Sir said I was a Dalit so I couldn’t be part of Puja: Odisha schoolgirl

According to her, as punishment, she and 20 other Dalit students were insulted, faced casteist slurs, were barred from offering prayers, and kept locked in the school for five hours.

Written by Debabrata Mohanty | Andara (kendrapara) | Updated: November 7, 2015 8:12 am
Dalit schoolchildren at the Bande Mataram High School in Kendrapara. (Source: Express Photo by Debabrata Mohanty) Dalit schoolchildren at the Bande Mataram High School in Kendrapara. (Source: Express Photo by Debabrata Mohanty)

In her years of studying at the Bande Mataram High School in Andara gram panchayat of coastal Kendrapara, the closest Savita Malik had got to the Ganesh Puja festivities was touching the coconut to be given to the God. This year in September, the Class X Dalit student decided to offer to scrape the tender coconut for the puja.

According to her, as punishment, she and 20 other Dalit students were insulted, faced casteist slurs, were barred from offering prayers, and kept locked in the school for five hours.

Later, following an FIR by her and other Dalit students with the Pattamundai police station, against five of the upper caste teachers plus the school headmaster, the teachers had to issue a public apology.

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The upper caste have got back in kind. At least 30 Dalit landless families of Andara are no longer allowed on upper caste land for sharecropping work, that they had been doing for decades. According to the Dalits, they have also been stopped from selling vegetables while local barbers have been told to turn them away.

Last month, the Dalits approached the State Human Rights Commission seeking a stop to the “boycott”. The Dalit sub-caste Kandara makes up one-third of the panchayat’s total population of around 4,000. Discrimination is common, and the Dalits say they had learnt to live with it. But this time it is different.

Rabindra Malika started working as a daily labourer in the field of an upper-caste Khandayat at the age of 20. He is now 60, and for the first time scared to approach the field. “I am sure they will beat me up. They know we Dalits are landless. If they don’t allow us to plough their land, how will we survive?” he says.

Nirakar Malika, also 60, has a family of five, dependent on the ploughing work he did on his upper caste landlord’s 3.5 acres field of black gram. He had spent Rs 5,000 of his own clearing the 6-ft tall grass that sprouts up every monsoon, over the past two months, Nirakar grimaces. “Had they told me earlier, I would not have wasted my money making the land ready for sowing.”

Madhav Malika, who was among the villagers who lodged a complaint with the tehsildar over the school incident, says, “They have declared war on us. They are hurt by the apology which we extracted from upper-caste teachers… We no longer feel safe as the Khandayats are in a majority.”

But the Khandayats don’t see anything wrong in the “boycott”, saying no one can force them to give their land, with crops of black gram, ground nut, coriander seed and moong, for sharecropping. “If we don’t like somebody, how can we allow them to go near our land?” says former sarpanch Upendra Mallick.

Claiming that what happened at the school was a “concocted story”, Mallick adds, “Our teachers did not hurt any Dalit children. The physical education teacher just wanted to ensure the schoolchildren didn’t hurt themselves scraping coconut. It was a humiliating experience for the teachers to apologise over a silly thing.”

While it remained under the surface, tension had also been simmering over minor incidents. Four months ago, Dalit farmer Ratha Malika’s 75-year-old father was allegedly beaten up after his sheep strayed into the backyard of Kalandi Nayak, a Khandayat. One of the sheep was allegedly struck to death. When Ratha complained to the police under the SC/ST Atrocities Act, upper caste villagers gave Rs 6,000 for the dead sheep as compromise.

Santosh Malika says that day, at the school, their children “begged” teachers to let them go. “The teachers mocked them saying it was the destiny of Dalits to touch the feet of upper-caste people.”

Savita remembers that it was her friend Sumi Parida who had asked her to help scrape the coconut. “I had just started scraping when Ashok sir (sports teacher Ashok Mullick) came and said since I was a ‘Kandara’, I couldn’t participate in the puja. When I started crying, the headmaster sir said we were destined to face such problems throughout our lives. As I was about to leave the school campus with my friends, a teacher snatched our bicycle keys and asked us to stay till the puja gets over. We begged our teacher that we were hungry and wanted to go. But they kept us locked till 3 pm, when one of us scaled the wall and told our parents what was going on,” says Savita.

Dalit students add there are other areas of the school “out of bounds” for them. “We are yet to touch the computer keyboard though upper-caste students are allowed to enter the computer room,” says Monalisa Malika, a Class IX student.

The Bande Mataram High School reopened recently, after the Puja vacations. While headmaster Ramesh Rout was not available for comment, Ashok Mallick, who is accused by the students of casteism, denies any such discrimination.

“Even the Ganesh Puja issue was blown out of proportion,” he says. Kendrapara District Collector Debraj Senapati and Kendrapara district education officer Sangram Sahu too claim they have “no information” of caste discrimination, “Let somebody complain. Then we will take action,” says Sahu.

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First Published on: November 7, 2015 2:21 am
  1. R
    Raj
    May 9, 2016 at 6:42 pm
    Such teachers should be suspended immediately for life long. Let there be an example for all. If teachers are involved in such unaccountability, who will cure this.
    Reply
    1. C
      Chand sonani
      Nov 7, 2015 at 8:05 pm
      It is really shamefull act, Thanks God we are living in Pak.
      Reply
      1. S
        Sirius
        Nov 7, 2015 at 1:15 pm
        Any discrimination like this is not acceptable in modern India, but the answers is not always legislation and enforcement by police,district administration. The elders in both groups should meet to build trust and resolve misunderstandings. Take little steps, yield a little, do a little more for the community, a lot gets achieved by just talking ...
        Reply
        1. D
          Druv
          Nov 7, 2015 at 1:45 pm
          The chaddi's wont let them convert nor give them dignity in Hinduism. Because without the lower caste, how will you have upper castes?
          Reply
          1. K
            Kumar
            Nov 7, 2015 at 11:42 pm
            If dhalit is only a sin... caste.... Why dalits are in Hinduism .....govt should remove.... Why this discreminaction on caste
            Reply
            1. M
              Mohsįn
              Nov 7, 2015 at 10:11 am
              These types of taboos can only be broken effectively through educating mes. It was one of the major reasons that Islam gained quick pority in India centuries ago!
              Reply
              1. S
                Smoker
                Nov 7, 2015 at 8:40 pm
                why just apology ? the teacher should be terminated, one with such mentality is not fit to be a teacher. not sure but isn't as per law he should be put behind bars?
                Reply
                1. R
                  Romik
                  Nov 8, 2015 at 2:46 am
                  The good news is that the teachers and the headmaster were punished and should be. No matter who you are one should be allowed to offer pooja. Bravo kids you stood up to your right to offer pooja! May Ganesha bless you and all the kids in the world!
                  Reply
                  1. A
                    Aditya
                    Nov 7, 2015 at 8:25 am
                    Sir I am a Muslim and my husband divorced me without giving any reason. What ismy fault. How many such stories do you run IE.
                    Reply
                    1. A
                      Afzal Ahmad
                      Nov 7, 2015 at 7:49 pm
                      The wife of Mr Kher is a BJP MP and he is simply carrying on his "Very PATINI BRAT DHARM' Moreover, he could not find this incidence in any way related with Kashmir other wise he would have immediately said that this is due to the exodus of Kashmiri Pandit which is his trump ace and he uses it everywhere in his response, whether relevant or not in the that case.
                      Reply
                      1. A
                        Arun K.
                        Nov 7, 2015 at 7:51 pm
                        It's disgusting what the school teachers did to those young, impressionable minds. They are a disgrace to their profession and should not be in the position where they are. Additionally, the local and state officials are also not doing much credit to their job and position, either. It's a cop-out for them to say that they cannot proceed against the evildoers until one of the victims comes forward to file complaint. After the harm and humiliation the Dalit children and their families have gone through, now the authorities want them to stand out and expose themselves to further threats, intimidation, bodily harm, including mayhem and, yes, murder. There must be some provision in the rules by which the authorities can initiate action on their own. Failing that I would even peion a higher court to take suo moto notice of these happenings and order the local law and order authorities to proceed against the wrongdoers. We should not, we must not, let the offenders go unpunished. Finally, I want to ask all those Hindutva activists to rush to the aid of the poor Dalits. There's no better way to serve one's faith and God than by standing with the hapless in our midst. Remember Ramchanderji eating, with relish, berries foretasted by Bhilni, the Dalit lady. It's their chance and opportunity to finally do a good deed, instead of going around the country challenging and provoking people they disagree with. I also want to address a word to the PM. Your party, sir, always seem to make it a point to invoke your OBC background at the hustings. How about showing some concern and empathy with your kin folks. Use your prestige, position and/or purse strings to straighten up the so-called high caste wrongdoers...... Arun Kumar Chhabra, Esq, USA
                        Reply
                        1. S
                          sai krishna
                          Nov 7, 2015 at 9:21 pm
                          Yes, it is very very bad for Hindu Religion. All the Hindu cause supporters, groups, political parties should address these issues. It is time to test the credibility of the organisations like RSS, Shiv Sena VHP and other sister concerns to stand by the downtrodden and ts and efforts should be made to have equal social status in all spheres of life, like social gatherings, temples, functions, etc....... This is possible only through concrete propaa, different channels and by involving different groups, all heads of different sects. Of course, this not impossible. Let all put to these actions to make Hindu Religion a modal, vibrant Faith in the world. It is true that if all major faiths of world are honoured, world or unverse shall survive prosperously and peacefully let all honour other beliefs in the world over. NOw coming to comments of the other viewer, Only Human from USA, conversion to islam does not promise equality, fair play, peace and right to live. as v are watching brutal killings in some parts of the world in the name religion. If this killings of other faiths goes on by different faiths, then I am afraid humanity may vanish from the known world. All religions have plus points and also negative points. Let all faiths set right their houses first and lead happy life. Hence, i wish LIVE and LET LIVE so that humanity would flourish with peace and prosperity.
                          Reply
                          1. S
                            sai krishna
                            Nov 7, 2015 at 4:36 pm
                            very sad to read these story. Let me hope all Hindu groups, i.e. RSS, VHP, Shivsena, etc shall focus on these issues and strive to have happy Hindu REligion.
                            Reply
                            1. பாரதி
                              Nov 7, 2015 at 10:20 am
                              Sir said I was a Dalit so I couldn’t be part of Puja: Odisha schoolgirl - Highly condemnable & Punishable
                              Reply
                              1. S
                                S.Gonesh
                                Nov 7, 2015 at 2:23 pm
                                Where are the humanright protesters now? Are they gone? This is a serious matter. If the politics and the local government can not solve it, then the Army must do it. The Dalits have the right to be treated as equals. This is an other sign the politics is corrupt and not capable to guarantee a future for all citizens. The Indian Army must be given more power to intervene in such matters. Dalits are children of Bharat.
                                Reply
                                1. R
                                  Rajesh
                                  Nov 7, 2015 at 3:12 pm
                                  Take it up with the "secular" BJD govt in your state? Schools are under the state govt. But no, shameless people will demand the Centre answer for this.
                                  Reply
                                  1. R
                                    R.S.Sharma
                                    Nov 7, 2015 at 8:59 am
                                    Caste system was introduced by Manu who is a forefather of the founders of RSS around 400 AD, much before the British or the Persians came to India. Indians were divided as Brahmin, Kshatrya, Vysya and Sudra. The Sudras were treated like animals and were never allowed to acquire knowledge through education. The present day Dalits belong to this division. Please read Ambedkar and Periyar's writings to understand more, if interested.
                                    Reply
                                    1. R
                                      Raghu Panjala
                                      Nov 7, 2015 at 1:01 pm
                                      Arent shias discriminated in Saudo arabia and vice versa in Iran? where the masjids for minorites there.
                                      Reply
                                      1. R
                                        Raghu Panjala
                                        Nov 7, 2015 at 1:06 pm
                                        Exactly ,even hinduism doesnt call for casteism. Varna system isnt caste system. Rig veda's verna system only says that in a society there are diferent types of people.It doesnt call for making verna system by birth and rigid. If THERE WAS caste system ,its because of Manu and other Brahmans who wrote other boosk which all can be rejected as they arent part of Vedas. Because later inclusions are cleary man made.
                                        Reply
                                        1. R
                                          Raghu Panjala
                                          Nov 7, 2015 at 1:11 pm
                                          What a shame? I hope there are strict laws to prevent Upper castes from taking revenge. When dalits have no land, upper castes cannot ban them. If they ban, then govt should ban upper castes by giving up agri subsidies ,power and other failities for those villages. Upper castes in those villages should be forced to respect law. BY THE WAY why is ganesh Puja conducted in the school? Isnt it the reason why such struggle stated in first place. If people have left religion in cl rooms we wouldnt have had this first place.
                                          Reply
                                          1. H
                                            Haridas Rao
                                            Nov 7, 2015 at 7:32 am
                                            Ah ! Where are the Saigals , the Rajans and Shah Rukh Khan's now .Or is it there compion and toleration only extends to a particular cl ?
                                            Reply
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