‘Roti ka Dand’ (penalty of bread) is what the villagers in Banda and Chitrakoot districts fear most these days. While moving in the rural areas one can see the ‘roti panchayat’ being held in the open or panchayat buildings of the villages.
Once the panchayat members pass the order of ‘roti dand’, the family has little option but to organise feast for the whole community to end social boycott.
Why are the villagers punished with roti dand? It’s a medieval age practice that is continuing in this area. If a girl is raped and the villagers come to know about the incident then rather than taking action against the culprit, it is the victim who is punished.
The victim’s family has to face social boycott as the villagers feel that the girl has been defiled and to end the stigma her family must throw a feast for the whole community.
In Nihi Chiraiya village, one Rampayari (name changed) was raped by Chander in the field while she was returning after collecting wood from the nearby forest.
Few youths who witnessed the incident informed the village elders about the incident. Soon the panchayat was called where Rampayari, her family and Chander were summoned. Rampayari recounted the whole incident and alleged that Chander had raped her.
Chander was also given an opportunity to present his version. He denied the incident and the panchayat directed him to take a vow with ‘Tulsi’ and Gangajal in hand.
Chander took both the articles in hand and told the panchayat that he was not guilty. The panchayat acquitted Chander and peanlised Rampyari's family with ‘roti dand’.
Charitar, Rampyari’s father broke down and pleaded before the panchayat to withdraw its order, but in vain.
Majority of the villages in both districts are drought-hit where villagers make do with single meal in a day. Arranging feast for 500 to 1000 people is a tough task for any family. Such families have no other option but to take loan from the ‘sahukar’ (moneylender). Majority of the families are in debt trap as the interest of the moneylender continues to multiply.
Roti dand is not limited to rape case. If a girl and a boy are caught together red-handed, ‘roti dand’ is imposed on the girl’s family as
the villagers allege that ‘laadki khaarab ho gai’ and her family should be boycotted.
In another case in which a girl eloped with a boy, ‘roti dand’ was imposed on the boy’s family. If the families of both the girl and the boy decide to leave the village, then they escape the ‘dand’. If the girl and the boy decide to stay in the village as husband and wife then the dand is imposed on the boy’s family.
The natives of Ranipur, Gidraha, Tikariya, Kolan and Chooti Patin villages welcomed the ‘roti dand’ as this local rule makes the girls and boys follow the norms and values of the society, feel villagers.
Pakdilpur village pradhan Shaligram says ‘roti dand’ is ‘bhaai milawan’ (to end the social boycott and to bring the family in the social mainstream) procedure.
Though some villagers have dared to challenge the ‘roti dand’, they had to face the wrath of the majority villagers. Shyam Kumhar of Tikariya village says roti dand is more harsh than the death penalty. Majority of the families are struggling for one-time meal. Throwing a feast for the whole village is like a death sentence for the whole family.
This practice is common among the Chamar, Domar, Kol, Mawaiyya , Dhobi, Kumhar etc communities residing in the Kalinjar and Patha areas of the two districts.
The members of the roti panchayat are calling shots in the Vidhan Sabha election. They are virtually working like vote brokers. Almost all candidates are trying to seek their support to win votes in villagers. Once the members of these panchayat pass order to support a candidate, few dare to oppose their diktat.