Can a Dalit woman raise her voice, especially in a political situation?
Only if she is willing to get insulted, as this incident from Jogipet area in Sangareddy district in Telangana proves.
A Dalit woman from Yerraram village - the sarpanch of the village no less - was allegedly insulted by an upper caste man on Monday; he used casteist and sexist slurs against her, all because she stood up to him.
The sarpanch of Yerraram
Jayamma Byagari is the Sarpanch of Yerraram village. She was elected in 2013 on a Congress ticket, and replaced a man called Prabhakar Reddy - then a Congress man as well.
The Yerraram Sarpanch seat was reserved for SC women in 2013, and the party decided to give Jayamma the seat.
Soon, though, Prabhakar Reddy moved to the TRS, the ruling party in the state.
The borewell deal
Two years ago, in 2015, Jayamma signed a deal with a local contractor - Srinivas Goud - to dig three borewells in the village. Yerraram was suffering from acute water shortage; since the village was accommodating Srinivas Goud’s running solar plant on the outskirts of the village, he agreed to dig the borewells for them.
In 2015, the contractor dug one of the three borewells that were agreed upon. The bore was dug in the BC colony of the village, in Jayamma’s presence.
On Monday, a bore-motor returned to the same colony to dig another borewell. Except this time, Jayamma had no knowledge of the digging.
‘I will dig the bore over your body’
As soon as she came to know about the digging of a new borewell, Jayamma asked her husband Danaiah to rush to the spot.
Danaiah did, and when he reached the BC colony, he met Prabhakar Reddy. Danaiah asked Prabhakar about what was happening, and why the Sarpanch was not formally informed about the digging of the borewell, as per the rules.
That’s when Prabhakar started getting abusive, Danaiah says.
“He started by asking me who I was,” Danaiah says. “He then went on to yell at me, saying I’m not even the Sarpanch so I shouldn’t be questioning him. He even threatened that if I continued to speak, he would dig the bore over my body,” Danaiah claims.
‘I respected him, he insulted me’
By then, Jayamma had reached the spot herself.
She then requested Prabhakar Reddy to not dig the borewell in the BC colony - where a bore had already been dug in 2015 - and to route the machine to the SC colony instead.
“I was very polite throughout,” Jayamma says. “I continuously referred to him as ‘Patela’ (a honourific used for upper caste men in Telangana). I asked him to shift the location of the borewell since there is severe water shortage in the SC colony,” Jayamma narrates.
“But not only did he deny my request, he then threatened me,” the sarpanch says.
The sexually abusive slur
“First, he told me to break a ceremonial coconut and leave since I had landed up there anyway,” Jayamma narrates.
When she refused to leave, Prabhakar allegedly got much more abusive.
“He told me that Rs 15 lakh were lying in the village funds for three years, and that I wasn’t ‘eating’ (spending) them myself and nor was I letting them ‘eat’ it,” Jayamma says.
“I retorted to this claim, and asked him what he had done for the village in the five years that he was Sarpanch,” she adds.
Angered by the fact that she dared to reply back, Prabhakar’s words got uglier.
“What have you sucked for three years,” Prabhakar allegedly asked Jayamma.
‘Only sparing you because you’re a woman’
Jayamma was angry, frustrated, and fed up of the upper caste man’s casteist and sexist slurs against her and her husband.
She put her foot down about the borewell, and refused to allow them to dig it. “I asserted that this is my village, and that since I’m the sarpanch, I’m not giving permission for the borewell.”
But Prabhakar continued to be abusive, Jayamma says. “Referring to our caste, he told us that we were equal to his footwear,” she alleges.
And then, the ex-sarpanch decided to bring in muscle. “He gathered around 20 men from the colony and instigated them to charge an attack at us. They tried to overpower us,” Jayamma claims.
“I’m only sparing you because you’re a woman,” Prabhakar allegedly told Jayamma.
Complaint vs complaint?
While Jayamma managed to halt the digging of the borewell, she was afraid that the upper caste men may turn violent, especially towards her husband. After the incident, she filed a written complaint at the Jogipet police station against Prabhakar Reddy.
TNM contacted the Jogipet Sub-Inspector for further details. “Yes, we have received the complaint,” the officer confirms.
“But we have also received another complaint from a person called Myatari Vekataiah against Jayamma and her husband. We are looking into the matter,” he says.