In Kadachha village like in many others in Madhya Pradesh, social discrimination has become a way of life, with Dalits and Other Backward Classes (OBCs) accepting it as a tradition to be followed.
A visit to this village in Ujjain district (adjoining Indore) — that shot into the limelight following an HT report based on the findings of NGO Jan Sahas and Unicef on caste discrimination in serving of mid-day meals and care of pregnant and postpartum Dalit women — showed how deep-rooted the malaise is.
A schoolteacher belonging to the Dalit community said on condition of anonymity fearing further victimisation, “I have experienced it all my life. We can’t mount a horse at marriage processions. We can’t celebrate in upper caste localities with drums and the like. We have to get off a cycle if an elderly person from the upper caste is close by. The list is endless.”
“But what can an individual do when the practice is accepted even by members of the reserved class. If I make a hue and cry over the issue, the elders in my own community will gag me,” he said.
Ignorant of the stigma attached to the practice, Lekha (only name mentioned), a standard V student said, “We have always been sitting in separate rows for mid-day meals. Is it bad?” When informed that it was a violation of his rights, the schoolboy said, “My father never told me this.”
The sarpanch (headman) of the village, Balaram Jaat, went to the extent of defending the discrimination. “No one tells Dalits to refrain from eating at public functions with the upper caste people or remain outside the houses of Brahmins or Rajputs. They do it on their own. They feel it is a tradition that has to be kept alive.”
Among the 900-odd people living in the village, nearly 90 per cent belong to the Scheduled Caste and Other Backward Classes. Some Brahmins and Rajputs also live in the village.
The localities of the upper caste and the Dalits are clearly defined.
The headman claimed that the upper caste people have been living here for generations. “How can they (upper castes) be asked to leave their traditional homes and construct houses in other localities?” He implied that as long as the upper castes live in locality, the tradition of subservience should be followed.