West Godavari District: Around twelve hundred Dalits, belonging to the Mala Community in Garagaparru village, have been facing a social boycott by Kapus and Kshatriya communities in one of its brutal forms.
Godi Vijayendra Rao, 62, was working as an agricultural labourer for more than 30 years in the fields of the Kshatriya (Rajus, in local parlance) landlords, who control more than half of the land in the village.
“All the agricultural workers, tenant farmers, aqua workers and tractor drivers working on the resources of the landed castes for their livelihood were driven on May 5,” says Rao, who is now left with no livelihood like most Dalits in the colony. Mala community lives in Ambedkar Colony in Garagaparru.
likewise, “I treated some Dalits in the preceding week. So, the landlord asked me to vacate the room on the pretext that he wanted to ‘start a business’,” said Ramu, a doctor who had been living practising medicine at the same place for the past 18 months. He was asked by the Kapu landlord on June 3 to vacate the two-room hospital.
“The heads of the rest 14 castes in the village met in Sivalayam (the village temple) on April 26 and decided that anyone who employs us will be fined Rs 10,000 and anyone who speaks with us will be fined Rs 1000,” said Pathe James, 39, a tenant farmer whose Kshatriya landlord withdrew his lease to the land James had been tilling for the last five years.
“The landlords are even calling up their counterparts in other villages and instructing them to not give us work,” says Gudise Abraham, 53, another tenant farmer who pays back 26 sacks of paddy, each 75 kgs, as the lease amount to the landlord.
Moreover, the Mala community has been denied the right to install the statue of Dr BR Ambedkar that currently stands outside the old panchayat office. While other statutes like that of freedom fighter Alluri Seeta Rama Raju are regularly honoured by the upper caste residents of the village on the bank of the pond.
All this had started on April 23, when some Dalit youth of the Lutheran Sangham of Ambedkar colony (also called Christianpeta) erected the BR Ambedkar statue along with the statues of Mahatma Gandhi, Alluri Sita Rama Raju and Arthur Cotton already exist on the bank of the pond.
But the statue went missing the next day even before the sunrise. Agitated 1000 Dalits blocked the Bhimavaram Tadepalligudem state highway and forced sub-collector of Narsapur to support them.
The Dalits allege that some youth belonging to the upper castes removed the statue and hid it in the old panchayat office.
“You can have temples. You can have the statues of the upper caste men. But, you will invoke all laws and judgments of the land, when we wanted to install the statue of Ambedkar. The Rajus sit in the verandah of the temple and if installed, Ambedkar’s statue will point a finger towards them. How can a lower caste man point his fingers towards the men from landed castes? Doesn’t matter that the lower caste man is none other than the maker of our constitution,” says Abraham.
Lutheran Church in Ambedkar Colony is being stocked up by many organisations so that around 1200 Dalits can eat from the stock of rice and vegetable. As the boycott continues for the last two months.
“All the 1200 Dalits have been eating here since the past two months, two times a day. We haven’t received even a single penny from the government yet,” says Kunchanapalli Aadam, 42, who has been part of the vanta-varpu (cooking and dining) programme, ever since it started. “Since we don’t have work, we are left with all the time to fight,” he adds laughingly.
On the other hand, the people from the 14 castes say that it is the Malas who are boycotting them. Ganapathi from the Kshatriya community and works with a private company in Bhimavaram, says, “The Malas took advantage out of the fact that the conflict broke out during the peak agricultural season. They refused to come to our fields and work, because of which we were forced to employ outsiders for even higher costs. It is they who boycotted us and excluded us.”
The Dalits laugh at the idea that they are boycotting the rest of the 14 castes. “How can one caste boycott 14 castes? Who has land? Who has capital? Who has political and judicial power? If it is they who have everything and we are dependent on them for our livelihood, how can we boycott them? ” Abraham asks.
The Mala sarpanch, Unnamatla Elizabeth whom Dalit villagers claim “sold out to the landed castes,” says, “The social boycott is a figment of the imagination of the Dalits. Things are absolutely fine and harmonious in the village.”
Courtesy: Rahul Maganti is an independent journalist based in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh.