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The dead too have a caste in this Bathinda village: Crematorium wall stands for ‘age-old tradition’

After AAP sent its MLA to the state assembly from the reserved constituency in February polls, the SAD-dominated panchayat from Kot Guru village lost interest in looking after Mazhabi Sikhs; the wall in the cremation ground was raised four months ago

punjab Updated: Sep 22, 2017 21:39 IST
Prabhjit Singh
Prabhjit Singh
Hindustan Times, Bathinda
People from Scheduled Caste (Dalit) community crossing a wall to enter the separate cremation ground for them in Kot Guru village as no thoroughfare has been left for them except a detour through a dumping ground. (Sanjeev Kumar/HT)

A wall divides the cremation ground in Kot Guru village near here into two halves, with space for the dead hailing from Dalit families on the other side.

The main entrance greets the general category people, while the wall 100m away blocks the way for Dalits who come from the other side after crossing over the village dumping ground. The wall came up after the Punjab assembly polls in February 2017, when the Dalit community in Bathinda rural assembly constituency — reserved for the Scheduled Castes — voted for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) candidate, Rupinder Kaur Ruby, who became the MLA.

Thereafter, the panchayat dominated by the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) members became indifferent to Mazhabi Sikhs and raised the wall in the cremation ground four months ago.

The sarpanch is a woman, Gurvinder Kaur, who does not appear in public, with her husband Balkaran Singh running the show.

“Separate places for burying the corpses of the Mazhabi Sikhs, the Ramdasia Sikhs and the Jat Sikhs is an age-old tradition,” Balkaran said, when asked why was there a separate place for the cremation of Dalits.

Acknowledging the wall, Balkaran added that there was a gate in the wall that would be reinstalled now. He, however, said if the Dalits demanded, the panchayat could even move a resolution for a common cremation ground for all castes.

This, however, will remain a far cry. The Dalits, most of them poor farm labourers, are not willing to be quoted on the issue. “If the dumping ground is inundated, we hike up our pyjamas and hold the corpse on our shoulders to reach the cremation place through the waterlogged area,” said Jaskaran Singh, an activist of a farm labour union in the village.

“The news of your (HT’s) visit spread in the village and I even got a call from the BDPO (Sangat block development and panchayat officer) on this matter. I had to explain to him that separate places for cremation ground for different caste-based communities is an age-old tradition. This (the new wall) was raised to stop stray cattle from entering the cremation ground,” said Balkaran, the proxy sarpanch.

He, however, kept quiet when HT queried him that, if that was the case, then why a boundary wall had not been constructed around the entire cremation ground to keep the cattle out.

First Published: Sep 22, 2017 19:15 IST