Ten days after they were attacked, and their homes destroyed by people from the locally dominant castes, in the village, more than a hundred people from Pano community, a Scheduled Caste group, from Bodasa village of Odisha’s Nayagarh district returned to their wrecked homes on Tuesday night following assurances on security from the Superintendent of Police (SP) and the district Collector.
They had spent the last few days at a refugee camp.
“The community has returned to the village under my personal supervision,” SP Asish Kumar Singh said on Tuesday. He said he has deployed additional police personnel to prevent further skirmishes.
Thirteen people have been arrested in connection with the attack on the Pano basti (quarter) and await trial.
The victims, though, will have to spend the next few weeks with little protection from the incessant rain lashing part of the state.
On June 16, about a thousand strong mob attacked Bodasa’s Pano basti, after a man from the community — Parei Nayak, 25 — ostensibly said that he would “directly” offer prayers at the local Shiv temple. After Parei was beaten up, when his father registered an FIR against the culprits, villagers from agrarian castes attacked houses in the Dalit quarter, adjacent to the temple. The houses were left completely destroyed, their brick walls brought down with crowbars, thatched roofs pulled down, and their frames hacked to pieces.
Bales of hay are still strewn all over, amid broken pots and pans. Hearing rumours of an impending attack, people from Pano community had fled hours before the incident.
For 10 days, Satrughana Nayak, 65, said they were forced to stay on the verandah of Sikharpur Primary School, the district administration’s designated relief camp site for refugees, some 3 km from Bodasa. “My house has been completely destroyed. They also looted Rs 40,000 cash I had at home,” he said.
According to amended rules (in 2016) of the SC and ST Prevention of Atrocities (PoA) Act, the victims and dependents are entitled to Rs 4 lakh compensation. SP Singh said that 25 per cent of the compensation has been paid as per the Act’s provisions, and another 50 per cent will be paid out after the chargesheet and the remaining 25 per cent after conviction by the lower court.
“Knowing how courts work, we know we will never get all the money due,” said a Pano woman nursing a child.
Nayak, with three married sons and grandchildren, wondered whether the village is safe any longer. “How long will the police stay (for the community’s security),” he asked, worried that their harassment may never end.
Among Khandayats, the middle castes of agrarian-militia background that dominate Bodasa, the word “uddhata” (impertinence) now dominates public discourse. Patia Bhola, a local contractor, said, “When we don’t touch the Gods directly, and offer prayers through the priest, how can he (Parei) do that? When he pestered the temple trustee too much, he was beaten up. These uddhata children of Panos work in Cuttack-Bhubaneswar and have become heroes (over-aspirational).”
Many people from dominant castes claim that Panos are becoming “bolder” because the laws are “biased” in their favour. “The (PoA) Act was passed for Dalits in UP and Bihar, where they are actually tortured. But here, uddhata Dalits use the Act to terrorise us,” according to a local resident from Khandayat caste.
Requesting anonymity, a policeman from the area said that despite occasional petty disputes, the Pano community coexisted peacefully with people from the locally dominant intermediate castes for decades.
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