Forty Dalit families in Kantio Kateni village of Odisha’s Dhenkanal district have been subjected to social boycott for the past two weeks after a 15-year-old girl from the community plucked flowers from the backyard of an upper caste family two months ago.
After one family registered its objection, the matter snowballed into a confrontation between the two communities, eventually leading to the social boycott of the 40 Dalit families, local residents said.
The girl’s father Niranjan Naik said, “We had immediately apologised so that the matter could be resolved, but following the incidents, several meetings were called and they decided to boycott us. Nobody is allowed to talk to us; we are not allowed to participate in any social event of the village.”
The village, which has nearly 800 families, has 40 families from the Scheduled Caste Naik community.
The community submitted memorandums to the district administration and the police station concerned on August 17.
“The (local) PDS dealer and the provision store owner have stopped selling to us, forcing us to walk at least 5 km to buy essentials. Villagers have even stopped talking to us,” Jyoti Naik, one of the villagers, said.
The memorandum states that they have been deprived of sharecropping to make sure “that our people do not get apple work in the village” and have to move in search of work. “Most of our people are semi-literate and illiterate and work in the villagers’ fields,” it adds.
Members of the community have also alleged that they have been warned against taking out any procession for weddings or funerals on the village road. “A diktat has been issued that our community’s children cannot study in the local government school. Even teachers who belong to our community have been asked to get themselves transferred elsewhere on their own,” says the memorandum.
While the village sarpanch and members of the committee that made these decisions agreed that the villagers have been asked not to talk to members of the community, they denied the other allegations. Harmohan Mallik, secretary of the village development committee, said, “It is true that people were asked not to talk to them, and it is because of their wrongdoings. But other allegations are baseless.”
Sarpanch Pranabandhu Das said, “It is an inter-community matter and will get resolved eventually. The majority community has problems that the minority community implicates them in false cases and files police complaints under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The incident which triggered this had led to an altercation and a minor brawl. For a couple of days, as per the committee’s decision, the majority community had stopped talking with members of the Dalit community. The situation is now returning to normal.”
After the memorandum was submitted, two rounds of peace meetings have been held, but the matter has not been resolved, according to villagers.
Bishnu Prasad Acharya, sub-collector of Kamakhya Nagar subdivision, said: “They had approached the local police but were not happy with the decision taken there. Then they came to me. I directed them to the sub-divisional police officer. I will also attend a peace meeting with both communities and try to resolve the matter.”
The police are also waiting for another round of talks. Anand Kumar Dungdung, inspector in-charge, Tumusinga police station, said: “We have tried to sort it out. They wanted to reach a compromise and not drag the matter further, which is why we did not file an FIR. We have called for another meeting with the leaders from both communities. If they do not resolve the matter, we will go ahead and file an FIR.”