Nagaraj, a Dalit resident of Manchanabale village of Karnataka, has to walk to the nearest town of Chikkaballapur every time he needs a haircut. The reason though is hair-raising: the three salons of his village have been shut for more than a year over an unresolved dispute involving haircuts to Dalits.
As many as 600 Dalits of the village accuse upper caste members of the village —with a population of some 4,000 — of practising caste discrimination and not allowing them to have a haircut at the local salons. Some of the Dalit youths objected to the practice but the upper castes reportedly stood their ground, preferring to shut down the salons.
It has stayed that way since August, 2015. Peace meetings held in between have failed to broker a truce.
“Since 2015, various meetings have been held with even the district deputy commissioner in attendance, but the established practices return as soon as the officials leave the village,” complained Prakash, a Dalit youth.
Upper caste members say the alleged discrimination is baseless and manufactured by some Dalit youths.
According to Devraj, a member of the dominant Vokkaliga community, the village actually is a beacon of harmony, where none is shunned. “They (Dalits) are free to access roadside eateries, schools and all,” he said.
For that matter, the chairman of the village panchayat is a Dalit. However, Dalit youths alleged continuous discrimination.
“We are fed up and decided to ask that we be treated equally,” explained Prakash.
In ridding the village of the practice, Prakash and his friends have run into opposition they had never anticipated.
“Even elders of our community refused to side with us,” Prakash said.
The village barbers too are cut up with them, for having ruined their business. “I remember the day well. I had gone to Bengaluru and when I returned, I found the police waiting for me. They said I had denied haircuts to Dalits and would be charged under the SC/ST(Prevention of Atrocities) Act. I went into hiding to avoid jail. So I decided to close my salon,” said Venkatesh Manchanbale.
Deputy commissioner Dipti Kanade, however, is hopeful of breaking the deadlock soon. One solution she is mulling is identifying locals willing to open new salons.
“We will give them the basic haircut kits and tell them not to discriminate against anyone,” she said.
Local MLA K Sudhakar said, “It is unfortunate but these forms of discrimination are present everywhere,” he said.