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Friday, September 28, 2007

Here, every village is a 'Khairlanji' today

Bhandara and Gondia, Sept 28:
There is a palpable tension in the dalit basti of Pimpalgaon Kohali village, some 80 km from Bhandara in Lakhandur tehsil. The village is going in for panchayat election, and 'caste-card' is in play once more. Or leaders would ensure it does.
"This year our basti had to buy two tractors to complete 'our' work in the fields, because 'they' refused to lend us theirs," reveals Sumedh Lade, a neo-Buddhist (Mahars who have embraced Buddhism). Earlier this year, every Ambedkarite – the neo-Buddhists or converted dalits, as they are called here – in his village faced social and economic boycott.
"We were not allowed to shop; we were not offered any work," says Bhaiyyalal Motghare, a villager. "The entire basti was erased from the BPL list (below poverty line), but we fought to bring back our names into it," he informs. Things have eased a bit off late, but only just. "We know it's all superficial; a small trigger is enough."
The village saw the dominant castes turned against the Ambedkarites, when one of the farmers from the latter registered a case under Prevention of Atrocities Act against a farmer from the former community during a village get-together. The matter was trivial, say villagers, but local leaders blew it up. Result: the tension triggered the rift, followed by complete isolation and boycott of the Buddhists.
Pimpalgaon is a sample of what's happened – and is happening – across the rural Vidarbha, particularly in Bhandara and Gondia districts, exactly a year after four members of Bhotmange family were brutally killed in Khairlanji sparking a wave of violent protests in Maharashtra. Today, it's "they" versus "us"; but Buddhists are isolated, ostracized and living in fear and insecurity in village unto villages.
"You can see the reflection of this polarization and total isolation of Buddhists in village elections," notes Vinod Thakre, a BJP worker in Lakhandur, Bhandara. It's a stark reminder that the caste divide is a reality, but in the absence of any reconciliatory efforts on either side, it's growing worse for the Buddhists.
Every small incident, charges Bhandara ZP member Vasant Einchilwar, is given a caste colour and tagged as a case of atrocity by the small time leaders. "Threats by the dalit activists have become common that they'll slap an atrocity case even if the matter is trivial and could be resolved at village-level," he says. On the other hand, politicians from dominant castes exploit the situation to consolidate their base, by antagonizing the impoverished people of Buddhist community.
This, coupled with fiery speeches and statements by the Republican leaders from outside, has fuelling the caste division farther, Einchilwar suggests. "This past year has seen a spurt in the atrocity cases, though many were actually very trivial and personal issues," says a senior police officer in Bhandara. If there was any chance of reconciliation, political class ensured the tension remained. Yet, he admits that the genuine Atrocity cases fall apart due to pressure from the leaders of the dominant political class. "Anger against Buddhists is growing."
"Nobody opposes the installation of Babasaheb Ambedkar's statues in villages, but there will be reaction if their leaders publicly humiliate us and our religious sentiments. This is what has happened over the last one year during such events in and around Bhandara, vitiating the village harmony," says deputy sarpanch of Pimpalgaon Ramchandra Parshuramkar. "Agriculture work suffered due to it."
Ostensibly, the exchange and interaction between the Buddhists and dominant castes in villages has stopped. In Surewada, a teacher from OBC community sprinkled cow-urine on dalit students to purify them six months ago. The teacher was transferred, but the incident further antagonized the Buddhist community.
"The matter is serious. Every village is a Khairlanji today," warns a senior police officer. "While the four members of Bhotmange family were hacked to death in one stroke, the poor Buddhists would die a slow death everyday, being isolated and ostracized," he fears, in view of the alarming social fallout.
"Last month, an engineering student was denied accommodation by the landlord because he was an Ambedkarite," says Gondia-based journalist Kishor Borkar.
Adds Rajendra Gajbhiye of Dhusala: "Our community farmers did not get farm labourers this year, and Buddhist labourers didn't get work from dominant and upper caste farmers." Denied work, Buddhist farmers and farm labourers from Bhawal village in Bhandara, for instance, migrated to Dhusala where they got work from the landed farmers of their community. Migration shot up this year.
One year of protest, hatred, isolation and riots hasn't resulted in any benefit or economic empowerment of dalits, including the more organized neo-Buddhists.
"The naxal outfits are waiting to exploit the opportunity, the government must step in to intervene and talk to the leaders from both the camps," says a villager.
For, what's more serious though is isolation of this single community. Even the Hindu dalits (SCs who haven't converted to Buddhism, such as Khatiks, Burads etc) are also distancing themselves from the Buddhists. "This is a disturbing indication that the polarization is against us," says a local Ambedkarite leader.
"Polarisation is sharp, but I hope the strong bonds that existed between the OBCs and Buddhists would not crumble in the selfish political game," hopes Prakash Ambedkar, leader of the Bharip-Bahujan Maha-Sangh. He told DNA over telephone that there had never been any tension between the Buddhists and the dominant Kunbi community, but after Khairlanji incident, it has been made out.
Locals feel the only solution is social engineering. For, there is a volcano waiting to erupt. And political class on either side is ready with the matchsticks.

1 comment:

Matt said...

Hello, I just read your postings. I am traveling to Chikhaldara with my 5 year old son to shoot a movie in June. We are white Americans. Are we in any danger from the Maoists in the area?