Lathur Jatav, 64, a member of the scheduled caste Berwa community, was elected deputy sarpanch of Unchakheda village in Madhya Pradesh’s Sheopur district in 2005 but is seldom invited to panchayat meetings. Also, most development initiatives have been sanctioned without his knowledge.
“Though the upper castes (Meenas, Brahmins and Jats) are in a minority in the village, they influence all the important works,” said Jatav.
Most of the important decisions are taken by the upper caste sarpanch and panchayat secretary while the panchs are seldom involved, he added.
These facts — a sad commentary on the functioning of Indian democracy at the grassroots level — came to light following an HT expose of caste-based apartheid in four districts of MP under the government’s Mid-Day Meal Scheme for schoolchildren.
On visiting Unchakheda, this correspondent found Jatav sitting at the feet of an assistant nursing matron and her supervisor, who occupied a charpoy at his house, while they had a discussion. “Caste-based discrimination is common here and extends beyond schools,” he said. Pointing to the anganwadi centres in his village, he said: “We have two centres — one for the upper castes and one for the Berwas.”
The discrimination doesn’t stop there. If a so-called “lower caste” person touches an earthen pot belonging to a member of the upper caste, he has to pay for a new vessel, Jatav alleged. HT could not, however, independently verify this claim.
The situation is no different in nearby Kotara village. Here, upper castes refuse to send their children to the anganwadi centre managed by Phoola Bai Berwa, an SC worker.
Berwas are in a majority here too but aren’t allowed to celebrate marriages or take out processions near upper caste localities. Gowardhan Berwa lodged a complaint against the discrimination with the police but was forced to withdraw it. “If we raise our voices, the atrocities increase,” he said.
Sheopur magistrate S.N. Rupla said, “What can anyone do if discriminatory practices are followed by some (lower caste members)?”
On discrimination against elected representatives, he said: “Everything depends on how you view it. If you are negative in your approach, you will notice discrimination. If your are positive, you will not find it.”