A man's request for change in ‘tradition’ earned him a ‘fine’ of Rs 50,000.

Two women carrying pots walk down a path in a village in south IndiaImage for representation
news Controversy Tuesday, October 20, 2020 - 11:24

Ranga Raju* and his family have been living in Honnur village of Chamarajanagar for three generations. His ancestors had earned a living by running odd errands — sometimes sweeping the roads, burying the dead or bathing the cattle of caste Hindus in their village. Ranga is a Dalit labourer who works in the fields for a monthly salary of Rs 7,000. But last Saturday, he not only lost his job but also had to pawn his wife’s only pair of gold bangles to pay a ‘fine’ of Rs 50,000 levied on him.

Last Thursday, a meeting was held between the village panchayat members and the Tehsildar to decide the details of the Dasara procession of the deity Chamundeshwari on Vijaya Dashami. A day after the meeting, Ranga gave a letter to the Tehsildar with the request that since the temple comes under the Mujrai department of the Karnataka government, all citizens should have equal rights over it and the procession should also pass through two ‘Dalit’ lanes that are often skipped. 

For many decades, the two lanes that are on the fringe of the Honnur village are only accessed by the Dalit families that live on them. The temple procession, led by the caste Hindus, have never passed through those two lanes. Ranga’s letter requesting a change of that ‘tradition’ earned him the ire of the village panchayat members who demanded that he pay a ‘fine’ of Rs 50,000 or his family would be banished from the village. His friend, who had merely accompanied him to the Tehsildar’s office when the letter was submitted, was also asked to pay Rs 10,000.

Ranga tried to stand up to this but his family and his neighbours advised him otherwise. For many generations, their existence in the village has been fraught. The village panchayat has time and again found the most small and often absurd excuses to either penalise them or banish them, he said. The 22 families in the area already live ostracised lives as they are only allowed in one main road of the village, where shops and a small restaurant are located. 

While the services of these families are often crucial to the functioning of the village, they are not to come in direct contact with any of the caste Hindus, Ranga tells TNM. Even in shops, they are to shout their requirements and the shopkeepers place the goods on stone slabs. In restaurants too, members of these 22 families are served food on disposable plates.

“These have been personal decisions of the families and we have not been able to rebel against it. But I spoke up against the disparity because the temple comes under the Mujrai department which means it belongs to the government. Don’t we have equal rights over government resources also?” asks Ranga. 

His family barely manages to make ends meet with his salary. To add to his misery, he was sacked from his job till he paid the ‘fine’. Under duress, he decided to raise money by pawning his wife’s jewellery that her father had given her at their wedding. 

“I have paid the fine for now so that my mother and wife are not under stress but I will not cower down this time. I have approached the Tehsildar for his mediation and he has assured me that he will call for a meeting with the panchayat members. In the past when we have raised our voices, we have been ostracised. At least now we hope things will change so that our children don't have to live in humiliation like we have,” he said. 

TNM contacted the Tehsildar's office and confirmed the sequence of events as narrated by Ranga Raju. The officers said, in the past, some Dalit familes have complained to them of rampant discrimination but eventually chose to not seek official intervention as it would only complicate their lives. But this time since Ranga has officially filed a complaint, Tehsildar Sudharshan will convene a meeting in the village this week to address these issues. 

*Name changed on request

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