Calamity, they say, transcends all human barriers. However, the caste divide in Bihar is such that even floods have not been able to surmount it and unite people in adversity.
The goings-on at the Bihar government’s flood relief camp at Bindeshwari Singh (BS) College, Danapur, about 15 km west of the state capital, stands as an eloquent testimony to this malady.
Around 350 families -- victims of land erosion caused by the Ganga at Panapur tola in Danapur -- are housed on the sprawling campus of BS College.
Though this campus has space to accommodate more, another 165 flood and erosion-hit families are residing in the Danapur block office campus, located across the road, right opposite the BS College campus.
The officially-designated relief camp is the one on the BS college campus. Yet, the 165 families have deliberately decided to put themselves up, across the road, on the Danapur block office campus.
The answer to this odd arrangement is shocking, to say the least.
Inquiries by HT revealed that these 165 families are mostly mahadalits – a special category of poorest among dalits, created by the Nitish Kumar regime to provide special benefits to them.
And they have chosen to stay away from the official relief camp at the BS College campus out of fear of ostracism and insults at the hands of the higher caste inmates residing at the official relief camp.
“When we stayed at a common relief camp, some six years back, our women were abused and harassed by upper caste men,” recalled Om Prakash, 25, a mahadalit flood victim staying on the block office campus.
Even community kitchens for the two sets of flood victims are separate. The basic ‘khichdi-chokha’ (mix of rice & pulses with mashed potato), which is being provided as meal, two times a day, to the flood victims, is being cooked separately for the mahadalit families.
“Fearing they will invite the wrath of the upper caste relief camp inmates, the mahadalits requested me to cook their meal separately,” said social worker
Vijay Kumar, who is providing cooked food to the victims from his own meagre resources.
Fakira Ram, 50, another mahadalit, complained that the authorities have provided polythene sheets (as protection from the elements) at the relief camp housing the upper castes “but we have been left to fend for ourselves”.
There’s evidence to show he is right. While the sheets supplied by the authorities at the BS College relief camp are black in colour and of a relatively good quality, those at the block office, purchased by the mahadalit victims themselves (as per their own claim), are multi-coloured and of a cheaper variety.
Reached for a reaction, Danapur circle officer Kundan Lal confirmed that a majority of “150-odd families” residing on the circle office campus were mahadalits.
“They do not want to go to the designated relief camp and are adamant on staying on the office campus. I believe they are doing so to exert pressure on the administration to rehabilitate them,” said Lal.
He, however, was quick to add, “We have given 100 kg food grain and Rs 1,500 in cash to every flood displaced family”.
The mahadalits residing on the circle office campus, on the other hand, claimed they had received nothing: no food grain, no cash dole and no polythene sheet.