Jadumanilion Boudha & Dhammachari Ratnakumar (Courtesy: Roundtable India)
An incident involving a small boy led to horrific caste violence in Lathor, Balangir district of Odisha, leaving 50 Dalit families homeless and destitute. On January 22, 2012, at around 3.00pm, Ganesh Suna, a 9th class dalit boy went to a shop to buy a new shirt, which he wore over the shirt he was already wearing. After he left the shop, the shopkeepers Bharat Meher and his brother Daya Meher, called him back and accused him of being a thief and beat him. When the boy was returning home helplessly, he met an old man Gouranga Suna and told him about the incident. Gouranga Suna asked the shopkeepers: why did you beat the boy? If he has stolen the shirt we can pay the money for that but you should not have beaten him.†But, the shopkeepers did not listen to him and instead beat the old man (Gouranga Suna) too with their footwear. The old man reported to his family members, and then 4-5 youth from the Dalit community went to the shop and fought with them. These are the facts as they occurred at the beginning of the incident. And this set of events seems to have fueled the feeling of hatred of the upper castes (Savarna) against the Dalits (Asavarna).
In reaction to this incident, the upper castes took advantage of being in a heavy majority over the Dalit minority, and attacked the Dalits with their weapons, sticks, and muscle power. Because the Dalit were in a minority, they could not face the violent force of the upper caste mob. So they tried to save themselves from this brutal violence and ran way from their homes. Some Dalit men went into the forest, some went to the nearest villages and some women saved themselves in other untouchable Ghasia Vasti (Scavenger colonies).
In this way, the upper castes created terror among the Dalits. The violent upper caste mob even looted gold ornaments and expensive materials from the Dalit homes. They burnt all the certificates of the students and other kinds of valuable documents. At the same time, they abused all the Dalit women with derogatory language. The upper caste traders, like Marwadi Agrawals, even distributed liquor and petrol freely to burn the Dalit houses. Meanwhile, some Dalits tried to register an F.I.R., in the Lathor police station, but the police refused to register the case and were unable to handle the catastrophic situation. The violence in the wake of the incident became very serious, and so uncontrollable that no one was able to stop the upper castes; the mob even beat up a local news reporter of Kanak TV and threatened the Dharitri reporter, Bhubaneswar Barik. The upper caste mob marched on the roads and blocked all traffic; they burnt tyres on the road and dug up the road so that all vehicles and communication towards Lathor was stopped.
The burning went on upto 6 hours according to OTV news channel, but the fact is that it lasted more than 6 hours, according to the Dalit villagers and other eye witnesses. The upper caste mob fearlessly attacked the fire brigade and burnt their vehicle so that the fire could not be stopped and they could burn all the houses with impunity. Since nobody had the courage to douse the fires, so everything burned to ashes. According to the latest reports, there are no commodities and food grains left in the houses, and nothing could be used until the case is registered and the fire brigade stops the fire. Police reached there at midnight and tried to protect the Dalit victims.
On 23rd January, in the morning, the DIG reached the spot with another battalion and ordered the fire brigade commandos to stop the fire. When the fire was stopped, there was nothing left which could be collected for use. It was only then that the government machinery started following the case, and in the late morning at 10 or 11 am, the administrative officers, the Tahasildar and the BDO, reached the village to investigate the incident. The officers took the Dalits rendered homeless to a Govt School and provided some kind of relief and distributed some Biscuits, Shawls and Chuda. The distributed food items were useless, could not be eaten as they were of a low quality. The rehabilitation programme taken up by the government is insufficient. All the homeless Dalits were crammed in the Govt school of the village, which offers inadequate accommodation. The victimized and homeless Dalits need proper rehabilitation, adequate help and emotional support.
The Dalits of Lathor have lost their homes, property, wealth, clothes, bikes, books and are hopeless and homeless. More than 4 crores wealth has been lost. The whole Dalit Vasti was burnt, where more than fifty families were living, and there is nothing that can be retrieved from their homes: they have lost everything. The children, women and men are displaced from their homes. The rehabilitation programme †undertaken by the government is extremely insufficient; all the people are currently rehabilitated in a government school. Their situation is very pathetic, people are crying; after such a brutal attack by the caste Hindus, nobody seems capable of thinking, even the Police and administration are unable to give justice.
From TV reports, it is learnt that the Odisha Chief Minister declared a sum of rs.1 lakh to each victimized family as compensation.
Names of some of the victimized Dalit families:
These are the facts and data that we collected with limited resources. There are more victims whose names have to be added and more details yet to be gathered.
Update: As of today (January 24, 2012), the victims still face an indifferent administration and unsympathetic police who, for instance, still refuse to give a copy of the F.I.R., to the victims.