A tribal family in Neemuch had to cremate a relative under police protection after being denied entry into the village’s three crematoriums allegedly meant for upper-caste people, underscoring a deep-seated social divide in Madhya Pradesh’s interior areas.
The incident happened after 45-year-old Ratni Bai, a Bhil tribal woman, died of heart attack at Kanakheda village, 10km from district headquarters Neemuch, on Wednesday.
‘Tribal do not have their own cremation ground’
Husband Shantilal said the tribal do not have their own cremation ground and he was denied permission to cremate his wife in the three crematoriums.
Woman was finally cremated in a government land
Frustrated, the family approached Neemuch police and Bai was finally cremated in a government land. A posse of policemen was on guard in case any unrest flared up.
All crematoriums at Kana-kheda belong to upper-caste groups
The crematoriums at Kana-kheda belong to the Meenas, Medhwals and Brahmins, all upper-caste groups. There are around 600 households in the village, with 50-odd tribal families.
Tribals are often harassed over cremation rights
This was not a one-off incident as tribal people are often harassed over cremation rights.
The family of Noji Bai, another tribal Bhil woman, endured a similar ordeal in Ratangarh, Neemuch, on September 2.
Family didn’t have money to purchase wood for funeral pyre
The poor family didn’t have money to purchase wood for the funeral pyre and a nagar panchayat official refused help when he was approached.
Left with little option, the relatives decided to make a pyre out of garbage. But senior government officials got wind of it and provided wood.
The Bhils are the nation’s second largest tribal community and considered the original inhabitants of central India. Caste divisions and rapid urbanization have reduced members of this community, once known as a warrior tribe, into social pariahs in the countryside.
Bhils are not even allowed to use crematoriums of other communities
The discrimination is so deep that Bhils are not even allowed to use crematoriums of other communities.
“We have to hunt for a new place every time somebody dies,” said Banti Bhil of Kanakheda.
Radheyshyam Nagda, speaking on behalf of the sarpanch, admitted that the village crematoriums are exclusive to each social group and people from other communities are not allowed.
“We have asked for land for a crematorium for the tribals, but it is pending with the administration.”
Collector promises to expedite land allotment process
District collector Rajneesh Shrivastava promised to expedite the land allotment process.
“This tradition of having separate crematoriums for different castes is not followed in any other village in the area. I will look into the matter,” he said..