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Jamuni Devi (50 years), belonging to Chamar (SC) community from Dhanve village, Jhajha block, Jammui district, Bihar. She was married at the age of 13 years to Benku Das, a man of the same caste. With Benku Das, Jamuni Devi gave birth to three daughters and one son. Before their son was born, Benku Das used to harass Jamuni Devi about having only girl children. He used to grow angry and say to her, “Why are you only able to produce girls? I will remarry! I need a son!” Jamuni Devi tolerated this sort of verbal harassment from her husband on a regular basis. When Jamuni became pregnant with her fourth child, her husband threatened her, saying, “If it’s a not a boy this time, it will not be good. I will definitely marry someone else!”
Jamuni’s fourth child turned out to be a boy. Her husband’s behaviour toward her improved and Jamuni Devi felt hugely relieved. “It was as though I had passed a terrible exam,” she said. They named their son Kaila Das. Benku Das worked in a coal mine some distance from the village. He often remained away from the village for weeks at a time, and sent money from his wages home. He and Jamuni Devi also owned a small plot of land, about 1 acre in size. As she was raising her children, Jamuni Devi cultivated this land for her livelihood. She and her children lived in a mud hut. Not far from Jamuni Devi’s home lives a Chamar man named Kaleshwar Das. Kaleshwar Das is a respected village elder in the Chamar community. Among the Chamars, he is relatively economically secure; he owns a car, a tractor, and a plot of land that he cultivates for his livelihood. He also maintains close ties with the dominant castes in the village, notably the Yadavs and Telis (both BCs). Three dominant caste Teli men – Rajender Sahu, Raman Sahu and Govind Sahu – regularly use Kaleshwar Das’s tractor for a fee. Kaleshwar Das has a son named Shobhan Das (32 years) who formerly drove a tractor for his livelihood, but now works as a schoolteacher. One day in June 1998, Jamuni Devi’s children were playing with the children of Kaleshwar Das. The next day, Kaleshwar’s daughter Buchiya fell ill. She contracted dysentery and her condition rapidly worsened. Kaleshwar took his ill daughter to an ojha (witch doctor/sorcerer) named Jan Guru (ST Santhal) from Pipda, a village 10 km away from Dhanve. Jan Guru declared that Buchiya was suffering because of the activities of a witch. One month after the ojha’s declaration, having not received proper medical treatment, Buchiya died.
Since her marriage, Jamuni Devi’s in-laws had often spoken lightly that she must be a witch, since things that she said or predicted often seemed to come true. After his daughter died of dysentery, Kaleshwar Das picked up this thread and made it a serious accusation. On the day immediately following his daughter’s death, Kaleshwar Das stopped Jamuni Devi’s husband Benku Das on the village road and said, “Your wife is a witch. She is the one who killed my daughter.” Kaleshwar Das began to speak openly of Jamuni Devi’s witchcraft in the village. Over time, the idea spread throughout the village that Jamuni Devi was a witch. Both in the Dalit colony and in the non-Dalit (Yadav and Teli) quarters of the village, people began to believe that Jamuni Devi was responsible for the deaths of Kaleshwar Das’s daughter and other children who died of illnesses periodically in the village.
One Tuesday near the festival of Dusshera in October 1998, Kaleshwar Das’s wife Rajia Devi died of an illness. Again, Kaleshwar loudly and publicly accused Jamuni Devi of having killed his wife. In public spaces, he shouted, “Father fucker! Cunt fucker, you ate up [that is, killed] my daughter and my wife!” Six months after Kaleshwar Das’s wife’s death, one day in the spring of 1999, an informal panchayat was called in the village. It was not an official meeting of the elected panchayat, but a “caste panchayat” meeting of the Chamars, at which Yadavs and Telis of the village were also present. Kaleshwar Das called for the panchayat, and village elder Dorik Das (Chamar) organised it. The meeting was held at about 4:00 p.m. in a place 10 km outside the village. The location, called Kali Mod Devisthan, is considered sacred to the goddess Kali. Along with the members of the village, Kaleshwar and Dorik Das invited the ojha Jan Guru to this meeting.
Jamuni Devi was called to the “panchayat”, where she had to sit before the assembled crowd while the ojha performed rituals with paan leaves to discern whether or not she was a witch. Ultimately, the ojha declared Jamuni Devi a witch, and the panchayat asked her to leave the village. Jamuni Devi, however, did not want to leave the village because her land and livelihood were all there. Another dominant caste friend of Kaleshwar Das in the village is the landowner Nageshwar Yadav (BC Ahir), whose young son has a reputation as a “bad character” and a goonda. Nageshwar’s son is known for both groping and verbally harassing Dalit girls in the village. Around the time of the “panchayat”, Nageshwar Yadav was searching for a bride for his son. One day, Jamuni Devi was performing agricultural labour with several other Dalit women when she casually commented, “Who would marry that Nageshwar Yadav’s son? Who would marry their daughter to a goonda type like that? I doubt anyone will agree to that marriage.”
Soon thereafter, a prospective marriage alliance that Nageshwar Yadav was pursuing for his son broke off for one reason or another. When Nageshwar learned from village rumour mongers that Jamuni Devi had spoken unfavourably about his son’s prospective marriage, he understood this to mean that she – being a witch – had actually cursed the son, foiling his marriage prospects. One day in the last week of June 1999, Kaleshwar Das and his son Shobhan Das invited Jamuni Devi’s husband Benku Das to their home in the afternoon. Understanding it to be a friendly invitation, Benku Das came to their home, where Kaleshwar and Shobhan brought him into a room and then locked it from the outside, trapping him inside. The same day in the evening, Jamuni Devi was at home with her youngest daughter Basanti (then 4 years) and baby Kaila Das. She did not know where her husband had gone. At about 8:00 p.m. a group of men – Nageshwar Yadav and Kaleshwar Das, accompanied by Shobhan Das, Kolho Das and Brahmdev Das (all Chamars) – arrived at her hut. From outside her door, Nageshwar Yadav shouted to Jamuni Devi, “Come out of the house, cunt fucker! Get out here, whore! I am going to beat you to death!”
The men then forcibly entered Jamuni Devi’s home, violently seized hold of her and dragged her out into the street. As they dragged her outside, the men shouted, “Witch! We will shove a bamboo pole up your cunt! We will beat your ass until it is red and swollen! We will slice you up, illegitimate cunt!” Jamuni Devi was terrified and began to weep. Her children, too, cried as their mother was dragged out of the hut. Outside of her home, a hostile crowd of Chamars and Yadavs had congregated, at the instigation of Kaleshwar Das and Nageshwar Yadav. In the midst of that crowd, Kolho and Shobhan Das beat her, kicked her, and threw her violently onto the ground. Kaleshwar Das and Nageshwar Yadav also assaulted her with their fists, with kicks, and with wooden rods. Jamuni Devi attempted to defend herself, but there was little she could do.
As the beating continued, Shobhan Das and some others went away for a short time and returned with a mug containing human excrement. Shobhan then forcibly pinned down Jamuni Devi, holding her legs and arms in place, while Nageshwar Yadav brought the mug to her face and began to pour the excreta into her mouth. Jamuni Devi, seeing what was happening, closed her mouth and clenched her teeth. To force her mouth open, Kaleshwar Das beat her face with a broken brick. Despite the pain, Jamuni Devi managed to keep her mouth shut. The excrement poured all over her lips and face, and some entered her nose as well. Jamuni Devi lost consciousness. After the attack, the perpetrators released Jamuni’s husband from the locked room in Kaleshwar Das’s home, and informed him that they had fed his wife human excrement. “If she is in fact a witch,” they said, “she will either die or go insane as a result of eating human waste. If she is not a witch, though, she will recover and be fine.” Benku Das rushed to the spot and took his wife, unconscious, to a nearby private hospital, Rupa Nursing Home. There the doctors present, Abhay Kumar Singh and Rup Singh (both dominant caste) revived Jamuni Devi and induced vomiting. At the doctors’ recommendation, Jamuni Devi remained there for a full week to treat her injuries and trauma.
Rajender Sahu, Raman Sahu and Govind Sahu – the Teli men of the village who rent Kaleshwar Das’s tractor – visited Jamuni Devi and her husband, recommended that they pursue a legal case against the perpetrators, and offered to help. Jamuni Devi gave Rajender Sahu Rs.500/- to arrange for the filing of a formal police complaint, as she and her husband knew nothing of legal matters and were, in any case, illiterate. Rajender engaged advocate Dheeraj Mandal (BC Koiri) to file a case on Jamuni Devi’s behalf at the Jammui District Court. Rajender Sahu and Dheeraj Mandal, however, altered the story considerably in their complaint, ignoring many elements, inventing a false incident of robbery, and altering the list of accused. This is because Rajender, Raman and Govind Sahu were hoping to benefit from the legal dispute between Jamuni Devi and Kaleshwar Das; that is, in the hope of taking full possession of Kaleshwar’s tractor one way or the other, the Teli men supported both sides in the legal conflict. In the semi-fabricated FIR, Kaleshwar Das, Kaelu Das, Shobhan Das, Pooran Das, Madhu Das, and Mahadev Das (all SC Chamar) were named as the accused. Ram Phali and Jugal Das s/o. Videshi Das (also SC Chamar) were named as witnesses. Nageshwar Yadav was left out of the FIR completely, and the conflict was depicted as purely within the Chamar community. Three months after the FIR was registered, an arrest warrant was issued, but no arrests were made. The police visited the village, scolded some of the perpetrators, took Shobhan Das into the police station for a few hours and then released him.
Meanwhile, Jamuni Devi felt that she should leave Dhanve village. She went to her mother’s house in Asodha village, Chandan block, Jammui district. From there, her brother Ravi Das took her to a private hospital in Katoria, a nearby village. Here she received ongoing treatment for the violence she had suffered. She remained in her mother’s village for six months, after which her brother took her back to her husband’s village. In Dhanve, she did not live in her old home, but in a tiny hut that she erected on the outskirts of the village. While the tension in the village had cooled somewhat, Jamuni Devi still lived in fear of another attack. In November 2002, Jamuni Devi’s husband Benku Das died of tuberculosis. She says, “After my husband’s death, no one in the village even talks to me.” She returned to the Chamar village proper, and lives there quietly with her son. In 2005, with the imposition of ‘President’s Rule’ in Bihar, the governor of the state ordered the police to clear pending cases. Because of this, on 19 March 2005 Chandra Mandi police station Sub-Inspector Surender Paswan (SC Dusadh) came to Jamuni Devi’s home in Dhanve accompanied by the local village guard (chowkidar) Nuneshwar Yadav (BC Ahir). When Jamuni Devi saw the police officer approaching, she feared that he might be coming to investigate her recent occupation of distilling illicit country liquor. Afraid, she fled from her home by another exit. The same morning, though, when the police officer made enquiries and asked to see her, Jamuni Devi relented and came to meet him. The Sub-Inspector told her that he had come in connection with the long pending case of violence against her. He said, “Why do you want to fight among yourselves?” and pressurised her to agree to a “compromise” and finish the case.
Still afraid of him, Jamuni Devi replied, “Anything you say, I will listen. I have to live in the village, so I will listen to what you have to say.” The Sub-Inspector communicated her willingness to accept arbitration, and a little over two weeks later, on 4 April 2005, a panchayat (elected panchayat, not a “caste panchayat”) was convened in Dhanve, presided over by Panchayat Ward Member Brahmdev Das (one of the perpetrators of the attack). In the panchayat, a verbal “compromise” was reached in which Jamuni Devi would be allowed to live in the village so long as she dropped all charges against the perpetrators. One of the perpetrators, Shobhan Das, had been arrested in the intervening years in connection with some other criminal case. He is currently in Jammui jail.
Caste conflict has raged continuously in Gajulamandyam since 1976. In 1994, dominant caste Reddys forcefully installed a bore-well in the Dalit colony and followed this up by imposing a social boycott. Five years later, on 12 June 1999, the conflict over the bore-well again heated up when the Reddys attempted to forcefully lay down a pipeline from the bore-well to their locality. The Dalits resisted and successfully thwarted their attempts. In retaliation the Reddys again imposed a social boycott on the Dalits.
Gajulamandyam is located on the banks of the dried-up Swarnamukhi River. The village has a population of approximately one thousand, living in 154 Dalit homes. The main village, where the dominant caste Reddys reside, lies 1½ km south, across the riverbed from the Dalit colony. Before 1976, the Dalit colony had been located on non-productive land in the eastern part of the main village. Dalit women had been compelled to walk several kilometers to fetch water and the colony had lacked roads and any kind of drainage system. In 1976, the government gave the Dalits housing sites on the more fertile present location of the Dalit colony. The government relocation violated Hindu dharma, according to which Dalits cannot be allowed to reside north – or “above” – “higher” caste settlements. After moving to the new housing sites in 1976, the Dalits began to prosper. In a rare example of a progressive government scheme’s actual implementation, the Dalits were given government subsidies and loans in order to build pucca (solid) houses. A well for drinking water was dug, good roads were laid and a proper drainage system was installed. Though the majority of the Dalits continued to work as agricultural labourers in the main village, some found employment elsewhere. Since the new colony was situated just off the main road, some Dalits were able to find employment in the nearby tourist town of Tirupathi. Tirupathi, about ten km away from Gajulamandyam, is home to the famous Venkateshwara Temple, reputedly the richest tourist site in the world after the Vatican. Employment outside the village brought some Dalits a measure of prosperity, enabling them to send their children to school and build nicer homes.
The changing socio-economic dynamics of Gajulamandyam gave rise to the present state of caste conflict in the village. The dominant caste Reddy community, upon whom the Dalits had traditionally depended for their livelihood, were unwilling to accept the growing prosperity and self-respect of Dalits. In an effort to reassert their dominance and “put the Dalits in their place,” the dominant castes employed several mechanisms, including attacks and social boycotts. In 1976, when the Dalits initially moved to their present-day settlement, the dominant castes imposed a social boycott on the Dalits by denying them access to drinking water from the main village’s overhead tank. The Reddys also exploited the land that had been allotted to the Dalits as a burial ground. In 1994, though an overhead water tank in the main village and several agricultural bore -wells supplied ample water to the dominant caste community, two hundred dominant caste people descended upon the Dalit colony in the middle of the night to erect yet another bore-well for dominant caste drinking water. This group installed the bore-well on the property of one Nagaiah, which was just twenty yards from the Dalits’ common drinking well. The next morning, after testing the bore-well’s functioning, the dominant castes imposed a social boycott against the Dalits. Later that same day, however, the hastily erected bore-well malfunctioned. When the Reddys imposed a social boycott, the Dalits approached officials and filed a case. In retaliation, the Reddys cut off the electricity and drinking water supply from the main village to the Dalit colony for three days. Finally district officials intervened and shut down the bore-well erected on Nagaiah’s property for the time being.
Five years later on 12 June 1999, about five hundred dominant caste people descended upon the Dalit colony and attempted to forcefully connect a pipeline from the disputed bore-well to their (the dominant castes’) property. To avoid violence, the Dalit women prohibited their men from coming out to stop the Reddys. Instead, the women themselves organised a non-violent protest against the Reddys’ aggressive endeavours. In the course of the encounter, the Reddys abused the Dalit women by caste name, harassed them and physically manhandled them; but the Dalit women ultimately succeeded in stopping the Reddys from laying the pipeline. Again, officials eventually intervened and posted a guard at the bore-well. The same day, however, the Reddys imposed a social boycott on the Dalits, which as of 10.01.00 is still effective. The Dalits are not allowed to enter the main village for any purpose, neither for employment nor for any commercial exchange. Any non-Dalit who violates the boycott is fined. The Reddys have also cut off the water supply that the Dalits need to irrigate the fields they lease from the Reddys.
Dalits who work in Gram Panchayat are not allowed to work in the main village and have not been given their outstanding salaries.
It should be noted that throughout the history of this conflict, the Reddys have never been in need of water.
As previously mentioned, there was an overhead water tank in the main village and there were several bore-wells located in the Reddys’ fields. Water scarcity, then, did not drive the dominant caste community to dig a bore-well in the Dalit colony. The aggressive, invasive construction of the bore-well and the ensuing struggle demonstrate what is fundamentally a caste struggle – a struggle for self-respect, equality and self-sufficiency for the Dalits, and a struggle for power and continued domination for the Reddys. One positive outcome of the boycott is that many more Dalits have found employment outside the village in Tirupathi and surrounding areas, thus decreasing the Dalit dependency on the landlords. After the attack on 12 June 1999, police registered a case under the SC/ST Act and arrested twelve of the accused Reddys. The case against the accused is, as of 9.7.99, still pending. The police also attempted to forge a peace between the two communities by creating a peace committee, but it failed to accomplish anything. The then Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Mr. Bhurria, visited the village and sent a letter to the Chief Minister requesting that he take action. Revenue officials also visited the village and made promises to address the situation, but these promises remain unfulfilled.
The village Bhadath is located in Disa taluka of Banaskantha district. The village is very backward in the district. More than caste discrimination, feudalsim is being practiced in the village and because of that many communities like Dalit, Muslims etc. have left the village and got settled some other places.
In the past also around 56 dalit familes had migrated from the village. In the given instance, on 01/06/99 the accused Banji Chaturbhai Thakor killed the victim with deadly wepon. The case involved many other accused but police did not act only because of feudalism. When it became the issue and went to the media, the police registered FIR
Dominant caste Hindus deny Dalits, belonging to Mala (SC) community, entry into the village temple, though Dalits donated both money and labour toward its construction. In 1999, all the villagers of Kommireddi palli, including forty Dalit families, constructed a temple to the Hindu god Rama. Dalits donated money to the cause and also provided free labour, along with the caste Hindus, toward the temple’s construction. The completed temple was called Sri Ramuluvari Gudi.
Once the temple was opened, the dominant caste community barred Dalits entry into the temple on the grounds that the Dalits were “untouchables.” If any Dalit wants to perform puja, he or she must stand outside the temple and depend upon the priest to collect the Dalit’s offerings and perform the puja inside. The Dalits filed a complaint to the local MRO and SP, but the officials did not register a case and no action has been taken.