Until yesterday, Vimala (45) was ostracized because of her caste, today everyone is ‘eating out of her hand.’
A native of the non-descript Neduwa village, 70 km from Banda town, Vimala belongs to the domar caste that is looked down upon. Forced to live on the outskirts of the village (majra) along with the members of her community, she was not allowed to draw water from the public well or hand pump and was often chased away by the upper caste people if seen moving in the village lanes.
Today Vimala cooks food for 135 students (majority of them from upper castes) enrolled in the village primary school. From a pariah she has become‘khana wali’ aunty for the children who throng the school campus in hordes to have mid day meal cooked by Vimala.
The metamorphosis has not been easy in this remote village dominated by theupper castes. A year ago the domars had to form a separate queue at the public distribution outlets to collect grains and other items.
They were allowed to enter the village only to clean the toilets or to carry away the dirty clothes of an upper caste woman after delivery. “We have to trudge 2 km daily to collect water from the nearby Ranj river,” said Maiku, adding the river was polluted and often they fell sick after consuming the water.
“We are landless and forced to lead a marginalized life,” said Rukama and added that no Indira Awas had been allotted to domars and they were forced to live in hutments with pigs. The principal of the primary school, Nathu Ram Verma said fearing reprisalby the upper castes, the domars did not dare to lodge a complaint with the district administration members regarding the ill treatment meted out to them.
“A few villagers raised the demand to bring the domars into mainstream but there were few takers. Six months back, a unanimous resolution was passed in a meeting to open the door to domars with the appointment of Vimala as the cook of the school.”
Today Vimala has become a symbol of change in Neduwa. The impact is being felt in the neighbouring villages too, including Makhanpur, Bilhara, Ranipur, Bhawanpur, Dewripura, Nahari and Bajari in which the domar community is settled. Raja Bhaiya, a social activist running the Vidya Dham Samiti, said to motivate the upper caste people in other villages to shun casteism, the Samiti had launched sah bhoj (community meal) in villages of Naraini tehsil.
“The district administration officers were also invited in the programme but they did not turn up. The progressive villagers have joined hands to illumminate this dark region dominated by feudal system”, he said. Newly elected gram pradhan Rani Pandey said the domars had been suppressed for ages and treated like slaves. “Along with organizing awareness programmes requesting the upper caste people to allow the domars to live with dignity, we have also decided to empower them by opening a training centre for women”, she said.