Fifty-year-old Manik Dhutadmal used to pride himself for never having left his village. That changed one night in June, when he had to flee his village of Dagdi Shahjahanpur, wife and children in tow. His house was surrounded by villagers who were heckling Dhutadmal and his family. The reason? His caste.
A Mang by caste, Dhutadmal’s son was assaulted for drawing water from the water tank and “defiling it”.
Beed is in the grip of a severe drought. While water scarcity has affected people across socio-economic lines, it now threatens to tear apart Beed’s social fabric, which has been frayed by caste politics for generations.
The Dhutadmals belong to the backward Mang caste, and are a minority in a village. Dagdi Shahjahanpur is one of the few villages with piped drinking water, but that’s a privilege reserved for the upper castes. Families from the lower caste have to fetch water from a community tap. “The rest of the village, especially the upper castes, has piped water supply in each house. But we were left out, even though the pipeline passes from under our homes,” Dhutadmal says.
Over the past few months, the water crisis has worsened, and the community tap has been running dry more often than not. Frustrated by the situation, on June 26, Dhutadmal’s youngest son Mukand tried to fetch water from the village’s main water tank. “There were others from the village doing the same, but they singled me out and started abusing me,” Mukand recalls. “The villagers told me that my son had defiled the tank for the rest of the village and gheraoed us,” his father says. In the melee, one of the villagers climbed the tank and allegedly poured pesticide in it, something that Mukand claims to have captured on camera.
Sensing the villagers’ ire, Mukand ran to arrange for a vehicle to help his family escape. “But the villagers wouldn’t let me and my wife leave home. They started abusing and beating us up, threatening us with dire consequences,” Dhutadmal says. After much struggle, the couple managed to sneak out of the house.
After nearly 45 days in exile, Dhutadmal returned home only last week. Deputy superintendent of police Sambhaji Kadam says the police have filed a charge sheet against nine villagers, and have booked them under the Prevention of Atrocities Act.
Harassment of people like Dhutadmal has prompted the administration to tag Beed as an “atrocity-prone area”. Manisha Tokle, an activist who works with people from backwards castes in Beed, said the situation was symptomatic of a deeper malaise. “There is dissent from many in the upper caste, when they see people from lower castes leave traditional jobs and break the shackles of caste-inflicted stigma. Such discrimination in distribution of common resources, is common here.”