The dead, too, have a caste in rural Punjab, and even in the chief minister’s village in Bathinda parliamentary constituency of his daughter-in-law, there is no exception.
“Aithe hi saad dinde si, sardaran de khetan’ch, panj-satt saal pehlan (We used to burn the bodies right here in the fields of the landlords, five to seven years ago),” re plies a middle-aged Dalit woman when asked where the Scheduled Caste communities had been burning their dead before they got a crematorium of own at Badal village.
A boy, 18, finds pride in explaining that “Badal Sahib” (chief minister Parkash Singh Badal) has been generous in allotting cremating space to the (lower-caste) “Majhbi” Sikhs and “chamars” in the village. The separate crematorium was ready before the last Lok Sabha elections in 2009.
“A common cremation compound in any village is rare in the Mansa belt,” said Sukhdarshan Natt of the Communist Party of India, Marxist-Liberation. The radical Left leader named Ber n, Fatehpur, Pinchhiyan, and Jo g a among t he c o untless Dalit-dominated, povertystricken villages to the left of the Mansa-Sirsa highway that have separate cremation grounds for the lower castes.
‘VEHRE’ AND VOTES
“Vehre”, se parate residential clusters of the lower-caste communities in villages, are vote banks that the Akali- or Congress-dominated panchayats lure with toilet, 5-marla-plot, and employment guarantee schemes that remain on paper. At Khyala Kalan and Malikpur Khyala twin villages, poverty looms large amid these tall election promises that include things as basic as water.
Borawala village in Mansa district has 2,400 voters, half of them Scheduled Caste, of which 100 families defecate in the open, for they have no toilet. “Asi taa kade tatti te baith ke nahi dekhea, saddi gariba di kaun sunda hai (we have sat on a proper toilet seat; who listens to poor people like us?” said a middle-age woman, waiting to go into the fields for morning ablutions.
A night before in Borawala, she was in the crowd listening to Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) candidate Harsimrat Kaur Badal, who was counting toilets and pucca houses among her contributions to the village.
The Khyala Kalan Dalits, a little more aware and impacted by communist ideology, have a lot to say about “vote bank politics”.
Everyone in Khyala Kalan know how many votes swung to the sar panch after people had a 5-marla plot or a toilet or both. Beore the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the landless peasants of 28 villages in Mansa district occupied the panchayat land, demanding their share in the 5-marla-plot scheme, as promised in the 2007 state election manifesto of the ruling SAD.
Notwithstanding the written assurances of the district administration to meet the demand, the police chased them away after voting. “Nearly 30 of those families got the plots in the past 6 months, while 70 remain in the hunt, for not falling in line with the SAD,” said Hakam Singh, who led the violent protest at Khyala Kalan in 2009.
At Narinder pura village, more than two dozen toilets that the panachayat built last year are yet to be allotted, even though many families continue to ease self in the open. Those voting as the sarpanch guides will get the facility.
TOMORROW: MGNREGS VOTE POLITICS; DRUGS, CANCER