It’s still the dark ages in this village
Thirteen Dalit families in Ansurda village near Osmanabad, 263 kms from Pune, have been ostracised by villagers, a majority of whom are from the Maratha community, after a flare-up during Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s birth anniversary celebrations in April.
For more than a month now, these Dalit families in the village of 1,500 people are not allowed to fetch water from the community well, the grocers refuse to sell them even day-to-day items, and they are being forced to travel 20 km away to Osmanabad to purchase essentials like daily milk and vegetables.
While approaching the village, this correspondent spotted a police van and a couple of constables stationed near the village temple. While the upper caste population is reluctant to discuss the matter, there is obvious tension as outsiders are looked at with suspicion.
The Dalit houses, easily identified by blue walls and flags, sport a weary look. A group of villagers could be seen gossiping under the shade of a large mango tree and it becomes obvious that a tiny village has been split right down the middle. The Dalit families have now submitted an application to district collector Prashant Narnavre and have asked for accommodation in an urban area out of fear for their lives.
The villagers said the trouble began on April 28 — 14 days after Dr Ambedkar’s birth anniversary — when the families, who form the Dalit population in this Marathwada village, organised an event where songs dedicated to Dr Ambedkar were played on the loudspeaker.
One of the Dalits, Nishikant Humbe (40), said a few youngsters objected to the songs, demanding that songs dedicated to Chhatrapati Shivaji be played instead. “We have been residing in this village for decades and didn’t want trouble.
We immediately played songs dedicated to Chhatrapati Shivaji but the youths abused our women and desecrated Babasaheb Ambedkar’s statue,” Humbe alleged.
The Dalits filed a police complaint against four people from the upper caste, who were released on bail the next day. That very day, the entire Dalit population of the village was socially boycotted.
“The villagers were offended because we filed a police complaint. They called for a meeting and issued a directive to boycott us,” said Bibhishan Avadhute (54). For the last one month, several public places in the village sport saffron flags, which the Dalits said is a warning asking them to stay away.
One of the upper caste villagers, who didn’t want his name in print, called the families’ boycott a “spontaneous reaction”. He said, “They didn’t listen to us and there was a scuffle. The matter could have been resolved but they took it to the police, so we have stopped talking to them. We don’t want to get involved with them anymore.”
Reacting to the Dalits’ plea to the district collector, the villagers insist that there hasn’t been an “official boycott” of the 13 families. Arun Mane, who heads the village peace committee, said a “few people had stopped talking” to the families. “There was a dispute between a few individuals and the entire village community didn’t get involved. The argument escalated into a heated debate and some people had stopped talking to these families. We held several meetings and have convinced everyone to maintain peace,” Mane said.
Despite Mane’s all-is-well talk, there’s a police van parked 24×7 outside the village temple. Scores of residents and shops sport saffron flags, and district collector Narnavre admitted that the village was tense due to the boycott call.
“The social boycott of the Dalit families had created tension in the village and the neighbouring areas too. I visited the village and held a meeting in the Dalit enclave. The social boycott has been called off and the situation is under control,” he said. “We have initiated several confidence- building measures to make the families feel a part of the community,” the collector added.
The Dalit families insisted that the only way out for them was to leave their ancestral village and homes. Avadhute said, “We have been told not to drink water from the public taps, and our cattle are barred from grazing in the village. Shopkeepers have been told not to sell us groceries.”
Another villager, Sushma Sonawane, a widow, said the cops don’t wield much power in a village as small as Ansurda. “They have put out saffron flags all over the village to threaten us and the police only watch the proceedings. We want to shift out of this village.”
The letter, written by the families to the district collector, lists the alleged atrocities. “From the time the upper caste families have boycotted us, we can’t use the flour mill, buy groceries, or even fetch water. Our cattle are not allowed to graze, nor are they allowed to drink water. The upper caste people abuse us,” said the letter, signed by 21 people.
The villagers have further alleged that the area deputy superintendent of police, Balkrishna Bhange, had threatened them to not pursue the matter.
Superintendent of police A B Trimukhe said DSP Bhange has been transferred. “There was an incident at the village, which escalated into a controversy. We have tried our best to resolve the issue peacefully and there is no tension in the village now.” The villagers have a different version to narrate. “The villagers leave us alone when government officials come for inspection. As soon as they leave, the abuses start again. The boycott has not ended,” Humbe alleged.