The killing of two Dalit children, allegedly by two brothers from the OBC Yadav community for defecating in the open near their house Wednesday morning, has exposed a deep caste divide in their village, less than 20 km from the Shivpuri district headquarters in Madhya Pradesh.
As the last rites of the children were conducted in Bhavkhedi, a group of OBC families watched from around 200 metres away. “We don’t participate. It has always been the case, it’s a tradition,’’ said an OBC elder.
According to the FIR, Hakam Yadav and Rameshwar Yadav beat 10-year-old Avinash and 12-year-old Roshni to death with sticks. The brothers have been arrested and charged under IPC Section 302 (murder) and Section 3(2)(v) of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
Police claim the incident was a crime committed in the heat of the moment, and that one of the accused is mentally unstable. But at the village Thursday, The Indian Express found several markers of discrimination based on caste: shunning of the last rites, children being asked to wash their hands after coming into contact with Dalits, and a list of SC and OBC students on the blackboards of the primary and secondary schools.
“The villagers did not attend the funeral, only Valmiki Samaj members from outside were present. Our own neighbours were watching from a distance as if it was some game. But it was not unexpected because discrimination is rampant here, even in the school where our children are made to sit separately and asked to bring their own utensils,’’ said Manoj Valmiki, father of Avinash and eldest brother of Roshni.
Bhavkhedi is a village of 300 families, mostly OBCs, followed by members of the Jatav community. There are only two houses of the Valmiki community, who are engaged in cleaning toilets, including Manoj’s home and that of his father Kalla.
District officials say the village was declared open defecation free. Kalla’s house has a toilet but not that of Manoj, who lives separately about 500m away in a thatched hut on government land. “I have been trying to get a toilet built but the village sarpanch has been blocking my efforts,” claimed Manoj.
The sarpanch, Surjit Singh Yadav, is quick to dismiss the allegation, but his response is telling. “Who would want to have any enmity with a lower caste?’’ he asked.
At the village schools, where Avinash was studying in Class 4 and Roshni in Class 6, blackboards identify the number of boys and girls belonging to the SC and OBC communities — there are no students from the general category. “The Yadav students are not ready to sit with the Valmikis,’’ said primary school in-charge Kiran Mazi.
“Whenever we accidentally touch a lower-caste person, some of us wash our hands. We don’t talk about it or quarrel but it has been a habit,’’ said a student from the village who studies in a private school in Shivpuri town. Meanwhile, members of the Valmiki community allege that the OBCs are trying to protect the accused by portraying one of them as mentally unstable.
“Hakam is hotheaded and has undergone treatment for mental illness. The incident has nothing to do with open defecation. Hakam would have killed or attacked anyone who crossed his path in that moment of madness. He would take offence if we called him by his name and ask us to call him Ramji. We avoided him,” claimed a member of the Yadav community.
The sarpanch claims that Wednesday morning, Hakam even attacked his third brother who tried to pin him down. “Another villager, who was passing by on his bicycle, was lucky to escape,’’ he said.
The FIR, based on Manoj’s complaint, states that Rameshwar and Hakam, armed with sticks, ran towards the children asking why they were defecating on the road. Rameshwar hit Roshni on the back of her head twice and once across her eyes, and Hakam hit Avinash twice on the head, it states.
Manoj questions claims that Hakam is mentally unsound. “Then, how is he staying with his family and not in a mental hospital? Why is there no police case against him? Where are the treatment records?” he asked.
The incident could lead to protests, warn members of the Madhya Pradesh Mahavalmiki Panchayat, a Gwalior-based organisation. “Untouchability is still rampant in the state. We demand death penalty for the brothers. We will all embrace Islam if justice is not done in this case,’’ said Ramsevak Katare, who heads the organisation and was present in the village for the last rites.