The 2012 data released by National Crimes Record Bureau had one surprising, albeit slightly unbelievable number: West Bengal, with 2.14 crore Schedule Castes–the second highest population of Scheduled Castes in India– had recorded just 85 incidents of crimes against SC in 2012. Experts argued that one of the reasons was that the 34-year reign of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) had empowered the Dalits in the state, while others argued that the local police would not register the caste of a person in normal disputes. Others believed that this statistic showed that the use of SC/ST (PoA) Act was not as strong as other states. As expected, the Left leaders took this opportunity to show that their party had indeed done commendable work relating to end of caste-related atrocities.
However, for the Dalits of West Medinipur, these statistics and numbers are of little importance: for past two years, they are being discriminated against, barred from entering shops and the children have been stopped from even sitting next to caste Hindus in schools and tuitions. Take the example of Das Rui village of Narayanagarh block, West Medinipur district, inhabited by the Rui Das (Mochi/shoemaker) community. They have been at the receiving end of boycotts ever since a local festival, Shitala Puja, was organised two years ago. During the celebrations, a boy from the shoemaker community participated in distributing meals to the devotees with his other caste Hindu friends.
This did not go down well with the caste Hindus of the area and as a result, 15 shoemaker families were ostracised from all sorts of facilities in the village. They were not allowed to enter shops, take drinking water, the roads to their homes roads were blocked and students from the community were not even allowed to sit and eat next to upper-caste students in schools and tuitions. The upper-castes even threatened to rape women if they came outside their home.
Vijay Das, a resident of the village and also a victim of this incident, said, “Our birth has turned to be a curse to us. We also want to live with the same honor and dignity that other sections of society enjoy”. He also said, “the upper caste people of the village attacked us in front of the police and district administration. But when we asked the police to protect us, the police said they did nothing, what’s the point of protection”? When he was asked why the police or local political representatives are taking any step against the accused, he blamed the political gains of the leaders, as they are only 15 families and they are more than 11o families.
Lakshmi Karikar, a student of 2nd year of Belda college, was financing her studies by taking tuitions. But she was forced to quit after her students, who are from upper caste families of the village, stopped taking tuitions from her as she was from a lower caste.
Even after such discriminations came out in common knowledge, the “police and other local administration did not come forward to solve this tension”, as has been quoted by Kolom, a regional Bengali newspaper. In an attempt to put pressure on the authorities to act against this discrimination, the victims approached All India Matua Mahasangha, a religious and social organization for this cause. Dr. Suresh Chowdhury, the general secretary of the organization, said “we landed a deputation to the District Magistrate after being failed by the local police, B.D.O to take actions against this grave issue”. Members of the organisation took out a protest march in the West Medinipur district, asking the authorities to take action. “We will approach the top ministers of West Bengal government, and if needed even the Rashtrapati Bhavan if the district administration fails to provide justice to the victims and arrest the culprits, as has been ensured by the A.D.M in time of receiving our deputation”
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