OUTSIDE the Gram Panchayat office of Rudrawadi village in Maharashtra’s Latur district, four police constables are deployed round the clock and a police vehicle visits every two hours. There is visible tension between Maratha and Dalit communities of the village with a population of little more than 700.
An FIR says “suspicion of a love affair” between a Dalit boy and a Maratha girl sparked the dispute in the village, which has in the past won awards for being a Tantamukta Gaon (dispute-free village). While both communities, the Marathas and the Dalits belonging to Matang caste, agree to this, they have separate versions of what happened
The FIR states that more than 20 people from Maratha community attacked the boy on May 9 and also assaulted those who went to rescue him. Nitin Shinde, son of village sarpanch Shalubai Shinde from the Dalit community, said, “After the attack on the boy over suspicion of a love affair, there were repeated attacks on us. We registered a police complaint but no one was arrested immediately. A group of them forcefully entered our houses two days after the attack and brutally hit us with sticks. Around the same time, a girl from our community was to get married. Some of us along with the bride and groom had gone to the village temple located in the Maratha locality. Though we have never entered the temple, we were allowed to pray from the stairs. But that day, we were stopped from even going close to the temple and attacked.”
Another member of the Dalit community, Tukaram Shinde, who is complainant in the case lodged in connection with the May 9 attack, says, “We were afraid because of attacks and later, the rest of the village started boycotting our families. We were stopped from going to shops. So, our 12 families left the village and came to Udgir tehsil headquarter to demand rehabilitation. We have been living in an old college hostel. We don’t want to live in that village. Recently, nine of the families went back, but my family and families of Sarpanch Shinde and his relative will continue our demand.”
Police have so far arrested 22 persons. Initially, the FIR was lodged under IPC sections pertaining to attack and criminal intimidation and sections of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. Police later invoked sections of social boycott under the same Act. Most of the arrested persons are now out on bail. DSP Shridhar Pawar said, “The complainants have alleged social boycott and relevant sections have been invoked. Our primary inquiry does not suggest this type of boycott happened, but probe is on.”
People from the Maratha community give another version of what happened. Dattatray Atolkar, who is among those booked for the attack, said, “We know there was a dispute over suspicion of a love affair. But it was a fight between some persons. People from the other side are unnecessarily taking names to blame the entire community. I am 79, I have knee joint pain, why would I go to fight over a petty issue? Many who have nothing to do with the dispute have been wrongly named in the FIR. I spent four days in police custody. The allegations of boycott they have made many days later are laughable. Their families own two flour mills and a shop. The allegation that we stopped them from going to shops is baseless. I feel they want houses as part of rehabilitation and are being provoked by some local leaders to allege boycott. I know no one will believe us. But this is the truth.”
An officer from the local tehsil office said, “The district collector’s office has denied rehabilitation, stating that it would a set a bad trend. The dispute has been stretched long and has given a caste angle by local leaders. Most of the families have now gone back and they have been provided police security till the situation becomes normal.”