Camera: Athar Rather, Abhishek Ranjan
Video Editor: Prashant Chauhan
Executive Producer: Tridip Mandal, Aditya Menon
Rohit and Roshni, aged 7 and 4, watched as their father justified not allowing their Dalit neighbours in the “special temple reserved for Pandits” in the Hathras victim’s village in West Uttar Pradesh. Later, they spoke in a similar vein. “We don’t play with Dalits kids.”
A 19-year-old girl, belonging to one of the only four Dalit houses in this tiny village dominated by the Thakurs and Pandits in Hathras, was allegedly gang-raped and assaulted on 14 September. Four members of the Thakur community were named as accused in her dying declaration to the magistrate.
Fifteen days later, she succumbed to her injuries after which the Uttar Pradesh police did something, that has long been unheard of.
They burnt her body in the dead of the night without her family’s approval. But that very cremation ground, in the middle of vast Bajra fields, stands witness to the extreme caste discrimination practised in that village even today.
Discrimination in Death
Do Thakurs and Dalits cremate their dead in the same place?
“No no, we (Thakurs) don’t cremate our dead with them (Dalits). They have a separate cremation ground allotted for them by the government. The Thakurs and the Pandits in this village mostly cremate their bodies in their fields,” said family of one of the Thakurs accused in the Hathras case.
But what is the need for a separate cremation ground?
“Even though Dalits are Hindus, they have different gods. We can’t cremate our dead with the dead of an inferior caste.”
Dalits are denied dignity even in their death across the country - from Uttar Pradesh to Tamil Nadu. Not very far from Hathras, in July, a Dalit woman’s dead body was forcefully taken off the funeral pyre in a village in Agra after upper-caste men objected to her being cremated on the community land.
In August, 2019, a heart-wrenching video from Tamil Nadu’s Vellore showed members of Dalit community lowering a dead body from a bridge allegedly because the upper caste members did not allow the procession to pass through their farmlands.
Untouchability in Water and Weddings
“They are Dalits, they are from an inferior caste. We do not marry into their community. They come to eat at our house but they sit separately. We don't go to eat at their house.”
BS Rana, a Thakur in this Hathras village practises law but fails to understand the Indian Constitution that guarantees equal rights and status to all human beings irrespective of caste or creed.
When I reminded him of the same, he replied with a question. “Of course, they are human beings, but does that mean you will get married to a Dalit?” He presumed I belonged to a privileged caste.
Access Denied: To Faith and Fields
Right beside the victim’s house, stood another Dalit family’s house. When we walked in, the question that greeted us bears witness to the years of oppression faced by the community. “Madam, will you be okay drinking a glass of water in our house?”
Sabina, a middle-aged woman, took a break from her daily chores to sit down with us for a chat. “There are two-three temples in the village, one for the Brahmins and two owned by the Thakurs. We are allowed entry in only one of Thakur-owned temples. If we try to go to the other ones, they harass us, insult us.”
Sabina continued, “If we ever refuse to go to work in a Thakur home or lands, they threaten us that they will stop access to their fields. Agricultural land is mostly owned by the dominant caste group, if they stop access, we won’t be able to get fodder for our cattle or go out for defecation.”
We walked across the village to the temple Sabina said their community is never allowed access too. Ramkumar, a Thakur farmer, said, “That is not true. Of course, Dalits are allowed to come till the stairs of this temple. They themselves don’t enter. We have never stopped them.”
His wife interrupted, “No, where are Dalits allowed in our temple?”
Ramkumar snubbed her and said, “What can we do if they don’t enter our temples or maintain distance themselves?”
‘We Are Not Equals’
*Sonal is 11-years-old. In her school, her teachers have taught her that all human beings are equal. But in her village, she is made to believe that even “her touch is dirty.”
“Both the young and the old in this village believe in untouchability. None of the upper caste kids are allowed to play with the Dalit kids here. Once they told me, “You are Bha**i and we are Thakurs, if you touch us, we will become dirty.”
Reporter: Do you believe all human beings are the same?
Sonal: *Nods* Yes.
Sonal looks at her mother and nods again. “NO, they are not.”
This, over six decades after untouchability was formally banned in India, is an everyday reality of the Dalits in our country. And if you deny the horrors of casteism still exists in India, it is probably because you are removed from the reality where the Dalits are denied dignity in birth, in education, in jobs, in marriage and even in death.
(The video has been re-uploaded after making some corrections including the date of cremation of the victim.)