Dalits of Maha Singh Wala village in Moonak subdivision of Sangrur district have been rendered jobless due to their social boycott by upper-caste landlords.
Following a dispute over daily wages, a kangaroo court of village landlords had issued the diktat a month ago. All Dalits working as farm labourers or domestic help have been sacked. The supply of milk and other essential commodities has been disrupted, forcing them to contemplate moving to other villages.
Trouble began in the first week of June, when Dalits demanded Rs 2,000 per acre as wages for sowing paddy. However, landlords said they would give only Rs 1,500. The Dalits' refusal to budge from their stand infuriated the landlords. The latter announced a social boycott and declared that villagers maintaining ties with Dalits would be fined Rs 5,000 each.
Dara Singh and Mangal Singh, two of the Dalits who have no jobs, said, "Instead of giving us Rs 2,000, landlords are paying Rs 2,500 per acre to migrants. They are doing this just to punish us." They alleged that some influential farmers had even asked landlords in nearby villages not to give jobs to Dalits.
The Dalits' plight has elicited an intervention by the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Congress. "I have spoken to the deputy commissioner. If the matter is not resolved as soon as possible, the BSP would start an agitation," said Rajya Sabha MP and Punjab BSP president Avtar Singh Karimpuri.
A team of officials, including block development panchayat officer (BDPO) Kamaljit Singh, a deputy superintendent of police (DSP) and a tehsildar visited the village several times, but to no avail. "The Dalits want that landlords should be punished as per law," the BDPO said.
With the district administration failing to do the needful so far, the National Commission for Schedule Castes and Schedule Tribes has stepped in and sent a notice to the deputy commissioner to submit a report within three days.
Raj Kumar Verka, vice-chairman of the commission, "I have come to know that Dalits have been condemned to a life of fear and intimidation. Their human rights and dignity are at stake. It's shameful that the state government has done nothing to end the boycott. I have asked the DC and SSP to submit reports. Subsequently, I will visit the village. Those who issued the diktat would be punished."
Deputy commissioner Kumar Rahul said he had deputed a subdivisional magistrate and a DSP to resolve the matter at the earliest. "I have directed the police to register an FIR and arrest the erring landlords if they don't mend their ways," he assured.