, four men on death row cling to mercy petition.


VARGHESE K GEORGE

It was cold, clinical and almost primitive. On February 12, 1992, 36 people of the upper-castes were killed here, apparently by an MCC squad. All males in this Bhumihar hamlet were gathered, marched off to the bank of a nearby canal. Their hands were tied, and their throats slit. Thirty-six bled to death, the others survived.

This time, the Laloo Prasad Yadav government responded by invoking the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act (TADA), giving a unique twist to Bihar's caste wars. For, in no case where Dalits were killed was TADA used. The anti-terror law was only brought into play after a massacre of an upper-caste group. Death sentences were awarded to four people by the TADA court—all of them extremely poor and landless, three of them Dalits. Here, whoever is not with us is with the MCC," says Satyendra Sharma, who introduces himself as the Gaya district chief of the upper caste Ranvir Sena. This is his defence when asked about the implication of the four as accused, in a crime evidently perpetrated by a trained MCC posse.

Sharma was also the informant and prime witness in the case, though he could not appear in court because he had become a declared absconder by then. "If I had deposed, the rest would also have got the death sentence."

Nineteen people were charge-sheeted in the Bara case. And, on June 8, 2001, the TADA court in Gaya awarded the death sentence to Veer Kunwar Paswan, Krishna Mochi, Dharu Singh (alias Dharmendra Singh) and Nanhe Lal Mochi—all that stands between them and the hangman is a mercy petition before the President. Yet, the profiles of these Dalit ‘‘terrorists" are telling.

• Krishna Mochi’s father, Chaiti Rabidas, struggles to see through his scaly eyes and wonders if the visitors to his mud hut have any news of his son, in jail for the past 13 years. "My son's only fault was that he had self-respect. He had nothing to do with the killings. Please spare him," says Rabidas, a bonded labourer once, who angered his "owner" by sending Krishna to school. Krishna studied for some years at the Dihura Middle School, Tekari, but was forced to drop out before joining a musical band performing at weddings. At 13, he married Chandramani Devi—the couple have two daughters and three sons. Some suspect his mild assertion about wages and dignity was enough to anger "the landlords", leading to him being framed in the Bara case.

• At Veer Kunwar Paswan’s house, there's just his daughter Sunita. She has not seen a school in her life. "What is life and education for her?" asks a villager. Veer Kunwar was forced into cattle-herding, like so many other Dalit children in Bihar, till he tried to raise hens and goats. It was free enterprise’s little revolt against feudalism. And it resulted in Veer Kunwar being beaten up, his goats and hens being repeatedly stolen. Finally, there were demands for "compensation" for crops allegedly destroyed by his hen. When Veer Kunwar couldn't pay up, he was offered loans by local moneylenders at impossible interest rates. When he couldn't repay the loans, he was back as bonded labourer. For the past 11 years, of course, he's been in jail, four of them on death row.

• The third man awaiting the gallows is Nanhelal Mochi, also born to a bonded labourer. As a boy, he grazed the cattle of upper-caste farmers, as their children went to school, till he grew to become a bonded labourer himself. Eleven years ago, he and his brother Jugal Das were implicated in the Bara massacre case and put behind bars.

• The fourth convict is Dharmendra Singh, a Rajput who owned some land, showed great interest in school and football. Unable to study further due to financial problems, he migrated in search of work. When he came back to his native Dihura village, he realised big landlords had taken over his land. He went to court, borrowed money to pay lawyers, won the case. Then he was accused of murder in the Bara case.

THE HOLES IN EVIDENCE

The background of the four accused in the Bara massacre show them to be unlikely ‘‘terrorists". That aside, the evidence against them is questionable. When the appeal went to the Supreme Court, Justice M B Shah discounted the ‘‘quality of evidence" and disagreed with the death sentence. However, he was in a minority in the 2-1 verdict of April 15, 2002.
As Judge Shah points out, the quality of evidence raises a lot of questions:
Satyendra Sharma, the informant in the case, never deposed in court.
Confessional statement of Bihari Majhi, a Dalit labourer not even named in the FIR, was the basis of conviction. The statement, made before a police inspector, was denied by Majhi in court. Of its 10 pages, Majhi’s signature appears only on five. In any case, only an officer of the rank of at least superintendent can record admissible statements, even under TADA provisions.
Of the 34 prosecution witnesses, none stated that any of the four men took part in the murder or were members of an extremist group. No arms were recovered.

Source: The Indian Express, December 02, 2004

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Workshop on Dalit rights ends


Speakers illustrated examples of irregularities and unfair treatment met out to women panchayat members and Dalits.

Chandigarh: SPEAKERS dwelt on the various problems ailing Panchayati Raj institutions in the north western part of the country on the concluding day of a workshop organised by the Indian Council of Social Science Research, North Western Regional Centre.

Presenting their papers on issues pertaining to empowerment of Dalits and women through reservation in Panchayati Raj institutions of north west India, the speakers illustrated examples of irregularities and unfair treatment met out to women panchayat members and those belonging to the dalit community.

Tanzin Wangyal, Director, National Commission for SC/STs brought to light cases from Haryana and Punjab where elected dalit sarpanches were replaced by non-dalit sarpanches on flimsy grounds.

According to Dr Kuldip Puri, Project Officer, Regional Resource Centre, Punjab University, 75 per cent of children studying in Government Schools were Dalits and instead of improving the standard of education for them, the government was considering increased reliance on NGOs which he considered poor substitutes.

Inderjit Singh, State Secretary, Workers' Union, Haryana, talked about khap (clan) Panchayat which gains prevelance over the democratically elected Panchyat.

In his valedictory address Dr Manjit Singh, Coordinator, Ambedkar Centre, suggested that more such workshops should be organised.

Source: The Indian Express, December 01, 2004

"We might end up in jail or hang if you testify. But you will not live another day"


The case : On Feb 10, 1999, suspected landowners killed 12 Dalits in Narayanpur, Jehanabad.
The case
: FIR number Kurtha 17/99. Case number 5/2001, State vs Sidhan Singh & others; 12 named and 32-35 unnamed accused.
The status
: Case collapsing as witnesses turn hostile. Trial has been on since Feb 22, 2002 when charges were framed. All accused are out on bail.

VARGHESE K. GEORGE

NARAYANPUR: After 12 Dalits were killed here on February 10, 1999, Laloo Yadav promised a "speedy" trial. The trial in the Narayanpur massacre case is speedy all right — witness after witness comes to testify in, roughly, one sentence: ‘‘I have not seen anything." Krishna Das, the informant and prime witness, told the trial court in Jehanabad on May 14, 2002, ‘‘I know that the incident happened but did not name any of the accused to the police."

Sidhan Singh of the same village is the main accused. But with over a dozen witnesses resorting to one-sentence testimonies, acquittal is only a matter of time.

The Narayanpur massacre was a political landmark in Bihar's rocky history. It led to the dismissal of the Rabri Devi government — it was reinstated later — by the then NDA government. A day after the killings, a Ranvir Sena press release regretted the ‘‘operation was not proper... Our aim was a much bigger massacre."

Sonia Gandhi who visited the spot said: ‘‘Any government which is helpless in preventing such heinous acts forfeits it moral authority to govern." After the massacre, Rabri Devi promised a ‘‘chargesheet within 60 days." ‘‘The chief minister will meet the chief justice," Laloo Yadav added, ‘‘and request a special court for a speedy trial."

Today it sounds like a cruel joke, even to the three witnesses The Indian Express met in Narayanpur. Prime witness Krishna Das says, ‘‘They (the accused) get to know everything from the police station. They told me the day before testimony, ‘We might go to jail or hang if you testify. But you will not live another day'." Das takes the threat seriously — for it was for him that the murderous mob came that night. He was the target because he was already a witness in an earlier case related to the killing of three Dalits in the village.

On February 10, 1999, Das climbed to the roof of his house and escaped. His brother too was saved — but only after a wife's ultimate sacrifice. Das' sister-in-law hid her husband under his bed, lay down on it herself, covering her face. She was riddled with bullets. From the rooftop, Das saw the mayhem: ‘‘I went to court with the determination to testify, despite earlier threats. But there were a large number of their people outside the court, with rifles. And I could not muster the courage to tell the truth ... But if they were in jail, I would have testified."

Each one of the accused is out on bail. Some of them routinely threaten witnesses, village folk say. "We have to live in this village," says Rampriya Das, a Narayanpur resident, "and work in their fields. And they own more guns than the police."

Our interviews are taking place amid a small gathering in the village. Also present are two other witnesses who turned hostile in court — Surinder Das and Brihaspati Majhi. "People who are resisting the threats have not gone to the court as yet," says Rampriya. Suddenly the chatter stops. "How can we say things in court that we have not seen," Majhi says, abruptly changing the course of the conversation. Surinder backs him, "We did not see who came in the mob."

This is a twist in the tale and right behind us, looking over the shoulder of The Indian Express team, is a burly man. The sight of him is enough to silence the Dalits. "You please go," we say, "let us talk to the villagers." He is introduced to us as a local landowner and is clearly reluctant to move: "It is my village and I will stand here." Finally he retreats with a cold stare.

A few yards away from the Dalit hamlet is an 18-acre plot formed, in the early 1990s, by a change in the course of the Morhar river. This plot was claimed by landless Dalits but appropriated by the upper caste Lakhan Singh.

Singh was later shot by the MCC. A cycle of revenge killings began, and Krishna Das was witness to one such. After the February 1999 bloodbath, Laloo promised to settle the land dispute "within 48 hours". It’s now been six years.

"We had gone up to the revenue minister, but the land remains in the control of the Bhumihars," say the Dalits, ‘‘every season, they merge it, bit by bit, into their own property." What is the administration doing? ‘‘We have been advised by the district magistrate not to enter the land until the dispute is settled."

In Narayanpur, they've just perfected the vicious circle.

Source: The Indian Express, December 01, 2004

Dalits ask for justice in West Bengal

Truth is always Explosive in the event of conspicuous silence - Dalits ask for justice in West Bengal

By V.B.Rawat

"If I speak untruth, I can survive; If I speak the truth, It will be Explosive." -- Bulleh Shah

The Baul singers famous for love songs provide a musical odyssey to the otherwise lackluster journey from Kolkata to Shantiniketan. The chaotic Howarah station from where Vishwabharati Express leaves for Shantiniketan reflects the old glory of Kolkata, the financial capital of the country. Today, thanks to the 30 year rule of the "progressive" left, Kolkata still lives in its past. It is a city unlike other metros where the poor can afford to live, they say in their support of the existing system, yet fail to answer why man-pulling rickshaws is still one of the most familiarsights in this "city of joy".

Old trams, pot-holed roads, unimaginable traffic, heavy congestion and pollution, are the hallmarks of Kolkata's roads. A crude reminder of where it stands. Yes, they say that they stand for the poor, hence Kolkata "welcomed" every one with open arms. After the genocide of Muslims in Gujarat, it was Kolkata which invited the "terrorised face" of Gujarat who was pleading for his life. The entire country agreed that it is in Bengal where the communal forces can be kept at bay. A very sensitive state, and yet no communal riots, is the other hallmark of the left front's rule in West Bengal, apart from the land reforms which it claims to have implemented. This in the first two years of its coming to power, and after that, the government just getting on because of the old good work that it claimed to have accomplished during its earlier period.

Despite all this, Kolkata does not look a city of freedom. At every nook and corner, you feel somebody from the Marxist party is spying on you. "Diwaron ke bhee kaan hote hain" is a saying in Hindi but it could be well said about the cadre of the CPM in West Bengal, where political dissent is blasphemy. The highly intoxicated police force and administration can teach you a lesson.

Dalits dissent

During my recent trip, I could not meet a single person from riksha puller to Dalits, and who have been evicted from their places, who would laud the "great" communist ideology of the ruling classes in West Bengal. While the left front and its leaders have been critical of "imperialism" and "globalisation", very little has been done for the vast majority of Dalits in West Bengal. Will the left and its elite leadership ever think of their bhadralok imperialism imposed upon the Dalits in West Bengal? Will they come out against it? The West Bengal government does not even admit that there is a growing discrimination against the migrants Dalits from Uttar-Pradesh, Bihar, Delhi and Haryana. While the government is keen to be seen as a secular government, it is the same government which does not mince words against the Madrasas. It is the same government which cleaned the streets of Kolkata to greet John Major, when he was prime minister of Britain and visited Kolkata.

Stories of torture against the Dalits are not reported to people outside from Bengal. The intoxicated beaurocracy and police are there to play with "data" - the left are expert in this. The entire left front structure is in the hands of upper castes said Mr Abhijeet Dutta, a lawyer in Howarah, and though the backward communities forms a majority in West Bengal, it is a difficult nexus to break. While there is no doubt that the upper elite leadership of the left front is not corrupt, yet the same is not true at the local level.

Kishan Balmiki narrates the plight of the Safai Karmcharis in the municipality. Many employees have been retired but are yet to get their dues as it take more than five to six years. For getting a job other than that of Safai Karmcharis "we are asked to present our caste certificate. As our parents had come more than 50 years ago to this place our children should be domicile to this state, yet we are asked to bring our caste certificates from our native place." In the Municipal Corporation, there are positions with the names of Privy Cleaners, New Resident Mehtars. Unlike other states and municipalities where officially scavenging is prohibited, in "progressive" Bengal, the Municipal Corporation feels that it is its duty to get manual scavenging done by the migrant Balmikis.

Unlike most of the states which are serving notices to people who have dry latrines to convert them to the sewer line or flush latrines, in progressive Bengal, the municipality still feels that if scavenging is prohibited it would ruin the livelihood of thousands! On the other hand it ignores their legitimate demands for housing, electricity and schooling. Interestingly Kishan Balmiki also narrates how he has not been promoted to the position of a Supervisor because he was not a matriculate. While he plans to do a matriculate (to get the supervisor's salary) yet the Corporation wants him to work on his present position of cleaning the streets. While for him the Corporation says that he should be doing his traditional work, one Bhadralok Brahmin was given a position of supervisor despite his education being below 5th standard. May be because how could they employ a Brahmin in this cleaning shit business, which has been reserved for the Balmikis for over so many years, and Kolkata cannot be an exception.

The Case of Bellilius Park in Howarah: Over 18 months back, the Howarah municipal corporation evicted about several hundred Dalit families mostly from the Balmiki community from the Belilius Park, Howrah. These families had been living in this area for over 40 years when their forefathers had come to Bengal. Many Dalit intellectuals say that the British took the Balmikis to the areas of the cantonement and provided them housing facilities. Belilius Park is about 2 kms away from the famous Howarh railway station. It has land of over 120 bighas which has not only a school but also various shops now leased to hundreds of people. An NGO in the name of the environment filed a petition and got an order from the Kolkata high court for the eviction of these people. People were evicted without any alternative housing. While the temples and schools of the community were demolished along with their houses, the Bhadralok police and authorities kept Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose's statue in tact in the dirt of the now defunct park. While the communists boast of morality, their morality kept quiet when the statue of a person became more important than the lives of several thousands people. Those who shout slogans and force the Delhi government to change its master plan or otherwise face their wrath, kept a conspicuous silence over the same happenings in Bengal.

Kishni Balmiki from Panipat, Haryana, who has been staying in this locality for over 40 years narrates the brutality of the police during the eviction: "They did not allow us to pick up our utensils and other items. There were commandos and bulldozers. Our gold ornaments and TV sets were stolen. Even the daily usage items were picked up by the anti social elements. We don't know where to go from this place."

Shame of Kolkata and the response

One and a half years ago, I wrote a story "Shame of Kolkata" on this eviction and sent it to many friends, who however felt that the story could damage the image of the left front and help the fundamentalist forces, for which reason many of them did not carry it. We circulated it to many friendly people and also to many of the left front people in Delhi whom we personally knew but without any response. Perhaps they could not speak against their Bhadralok politics. We thought that they would speak out with the same force as they had in Delhi and elsewhere, but to our utter disappointment, they did not even acknowledge our report which was mailed to some of them directly. The point is not whether they acknowledge us or not, the point is that these Balmikis had worked very hard for left front candidates in various elections. The Balmikis had been former friends of the Bhadralok communists. And yet they call the CPM the most fascist party at the moment.

Many journalist friends advised me that the only people fighting for the downtrodden are the CPM, and how bad Mayawati, Ram Vilas Paswan, Lalu Yadav and others were. When they give such examples of corruption they tend to reflect the upper caste Hindu psyche which is selective in these things. Nobody, is debating here the pros and cons of identity politics. For us the issue of the eviction and rehabilitation of the Balmikis of Belilius Park is utmost. It is not a left verses right issue. It is an issue of the rule of law and whether the left front which claims to be the moral guardian of the proletariat really respects rule of law.

Some friends in Kolkata objected to my questions regarding Dalits. "They are not sincere", they said. "We had fought their case for years yet they don't come to us. It is difficult to find a friend amongst them. Despite doing our best we get nothing in turn", they said. It was surprising that mainline Bengal politics as well as social scientists ignore the fact that Dalits, or any other marginalized people, refuse to be just a tool in the hands of any one. They would like to be a part of every struggle, with dignity with and honor. The days of a feudal politics where the upper castes speak of the rights of Dalits and they just listened are over. An interesting aspect of this socialism in Bengal is their continuous apathy to the cause of Dalits. Oh, We don't believe in caste like you people from Uttar-Pradesh and Bihar, they said. But sir, how many of the upper castes clean shit in the morning, I asked a friend. Is it not a grave reality that toilets are cleaned by migrant scavengers only? Let us assume that you only believe in class struggle and all of us who make noises about the Dalits are castiest. Please tell us who are the poorest of the poor in this country? Who are landless? Who are tortured in police custody? Who cleans shit? Who washes cloths? Who are the fishermen? Who are the leather workers? Do you mean these are rich people, upper caste people I asked. And what is the reality of other side? Should I name them and find about their land? How come you communists who were educated in Oxford now cry out when our time to go to England has just arrived? How did the landowning Bhadralok become a well wisher of proliterate? Perhaps this is the only reason why communism has been destroyed in this land - because we gave it up to the big landlords to lead the movement of the landless and kept away the landless because they happened to be Dalits, Adivasis?

Sorry Sir, but the Balmikis of this country are the lowest of the low and if they cannot be communists, then who will be communists? How can the Bhadralok communists leave them out? Is caste more important for them then a broader socialist vision?

But the problem with the issue of scavengers is not just the left parties. None of the others dared to raise the issue of Belilius Park in their election manifesto. None would come to them and share their grief. An old woman in her 70s said " pachas saal tak inkee tatee saaf karne ka yeh sila mila hai'. (This is what we have got for fifty years of cleaning their shit.)

The biggest achievement of the left in the last 30 years has been to use Bengali chauvinism for its own purposes, and therefore there has been no question of any body raising even slightly the issue of the violation of human rights. Outside Bengal they are the only people visible to us who fight the menace of the BJP with their "educated, casteless" comrades. At a conference two years ago Comrade Bardhan asked why do you abuse us when we are not in power. His reference was to the Dalits who were questioning the credentials of the left. I now want to remind our comrades about the Dalits of Howarh.

Balmikis: A community living in Uncertainity

18 months have passed since the communities were evicted mercilessly from the Belilius Park. Some of them are living in the nearby slum of "East West" bypass besides South Eastern Railway Carseth. The conditions are horrible there as people know they can be evicted any moment without any notice. The left front is expert in paper work and that is why they want these Babus over our heads all the time, their trade unions will call for a nation wide strike if any of the babus are asked to be accountable.

At the East West bypass, I enter the house of Chandra Pal Balmiki, 47, who has 6 children. (Some of them stay there in a one roof hut, and the others at P Road where he has rented a small house for Rs 800 per month.) Over 150 evicted families have encroached on this land as they had no other place to live. Just behind them is the railway track which links Kolkata to Mumbai. The pain in the face of Phool Kumari is visible when she narrates those horrible events of eviction - "they did not even allow us to collect our utensils. We lost our radio and TV as well as many other utensils. My husband Ganga Prasad fell unconscious, as it was too much to bear. For many days he was just struggling for his life. I earn Rs 2000/- per month for my family by working in six multi stories complexes in the area. I go at around 5 am and come in the evening around 6 pm. This is our life. Nobody knows what our children will do and how long we will be here."

Another woman who seems to be in her mid twenties narrates her own problem. She lives with her small daughter and mother. "I was born and brought up here but now the question of our identity has become vital. My husband does not work and I have to work in the nearby buildings to survive. We don't know when the municipality will come again and throw us out."

None of the administration or political parties are here to speak to the people about their plight. That is the pain of being non Bengali in a city or state which has always harped on the big slogans of unity of the proletariat.

Kishan Balmiki who led the movement of the Dalits against the eviction in the Howarh municipal corporatio says "Staying in Bellilius Park was easier for us. We had all facilities including schools and doctor. Now we are far away in a small rented house. Can we afford to live on such a meager salary by spending money on commuting and living? I pay Rs 1,400/ as house rent and Rs 600/- for commuting. I normally leave my house around 5.30 am and return by 11 am."

Most of the evicted people are living in Bagar (Balgachhia) Howrah. Bagar is a dumping place where the entire waste of Howarah town is dumped. The number of families here is about 1500. The condition of this place is unimaginable. There is no water and no electricity, hence people live in dark. Being a dumping place, there are pigs everywhere, dirt and filth, so that if you stay there for even an hour it will make you sick. An elderly woman from Panipat, Haryana, who is working with the Howrah Municipal Corporation asked me to stay there for a day to "feel" their problems. "Beta tenu yehan reh ke dekh, abhee to tu pankhe ke neeche soya hoga isliye pata nahee chala. Hum log kaise rahte hai jara dekh." I could see the tears already in her eyes. They cannot even cry because there is no one to listen. Many children have left school because the school is far away. For these people who work in private houses to clean toilets, as well as in the Howrah Municipal Corporation, things are more difficult as the timings clash. They cannot afford to go clean toilets by bus or rickshaw. They come home late with nothing to celebrate or to enjoy.

Starvation deaths

Marxist "doctors" will never admit that people are starving in their state. Over 18 of the evicted Balmikis have died in the last one and a half years. And I can vouch after seeing many faces, that many more are just waiting to die any moment. The conditions of the areas where these people are living are simply "hellish", with no medical treatment possible. It is Kolkata's Shame not to love them, those who have kept them clean all their lives. In the hellish Belagachchi, with mosquitoes all around, one can see how 16 families are living in one verandah with all of them cooking together in the evening. The faces of old men, children and women show how "nutritious" their food might be.

Phool Kumari Devi's husband Ganga Prasad is unwell and she has to earn wages for her family. She goes early in the morning around 5 am and returns only in the evening at around 5 pm. Where do we go from here babuji, this land belong to railways. We don't know what to do but we are only waiting for death.

Ganga Devi who came from Kanpur has been living with her mother and daughter. The condition of all the three reflects what they could be managing to eat. "Sir, I was born here and my daughter is also born here and still I have to prove that I belong to this land. My earning is about Rs 1000 per month. What should I do? Where should we go? They have destroyed our life. I don't even have a ration card."

Gopal Balmiki is about 30 years of age. His father died six years ago. All the dues of his father are still not paid. As he takes us to the back of his house, the dirt and filth "attacks" you. Just in front of his so called kitchen is dirt spilling around. " We cannot live here, sir, though we clean the houses of others, we ourselves remain in such filth."

Walking down the lanes of this place one can see mountains of filth and dirt dumped here to make Howarah city clean (though one know how clean is the city). But without electricity, water and other medical facilities, these people are dying a slow death. The anguish and pain reflecst in Idrajeet when he speaks to us. He looks handsome yet totally broken. "I earn two thousand rupees per month. I clean a full seven-story building for which I go at 6 am and return around 11 am. We have five children. Both my wife and I work there and there is no one who can take care of our children. There is no guarantee of our future here. During the rainy season this area become totally hellish. We did not have such problems in the Bellilius Park."

Kisni Valmiki is originally from Panipat Haryana and lives here with her relatives. "I work in the Howarh Municipal Corporation. I get up at four in the morning and return at eleven during the day. I have four children. Without electricity we have lots of problem. We cannot sleep in the night because of so much dust and filth. If you stay here for a day, you will realize the pain and anguish of ours."

Barasa Balmiki has been living in Howarh for over 45 years. He cleaned latrines and worked with the Howrah Municipal Corporation for over 30 years and is now retiring during this month. He knows that there are difficulties. Now living in a makeshift home at the Bagar Belagachhi he says that he does not know when will he get his money. "I want to go back to Haryana as many others have done but you know our pensions never come to the bank. We have to come to this place to collect our pension. And therefore spending huge amounts in traveling is not feasible and that is why many of us are forced to live here."

His young son who was a student of class 9th had to quit because there was no school nearby.

A most horrible scene is yet awaiting me when I visit a big junk old semi constructed house where 16 cots are visible like in a dormitory. The structure cannot be called a house because the roof can collapse any moment endangering the lives of all the people. Many of the people were sleeping during the day. Many of them might not even have taken their meal. They cook together in front of the house. The situation is alarming. All of them feel totally dejected and isolated in Bengal.

According to Channo Devi who belongs to Panipat, Haryana, without electricity and toilet facilities we are just the living dead. We have been put in a living hell, she says and adds "we go to work at 4 am in the morning. We cannot afford bus, so we go either by cycle or on foot. My daughter cooks for me. See my feet and hands, they have developed various kind of diseases." And Channo devi shows her legs and hands, diseased skin, which will worsen in the coming days if things are not taken care of.

What is happening in Bellilus Park

We were informed that an NGO had filed a case to clean the Bellilius Park in the name of beautification. And the Howrah Municiple Corporation which wanted to honour the court's verdict did not demolish the 65 shops which fall with in the premises of this Park as they belonged to upper caste Bengalis. Inside the park where these families were living has now become another dumping ground. Mounds of filth, and people from the nearby area who come to defecate in the open, while some of the washermen do their work from the dirty stale water of the area, amidst which the statue of Subhash Bose is still there. Perhaps Netaji would be weeping wherever he is, seeing his statue in such a place left unattended. The remains of temples and schools are still there. As we are discussing the issue I see young boys and girl sitting in the open and defecating in the area while the washermen and women clean cloths and dry them over the remains of the destroyed houses. The beauty of the park is that there are only pigs and stray dogs there now. The big street light poles are still lying around telling the story of police brutality.

If the story of the destruction of Belilius Park has not become an issue in Bengal, the conscience keeper of the country, then we will have to think about the issue of human rights being politicized in India. We will have to think how ideological pursuits dominate the Indian political scene. An unwritten code of conduct works here for the media and for the activists, it will help the BJP hence we must keep quite. But for how long? How long will the lives of the Dalits be kept in such subjugation where they don't have anybody to speak with and complain to?

Just in a few yards from the old destroyed temple, a small dhobhighat is being constructed by a member of Parliament, Mr Swadesh Chakrawarty. It is interesting that Mr Chakrawarty did not bother to meet the people who were evicted from this area. His party has forced the Delhi government to change its master plan and to reverse a Supreme Court Judgment regarding factories in domestic residential areas, which according to the court were polluting Delhi. The party seems averse to antagonize its vote bank in Bengal at the cost of migrant Dalits. We all know how members of Parliament use their funds. These funds could have used to rehabilitate the people even if there was a need to displace them in the name of environment and beautification.

Conclusion

Nothing happens in Bellilius Park's from where people were evicted in the name of beautification. Just remains of old demolished houses, temples and schools and they show us the brutality of those who shout at the top of their voices against global imperialism while condoning their own brand of racist imperialism in Bengal which the migrant Dalits face. It is more ironical that none of the mainstream political parties and even the media has come forward to raise the issue. Have we become obsessed with the market and international events that we tend to ignore these issues related to lives of thousands of people without any importance? If displacement can become an issue elsewhere surely it could have become so in West Bengal. But why this conspicuous silence here?

In these eighteen months, the miseries of the Dalits of Howarah have increased and none of the left front people including its member of Parliament bother to ask what is the way out. The ruling party in West Bengal and its well wishers will have to tell the world whether they are the strongest defenders of a Varna system or whether they care for the lowest of the low in India society. Whether the discrimination being done to the migrant Dalits in West Bengal will end or will they simply say there is no such problem. I hope they will not deny that manual scavenging is officially not prohibited in West Bengal and that the municipal corporation employs people for cleaning private toilets. One sincerely hopes that the Dalits of Howarh will get justice and for that the government will have to be sensitized so that it can uphold the rule of law. It cannot throw away its people who kept its cities clean despite facing indignities and humiliation. In fact, it is Kolkata's time to repay the debt to the Dalits who work day and night so that the city remains clean and hygienic. Let the left front government come out of its preconceived mindset and abolish manual scavenging, give the Dalits representation in government services and rehabilitate them in such a way that becomes a symbol of a new India where work is not confined on the basis of caste and where every one is free to make his or her choice of work and living.

Date: December 01, 2004