India: 15-year-old girl caught plucking flowers from an ‘upper-caste’ man’s farm, 40 ‘lower caste’ families face social boycott

Dubai: For the last two weeks, 40 families belonging to the Dalit community (the lowest rung in India’s outlawed caste system), in a village in the Indian state of Odisha, have been facing social boycott. The villagers have refused to speak to them or give them work. The reason? A 15-year-old Dalit girl was allegedly caught plucking a flower from the farm of an “upper-caste man”.

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Twitter users in India, are sharing the news report, angry that caste discrimination that was made illegal in 1955, still exists in the 21st century.

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Reportedly, the incident happened in the Kantio Kateni village, which houses nearly 800 families, of which 40 families belong to the Naik community.

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The girl’s father Niranjan Naik said: “We had immediately apologised so that the matter could be resolved, but following the incidents, several meetings were called and they decided to boycott us. Nobody is allowed to talk to us; we are not allowed to participate in any social event of the village.”

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Another villager, Jyoti Naik said: “The provision store owner has stopped selling to us, forcing us to walk at least five kilometers to buy essentials. Villagers have even stopped talking to us.”

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Apparently, after one family registered an objection, the matter snowballed into a confrontation between the two communities, eventually leading to the social boycott of the 40 Dalit families, local residents said.

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The Dalit community most of whom are semi-literate or illiterate and work in villagers fields are not being allowed to work, forcing them to move in search of work. Last week, the community submitted memorandums to the district administration, and the police station stating this and several other issued they were facing.

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“A diktat has been issued that our community’s children cannot study in the local government school. Even teachers who belong to our community have been asked to get themselves transferred elsewhere on their own,” the memorandum stated, according to a news report.

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Members of the community also alleged that they have been warned against taking out any procession for weddings or funerals on the village road.

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“All this in the 21st Century,” wrote tweep @Advaidism. And, @VasantNalawade3 posted: “India in reverse gear.”

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Article 15 of the Constitution of India prohibits discrimination based on caste, and Article 17 declared the practice of untouchability to be illegal. But, this law doesn’t deter those who adamantly continue to follow the system. The Human Rights Watch (HRW) notes that India’s caste system is perhaps the world’s longest surviving social hierarchy.

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Reportedly, Harmohan Mallik, secretary of the village development committee, said: “It is true that people were asked not to talk to them, and it is because of their wrongdoings. But other allegations are baseless.”

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According to village head Pranabandhu Das said: “The majority community has problems that the minority community implicates them in false cases and files police complaints under the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The incident which triggered this had led to an altercation and a minor brawl. For a couple of days, as per the committee’s decision, the majority community had stopped talking with members of the Dalit community. The situation is now returning to normal.”

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Twitter user @lost_untilfound commented: “The atrocities act must be invoked. But the sad reality is a lot of people in the SC/ST communities in poorer areas are uneducated, sometimes due to a systemic refusal to provide for equal opportunities by the ruling castes, causing them to never know their rights. It’s sad.”

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Villagers say that after the memorandum was submitted, two rounds of peace meetings were held, but the matter has not been resolved. And, the local police reportedly said they are waiting for another round of talks and peaceful resolution, before deciding to file an First Information Report.

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Calling for a change in society, Twitter user @Karanlio007 tweeted: “After reading such news on a daily basis, I think what we need is a social reformation. Root cause of all these problems is caste system. People should realise this.”

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And, @ProperKarma asked: “Point is who will change it? This government has emboldened ‘caste-ists’. Why would anybody change this system as long as they’re on the top and able to exploit people as free labour?”

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