Dalit families tense after Maharashtra blinding incident

March 17th, 2008 - 11:33 am ICT by admin  

By Prabhat Sharan
Mumbai, March 17 (IANS) Several Dalit families are said to be fleeing their villages in Nanded district of Maharashtra after the January incident in which two boys from socially marginalized communities were virtually blinded by upper caste people. The shocking aftermath of the incident was highlighted in a report of the fact-finding committee of the Dalit Intellectuals Collective (DIC), which has several Dalit groups and personalities as its members. The DIC submitted its report last week to the state home ministry.

“Several Dalit families have started fleeing from villages in Nanded district, following the gouging out of the eyes of their two community members,” former judge B.H. Gaikwad who was part of the committee told IANS.

“We are making efforts to get the statistics of the families that have already left, but given the tense scenario, it will take some time.”

Gaikwad along with other DIC members like academics Sanjay Moon and activist Mangal Khinwasara visited the Sategaon village in Nanded district in Marathwada, the south central part of the state bordering Karnataka, where the incident took place.

Gaikwad said: “We can actually feel the fear pulsating among the lower strata of society and the Dalits. They usually live in small hamlets in poor conditions on the banks of the Godavari river.”

In the village of around 1,250 people, the community break-up, according to the study, is Maratha 84.91 percent, Matang 7.08 percent, Buddhists 5.66 percent, Gosavi and other backward class 1.89 percent and Muslims 0.95 percent.

Matangs along with converts to Buddhism are Dalits.

“Our fact-finding mission has revealed that one of the victims, 20-year old Chandrakant Gaikwad, had a close friendship with an upper caste girl, Premala Jadhav, residing in the same village. This was resented by a section of the so-called upper castes as they not only harbour casteist sentiments but also exercise control over the local economy and administrative set-up,” Gaikwad said.

According to Gaikwad, Chandrakant and his friend Milind Jondhale, a Buddhist from the Matang community, were allegedly attacked by members of a Maratha community organisation called Chaava. They were brutally assaulted for running away with Premala to another village.

The members of Chaava went to the other village, caught the youths and tried to gouge out their eyes. The boys are now battling to get their eyesight restored partially.

Police too have been accused of adopting a partisan approach in the sensitive matter, which has further infuriated the Dalits.

“Under pressure from certain groups, police have filed a case of kidnapping and molestation against the youth. They have ignored the girl’s repeated statements that are contradicting the police version, the fact that she is a major and that it was her own decision to run away from the village,” said Khinwasara, a member of the local Women’s Vigilance Committee.

When news of the horrifying incident started trickling in, a local NGO, Vikas Adhyayan Kendra (VAK), set up an independent committee of prominent individuals to ferret out the truth behind the incident that has sent shockwaves among Dalits all over Maharashtra.

“In fact, it has revived memories of the atrocities and massacre of four members of a Dalit family in Khairlanji in the nearby Bhandara district of Vidarbha in eastern Maharashtra,” Khinwasara said.

In September 2006, a mob of upper caste people had attacked four members of a Dalit family, stripped a woman and her daughter naked, and killed them along with her two sons in Khairlanji.

“So far the state government has not bothered to even look into the Sategaon matter, even though we have submitted our report with eye-opening facts. As was the case in Khairlanji, Dalit families are fleeing the villages and the so-called local self-government based committees have done nothing to build confidence among community members,” according to Gaikwad.

“It is precisely for this reason that we have demanded not just a separate inquiry to be conducted in the functioning of the Sategaon Gram Panchayat but we also want civil rights training to be imparted to Dalit women, members of the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes and other backward communities,” said Khinwasara.

Women activists in Maharashtra have also demanded that the state Women’s Commission and Women’s Protection Force be ordered to visit the girl, Premala, and find out her condition.

They also want rehabilitation of the victims of caste violence, heavy penalties and punishment to those guilty and investigation into the role of people fomenting caste clashes.

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