A dozen Dalit houses were torched after electoral defeat of ‘upper’ castes in Odisha village. The police, instead of making arrests, are protecting the accused.
“There was nothing to eat,” says an elderly woman sitting at the threshold of her house, or what are now the hollow remains of her house. 12 Dalit homes were burned down by members of ‘upper’ caste communities in Kumarpur in Odisha, following clashes over religious processions, political differences and assault.
Community Correspondent Ashok Samal, who has been following the situation in the village, says that it began when Ganesh Puja was observed separately by different castes in September 2016. “The ‘upper’ castes were taking their idol for immersion and carrying out fireworks along the way near a Dalit neighbourhood. Someone from the neighbourhood asked them to move elsewhere because houses could accidentally catch fire. That is when the abuses began”, he says.
Kumarpur has a mixed population of ‘upper’ castes, OBCs (other backward classes) and Dalits. In this village, political battlelines are drawn based on caste differences. In January 2017, elections were held to the local panchayat, and the 18 year old son of an influential ‘upper’ caste village resident with connections to the ruling Biju Janta Dal (BJD), Ranjan Acharya, was nominated as a candidate. The minimum age to contest panchayat elections is 21 years.
“We did not vote for him, and this was his revenge”, says Jalandhar, whose house was also set afire. Ashok adds that the electoral defeat was not the only reason. In early April, the village observed another religious festival and this time, the non-Brahmin communities were not allowed to carry out a procession through the village. “There was a heated verbal exchange and both groups threatened each other with violence. Tension escalated and peace talks were called for at the panchayat, but the friction remained”, he says.
A few days later, some men from the Dalit community of Kumarpur were on their way to Cuttack to find wage work. On the way, they were forcefully stopped and physically assaulted by the ‘upper’ caste men.
It was after this incident, on April 11, that the 12 houses in the Dalit neighborhood were set afire.
The families have lost everything. “They burned the 12 bags of paddy and three bags of rice that I had”, says Renu Mallick. Mallick also lost her utensils and clothes, a gold chain and 50,000 rupees that she had saved for her daughter’s wedding.
After the incident, the police arrested ten people involved in the incident, six from the Dalit and OBC communities and four from the ‘upper’ caste communities. All of them are now out on bail. “None of the main accused have been arrested”, says Bhagirathi Mallick, who also lost his home to the arson. Because of the clout that the ‘upper’ castes have, the police are not taking any action against the main accused, including Ranjan Acharya. On the contrary, they share an amicable relationship with the police.
“The aggrieved party must be adequately compensated and the accused arrested and charged under the SC & ST Prevention of Atrocities Act. I am trying to take this up with the District Collector through my video and with the help of some of the Dalit families”, says Ashok.
To ensure that the families are compensated and the accused arrested, call the District Collector of Cuttack at +91-6712508100 and tell him to take the necessary steps for compensation and to press the police to take action against the accused.
Article by Alankrita Anand