Thirty Dalit families in Odisha’s Khordha district, who have been allegedly facing social boycott by members of the upper castes in their village for over six months, have threatened not to exercise their franchise in the Lok Sabha election.
Upper castes have allegedly ostracised the families by barring them from shops, not giving them job opportunities and stopping other essential services for them in Chhanagiri village, about 60km from Bhubaneswar.
Members of the upper castes had allegedly ganged up to impose a social boycott on these families after one of them lodged a police complaint for caste discrimination in October last year.
Denied glass of water
“In October, my six-year-old granddaughter was denied a glass of water in a hotel run by an upper caste family. Nobody in the village paid heed to us when we raised the issue of discrimination. Subsequently, we approached the police,” said 60-year-old Shantanu Nayak.
“Members of the upper castes felt offended as we sought police help. They decided not to cooperate with us on any issue. Since then, we have been deprived of basic services in the village. Despite our appeal in different fora, the social boycott continues,” said Mr. Nayak.
Earlier this week, the Odisha Human Rights Commission (OHRC) intervened in the matter and directed the Khordha district administration to visit the affected families and take action in accordance with the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act and provide protection to the Dalit families.
The commission also issued a stern warning to government officials to ensure that the issue is sorted out in a time-bound manner.
“The social boycott is a blot on our society in this era. I have worked in the Indian Army and served the nation. After retirement, I am now subjected to this discriminatory treatment. It appears that we have ceased to be citizens of the country. It is better that we stay away from voting,” said Subhash Nayak, a resident of Chhanagiri village.
“This is a case in which the fundamental right to life, liberty, equality and dignity has been violated,” said Biswapriya Kanungo, a human rights lawyer who took up the issue with the OHRC.