1. Introduction

1.1 On 06th October 2005, news appeared in the local daily Deshbandhu with the heading “Harijan Chatro Ne Lagaya Madhyan Bhojan Me Apmanit Karne Ka Aarop” , followed by another news in Pratidin on 12th October 2005, “Satnami Bachho Ko Nahi Parosa Madhyan Bhojan” . Since it was read by many journals, advocates, social activists, and others the news spread like a wildfire. Also there was news in Sahara Chhattisgarh on 26th October 2005 about untouchability in the village during mid-day meal.

1.2 The news gave an idea that there is a widespread caste disparity within the village in terms of food distribution as per the Supreme Court directions on mid-day meal.

1.3 Followed by this many social activists and media persons from different parts of the state contacted members of Dalit Study Circle and Dalit Mukti Morcha and enquired if a fact-finding mission could be undertaken.

1.4 Subsequently DSC & DMM felt the urgent need to set up a fact-finding investigation. A ten-member team was constituted in order to study and investigate the different dimensions of the case.

The team consisted of 1.4.1 Guddu Lahre 1.4.2 Satyendra Tandon 1.4.3 Sandhya Bodelkar 1.4.4 Durga Jha 1.4.5 Meena Gupta 1.4.6 Babubhai Shrivas 1.4.7 Pappu Baghel 1.4.8 Kamlesh Baghel 1.4.9 Goldy M. George 1.4.10 Hari Kurre

1.5 On 29th October 2005 the team visited Bhokludih village concerning the case and came forward with several significant findings.

1.6 While the facts unfolded one after another, it was just trembling. This report is an attempt to look at the different dimensions of the issue and its key findings.

2. A Glance of Bhokludih

2.1 Village Bhokludih comes within Bhokludih panchayat in Pithora block of Mahasamund district of Chhattisgarh, at a distance of 12 km from Pithora and about 62 kms from the district headquarters. This village comes under Pithora Police Station area.

2.2 Bhokludih has got another village together with widh it constitutes the administrative unity viz. panchayat.

2.3 Adivasis, Dalits and backward communities inhabit Bhokludih. Except for the two Dalit families all the remaining ones are from Adivasi and OBC background. Among the Dalits there are only two families originally, one is Ganda and the other is Satnami. At present the one family each had grown to larger number with the total amounting to approximately 50 people.

2.4 949 is the total population of Bhokludih out of which 470 are men whereas 479 are women. Based on the voter’s list the total voters in Bhokludih are 753.

2.5 The village has got a government primary school and a middle school run by private management.

2.6 Adjacent to the National Highway, this village has also got a few shops with prominent presence of the Baniyas as businessmen. Many of them had settled down in the village.

3. Vibrant Untouchability & Discrimination

3.1 During the investigation the people reported several kinds of untouchability practised in the village as well as applying different strategies of discriminating Dalits at large.

3.2 Discriminating Dalit student in the school was the issue that the people expressed to the investigation team as the immediate one. There were two incidences.

3.3 The first incident came into limelight with two Dalit boys Jitendra Kurre and Nageshwar Kurre, both studying in Std. V, in the primary school in Bhokludih faced humiliation at the hands of the cook during the food distribution as part of the mid-day meal scheme. Both of them hail from Satnami community. Based on the Supreme Court’s verdict to provide cooked mid-day meal to student in the primary school, the school had also appointed a lady to cook the food for students.

3.4 In the first week of October 2005 the two boys realised they had been given lesser food than others and demanded for sufficient food. Secondly they discovered that the food was not served to them rather it was just thrown into their plates. Also they were made to sit separate, not along with other students.

3.5 Both of them protested against these two acts and demanded sufficient food to be given in a proper manner. Further they were of the opinion that they should be given proper space to sit along with other non-Dalit students.

3.6 When it continued then the two boys tried to enter the kitchen with the proposal that they would serve food to all so that the quantity provided is not lesser and also that they could sit along with others in the same row.

They said that I am Chamar − Jiterndra Kurre Nagendra Kurre, a student of Class V in Bhokludih village revealed that, “she (Tilak Moti the cook) called me a Chamar and that hurt me very badly”. This was revealed before the investigation team, which went to the village to enquire about the different forms of untouchability with the Dalit students in the village.

He said that the cook Tilak Moti gave him less food and that too she threw it into his plate than serving. “Even we are asked to sit at a distance from other boys”, said the young lad. When they resisted and demanded that they will serve to everyone, then Tilak Moti blocked him from entering the kitchen saying that he is a Chamar hence he can’t serve food, nor he should enter the kitchen. He was told that he shouldn’t touch the food otherwise others won’t be able to eat.

He is depressed and demoralised with such an attitude. He continued, though he had informed madam Kamala Chauhan, however the attitude of the cook didn’t change despite the instruction of the madam. He also role-played before the team how he was served in the school.

3.7 But Tilak Moti the cook didn’t allow them to enter the kitchen and warned that “Tum Log Jati Ke Chamar Ho, Tum Khana Nahi Baat Sakte. Tumhare Haat Ka Khana Koi Nahi Khayega”.

3.8 Followed by this the boys complained to the teacher Ms. Kamala Chauhan. Instantly the madam instructed the cook to take care of the children in a proper way and asked Tilak Moti to provide adequate food in a dignified manner.

3.9 On this Tilak Moti not only conflicted this but also rushed to the Sarpanch with this complaint. On the way she kept on murmuring and sometimes shouting on the teacher as well as the Dalit boys. At this Sarpanch Deepanjali Sahu along with her husband Shankar Sahu and few others including Ashish Mathew and Ritesh Sahu arrived at the school and began to shout and scold the Dalit boys. They said, “Tum Log Na To Rasoi Me Ghus Sakte Aur Na Hi Khana Vitran Karoge Tumhare Haath Ka Koi Nahi Khayega”.

3.10 Although this had been continued from long, this had not been taken seriously by the children from Dalit background since they couldn’t realise what untouchability is all about in their little age. However different forms of untouchability practises were going on not only in the village but also within the school premises.

3.11 This could be proved from the fact that on 7th July 2005 a meeting of the school committee viz. Gram Janbhagidari Samiti was held in which a resolution was passed that no more the practise of untouchability would take place in the school of Bhokludih. During the meeting it was also resolved that the teachers will co-operate and monitor that there is no such practise taking place in the school premises during the mid-day meal distribution.

3.12 Another similar incident that came into the attention is that of a girl Ku. Gita Hiyal, a student of Std. VI in the middle school of Bhokludih. On 5th October 2005 she went to have a glass of water with her friends Manisha and Sushma inside the kitchen. There Tilak Moti and Arjun, both cooks, barred her from touching the water container inside the kitchen and further said, “Tum Log Chamar Ho, Rasoi Ghar Me Mat Ghusa Karo, Aur Pani Ko Mat Chuo”.

Untouchability is very common with me − Gita Hiyal Ku. Gita Hiyal a student of Class VI told the investigation team that untouchability is very common with her in many ways. She told that she was blocked from entering the kitchen while she tried to enter for a glass of water from the pot kept inside the kitchen. According to her Tilak Moti said that you are a Chamar and if you drink water from the pot then it would turn impure for others to drink from it. She was told that she should only drink from the hand pump. She felt too bad and insulting.

Then she went to the nearby hand pump to have water from it. She told about this to the teacher. The teacher instructed the cook not to block the girl from drinking water. At this the cook began shouting on her. Later she told her father about this demeanour.

While enquire about other forms of experiences of untouchability she told the investigative team that girls from upper caste background keep a distance from her all the time. When asked why do they do like that she said that, “don’t come near us or touch us. You are an untouchable, your touch will pollute us even”, is how they respond most of the time. “They are instructed to keep a distance from me. Mostly good friends, although only one or two, keep a distance from me since I am a Ganda”, added Gita.

Various instances of how they behave with her in the village, at the bathing spot in the tank, while taking water from the hand pump, her fear to walk through the caste Hindu lane, etc. were also exposed.

She also complained that she is made to sit separate from other girls in the school. Sometimes if she falls sick and is unable to go to school for a couple of days no girls would share the notes with her. With all these conduct she doesn’t like to go to school anymore.

3.13 Next day a group of people led by Miniketan Rawat, Shankar Sahu husband of the Sarpanch, Kuber Sahu, Samaru Kewat reached Kapurchandra Hiyal’s house, the father of Gita. They called him out and as soon he came out both Miniketan and Shankar threatened him of severe consequences. They said, “Maadarchod Ganda Apne Bachhe Ko Samjhakar Rakh, Dubara Rasoi Ghar Me Nahi Ghusenge, Aur Pani Nahi Piyenge. Maadarchod Chamar Log, Hamare Bachhe Kya Tum Logo Ka Chua Pani Chuyege?”

3.14 Kuber Sahu and Samaru Kewat dragged him holding Kapurchandra’s hair and draw him across the wall. Again they abused him using derogatory insulting and abusive language; most of them cannot be mentioned in this report.

3.15 They also threatened that he should be within his aukat or else face the consequences of driven off the village. Further if the girl tires to enter the kitchen then she would be kicked out of the school.

3.16 Hariram Kurre and Nirmal Kurre who were watching all what was happening from a distance came to his rescue. Only after their intervention the hold was loosened.

3.17 Meanwhile Kamala Chauhan had moved a request application on the matter to higher authorities within educational department. In her application she had mentioned, the cook in support of the Sarpanch has indulged in untouchability and discriminative practises inside the school premises. Apparently she mentioned that the Sarpanch has instructed her to prevent the Dalit children from entering the kitchen.

3.18 Instead of resolving the arisen situation the authorities under pressure from political front compelled to transfer her from that school to another school at a distance of about 12 kms. Technically it is said as an “arrangement”, but in real terms it is simply a transfer. Perhaps the fear is that she being a Dalit is sensitive towards the issue and could expose the vibrant untouchability.

3.19 Kapurchandra Hiyal as well as Nirmal Kurre and Dararam Kurre, fathers of Jitendra and Nageshwar respectively filed a complaint with the SC/ST special police station in Mahasamund. These complaints were refused by the local police station at Pithora saying that it is a matter of SC/ST that could be dealt by special police station only. However no investigation or action on these applications had taken place as of yet.

4. Background of the incident

4.1 Till the last Panchayat elections, one Mr. Agrawal headed Bhokludih panchayat as its Sarpanch. During the investigation the Dalits informed the team that untouchability as a practise in the school didn’t take place before. Means the separate eating place for the Dalit students, giving them lesser food, or not serving the food properly was not part of the daily course in the school.

4.2 According to Kamala Chauhan, when the last panchayat elections were near she was appointed as the concerned officer in the Panchayat by the Election Commission. This is a normal course during elections that the local government servants are given the charge of polling officer at the local level. After this Deepanjali Sahu the present Sarpanch and her husband Shankar Charan Sahu along with Miniketan Yadav called her at the Panchayat office and asked her to remove the name of one Mrs. Premlata Agrawal wife of Kailash Agarwal from the voter’s list. Kailash Agarwal was the son of ex-Sarpanch.

4.3 On this Kamala Chauhan differed to remove her name from the voter’s list, as it was not under her power and authority. Moreover it was unethical since Premlata Agrawal was a permanent resident of Bhokludih.

4.4 Ms. Chauhan claims that she was threatened by all the three as they realised that she is not going to delete the name of Premlata from the list. According to Kamala they said that she would face dire consequences. Further she claims that they intimidated her of throwing her off this school by pressurising their BJP government.

4.5 After this Deepanjali won the elections as Sarpanch. Since then such incidences of untouchability in the school has become crucial, according to Kamala Chauhan. Nirmal Kurre confirmed this during the investigation. Also the same was told to the investigation team by Mr. Dasranti Hiyal, one of the Dalit elder’s from Ganda community around 70 years old.

4.6 However many other types of untouchability were also observed by the investigation team like separate bathing ghat, at the hand pump while drawing water from the common source, untouchability by non-Dalit students with Dalit students in the school, sense of inferiority, etc. Some of them also mentioned that they were fear stuck to walk freely during night times since they have to pass through the lane of the caste Hindus.

4.7 Nevertheless the situation in the village is not normal and new forms of untouchability are becoming a vibrant and common feature of the village.

5. Talk with the Caste Hindus

5.1 The team also took the statement of the caste Hindus. As a part of this we went to the Sarpanch’s house. When we reached the house, the situation was more a drama like. For some time there was nobody to respond to the call and the veranda was just blank. The team sat over there for sometime.

5.2 We again called the people inside. One of the women members went inside to see if there is someone who would like to talk with us. But only a silent voice resounded.

5.3 At last with great difficulty a few people came out. We requested that we want to talk with the Sarpanch. The woman Sarpanch whispered from inside that she doesn’t want to talk with anyone on anything.

5.4 In the meantime her husband Shankar Sahu came out to great us and unfolded a few chairs for us to sit on it. Followed by this we again requested him to get his wife who is also the Sarpanch. On this he told us that he can speak on her behalf.

5.5 By this time a few more people from the surrounding houses rounded up. Yet the discussion didn’t start. At last with great difficulty we got her out of the home. She continued her murmuring that she doesn’t want to speak to anyone on anything.

5.6 As soon as came her husband began to explain us that there is no casteism in the village. It is only created as a hoax under political pressure.

5.7 We asked him to stop so that his wife could speak before the investigation team. She began to talk and she spoke just one single thing every time. She told that, “it’s all being propped up by Kailash Agrawal only to meet his political goals”. She kept on murmuring these words whenever we asked her any question. It was pretty ridiculous to the team but quickly we sniffed that the entire drama is to confuse the investigation team on the question of untouchability.

5.8 Few times of repeated questioning and her husband intervened and tried to convince the investigation team that there is no such matter again. We made it clear that we had got enough of evidence to prove that that are discriminatory practises taking place in the village.

5.9 Again Mr. Shankar Sahu told us that it was his father who had taken this matter so seriously and ensured that casteism and caste based untouchability and discrimination has been annihilated from the surface of Bhokludih. Within no time a cooked up story of caste harmony had surfaced before us.

5.10 None were interested to address the core issue of untouchability and discrimination in the school, which was primarily the reason why went there to investigate the matter. All simply said that it was a false allegation and alleged that Kailash Agrawal did these, and even the investigation team had come on his instruction. 5.11 The team also called the cook Tilak Moti and all she said was the same what the Sarpanch Deepanjali Sahu and her husband Shankar Sahu. It seems that she was pre-trained for any such interrogation.

5.12 But at one point the investigation team asked if there were such practises of making the Dalit children sit separately, and then she said YES!

5.13 At this the men sitting around started aggravated on her and began shouting loudly to divert our attention and the mood groomed into a fight like situation against us. However the team managed to control the situation and made it out of the village.

6. The Aftermaths

6.1 Prior to the visit of the investigation team it was reported that a few days back a team of journalists including one from Sahara Channel had gone to the village to cover the matter, however the Sarpanch and her supporters didn’t allow them to investigate the matter. Rather they turned violent to the level that they had destroyed the videocassette. With great difficulty under police protection only the media team could get out of the village. Local media persons as well as the Thana Prabhari at police station Pithora confirmed this. There is one FIR registered by the media persons in Pithora Police Station against Deepanjali Sahu, her husband, son, Ashish Mathew and others.

6.2 However Deepanjali Sahu and her husband Shankar Sahu accused the Sahara correspondent that he told them of killing both the Sarpanch and her husband. He also claimed that it was said in the presence of the Pithora Police Station Incharge.

6.3 However the Station Incharge gave us a different story, that the media persons got rounded up in the village and after getting telephonic information only we went to bail them out of the situation. These two statements are diametrically opposite to each other.

6.4 The next day after the team visited Bhokludih, we received phone calls from the Dalits of Bhokludih village. Out of this one was that of Ms. Kamala Chauhan. The information was that the situation had outgrown and the caste Hindus are planning for an attack on the Dalit basti.

6.5 The call from Kamala Chauhan also updated that there was a meeting conducted in the village under the auspice of the Sarpanch’s husband Shankar Sahu after the investigation team left the village.

6.6 She also claimed that they (Caste Hindus) identified her (Kamala Chauhan) as the key person who should be targeted. Over the telephonic conversation she also told that there was a clear intimidation on her life as it was discussed to kill her during the previous night meeting.

6.7 Followed by this she filed a petition in the Pithora Police Station mentioning the details in it, in which she mentioned that there are clear threats to her life. However the Thana Prabhari refused to accept it and directed her to go to the Special thana in Mahasamund which is specifically for SC/ST cases.

6.8 On 5th November 2005 her memorandum was submitted to the special Thana in Mahasamund.

7. The Police Action

7.1 It is not clear what action did the local police took so far to redress the grievance of the Dalits. Since in this case the Dalits are the victims who had been provided with special protections in the constitution as well as other legal premises.

7.2 What action did police in the SC/ST Special Police Station took to reduce the tension is not clear. The tension between the Dalits and non-Dalits are on an escalation. It is also not clear what sort of investigation is being under course on the petitions in this PS on three-four complaints.

7.3 Local police had provided some support to the media persons who got hooked in a typical situation in that village and also to our investigation team, however what they did to dilute the tension under which Kamala Chauhan was compelled to file another complaint copy is unknown.

7.4 What role did police or any other authority played as law enforcement authority to alleviate untouchability and caste disparity in the school of Bhokludih is not known to anyone. The entire episode happened in an atmosphere where the role of police and administrative is under scepticism.

7.5 In a casual way the officer in charge of the Police Station in Pithora told us that, “casteism and untouchability is there in all the villages but what can we do?”

8. Observations

8.1 During the initial surveillance the investigation team had observed that there are clear instances of untouchability in the village even within the school premises during the mid-day meal distribution.

8.2 Another thing that the team had observed is that the Dalits in this village are living under fear and some sort of terror. This certainly is against the constitutional right to freedom by all means.

8.3 A caste based hostility and antagonism rove in the entire village for no doubt. All the members observed this during the visit.

8.4 The fact that there is discrimination in the mid-day meal scheme is really stunning. In fact this is against the Supreme Court order. In other words it is a contempt of court.

8.5 There is certainly a political rivalry between Shankar Sahu and Kailash Agrawal pertaining in the village. However it is not clear why the Dalits are being targeted for that purpose.

8.6 It was also established that issues of untouchability and casteism had remained in this village even before the present panchayat body came in being. The resolution of 7th July 2005 as well as the statement of Gita Hiyal proves this fact.

8.7 There is also a sense of certain amount of 'graded inferiority' among the Dalits which is another factor contributing to the augmentation of the issue to the worst end. This is what contributed to the humiliation of the Dalit students in Bhokludih.

8.8 The extents of humiliation and dishonour faced by the Dalit children are unexplainable. However when they say that they have a dislike for going to school the certain degree of mental trauma could be understood.

8.9 Transfer of Ms. Kamala Chauhan is only due to the fact that she stood against the untouchability and supported the Dalit children. This is simply unethical that a government employee is targeted for taking a right position.

8.10 It is also observed that despite the fact that women are made as Sarpanch of the panchayats, it is their husbands who operate in real. During the investigation the Sarpanch pati told the team that, “although she is the Sarpanch, since she is incapable I am dealing some of the things”. Later he changed his own statement contenting that he is helping her in the matter of administration.

8.11 The team also detected that the present Sarpanch and their clique are much involved in perpetuating untouchability to the worst level. The fact that they become violent with the media persons a few days earlier stratifies this by all means.

8.12 It seems that the SC/ST special police stations are just defunct for the Dalits. This is a common observation about most of the SC/ST police stations in Chhattisgarh. These police stations perhaps waits till some major incident takes place after which they play a crucial role to neutralise any such cases to the best possible way. That is why neither any investigation nor any preventive steps have been taken for this long in Bhokludih case.

9. Arising Concerns

9.1 The first and the foremost concern out of this whole occurrence is that the monster of caste is back with its dreadful venom. Though its venom of bitterness and hatred was never dead but it was out of action for some time in Chhattisgarh. During the last five years it has committed its dreadful resurgence.

9.2 Dalits in Bhokludih are living in fear and terror. The fear psychology designed by the upper caste had properly worked in this case only to prove that anyone who would try to break the shackles of caste would be defeated without any response. Transfer of Kamala Chauhan should be seen in relation to this aspect. In this the social system is crucially assimilated into the political, administrative and psychological frameworks.

9.3 People have got less faith in the police and administration, since caste had gone deep into the blood and nerves of it. Yet people are unable to speak about it, due to horror looming on their head. It appears like the police is playing its role by weakening the case by not seriously investigating and intervening into the matter in a significant way.

9.4 There is gross violation of Constitutional Rights and other rights ensured in different acts and laws of the land. Violation of legal framework is not only the violation of Dalit rights but also the gross violation of human rights at large. In Bhokludih it is not just the violation of national laws and acts but also a gross violation of international human rights structure.

9.5 There is a clear caste hierarchy looming in the village for long also establishing that there are clear cases of untouchability. How far the Dalits were able to articulate it is the real question.

9.6 The discrimination of Dalit children in the mid-day meal distribution, the denial of drinking water to the girl, existing disputes of untouchability at hand pump, bathing ghats, as well as the tardy approach of police and administration towards the Dalits, the fear to walk through the lanes of the upper caste after dusk, are all the different forms of continued violence of the casteism. All these profoundly contribute to establish the fact that caste discrimination and untouchability is vibrant in the village as it was before. Nothing has changed even after 58 years of independence. They still reel under the sinews of the neo-slavery.

10. Recommendation

10.1 Under the above mentioned circumstances we recommend for an impartial investigation into the whole incident of Bhokludih. All forces with the intention of political gain and drawing political mileage should be kept away from the investigation process. However the Dalit organisations engaged in this process should be involved and consulted in this case in view of holding a fair and just investigation.

10.2 We insist to instruct the police to investigate the whole matter and take essential steps to frame the case in a proper manner mentioning all appropriate sections and clauses in this matter so that justice is done to the Dalits and no one again dares to do the same in future.

10.3 Proper direction should be given to the district administration to ensure the freedom, safety and security of Dalits living under utter terror and fear. But this should not be done at the cost of defending the crime against humanity.

10.4 The state government should also be directed to take precautionary measure of preventing such incidences on Dalits.

10.5 Using of derogatory language should be banned and considered to be a heinous crime by all sections of law.

10.6 A fraternal atmosphere should be built in the school where the students could study without any fear, inferiority complex and discrimination. Otherwise all songs of glorification of Dalit development will just a tuneless song when Dalit boys and girls are forcefully pushed out of education like this in Bhokludih.

10.7 The teacher Ms. Kamala Chauhan should be reinstated in her old work place, Bhokludih, where she had worked for nearly 10 years. Otherwise it would be unethical on part of the educational department to transfer a government official under political compulsion or as political target.

10.8 The whole matter should be investigated and the character of the panchayat Sarpanch should be investigated so that it could come before in detail, however in such a case it is also recommended that the present Sarpanch should be suspended until the investigation is on and later if needed called off.

10.9 The role of the cook Tilak Moti needs a close scrutiny since she is the one who had kept untouchability alive in the school premises. It is also recommended that as per the Supreme Court norms a Dalit cook be appointed in the school to avoid untouchability practises in the schools.

10.10 The nebulous and tardy approach of the local police should also be investigated properly and if established that the police was wrong on their part in not taking necessary action then they should be suspended promptly, then only this will remain as a symbol of betraying the Dalits.

10.11 If the SC/ST special police station is unable to take action, then there is no meaning in keeping it alive. Just dissolve it. Otherwise turn it lively in favour of the depressed classes. Or if it is the concerned officers who is obsolete and useless not taking action, then remove them or suspend them from that position without any further delay.

11. Conclusion

11.1 This is clearly the continuity of the resurfacing of casteism in its wild and beastly form. Under this circumstance it is herewith appealed to all progressive and democratic forces to understand the gravity of this issue and support the cause of Dalits to build a force of fraternity and secularism in Chhattisgarh. Or otherwise the Brahministic casteism will once again surface in new forms and manifestations with its fangs and teeth.

11.2 Creation of a casteless and peaceful society is de facto the step of just, egalitarian, and harmonious society. A society of equals, neither unequal nor more-equals, beyond the strings of caste, class, gender, race, etc. that often leads to social oppression, political exploitation, economic deprivation, cultural domination, gender discrimination, class isolation, deliberate exclusion, etc. Lets’ believe in a society beyond this.

11.3 Unless this campaign is strengthened one cannot challenge the social system from its edifice, which de facto is the real challenge to the political, economic and cultural systems.

Compiled and Edited by Goldy M. George

Dalit Study Circle Karbala Para, Behind State Bank of Indore, G.E. Road, Raipur, Chhattisgarh-492001 Contact Phone: 98933-57911 Email: