First humiliated, now ostracised: Dalit families in Telangana roll beedis to survive

“It’s been five months now, and there are no means for us to survive. Nobody is giving us work,” laments Rajeshwar.
First humiliated, now ostracised: Dalit families in Telangana roll beedis to survive
First humiliated, now ostracised: Dalit families in Telangana roll beedis to survive

Rajeshwar and Lakshman are two Dalit men from Abhangapatnam of Nizamabad district in Telangana, whose lives changed on October 19, 2017. When the two Madiga men had gone to relieve themselves in the morning, they witnessed a truck mining sand from their water stream. They attempted to stop the alleged illegal mining – and this one act of standing up for their natural resources has wreaked havoc in their lives.

When Rajeshwar and Lakshman questioned the mining, former BJP member and a local upper caste leader, Bharat Reddy – who was reportedly running the sand mining operations – decided to assault the two men and humiliate them by ‘punishing’ them. He forced them to take a dip in the muddy waters to ‘cleanse’ them of their sins.

The video of the incident created much furore in the state, and after much outrage, Bharat Reddy was arrested.

But five months since the incident, Rajeshwar and Lakshman say they wish they had never attempted to stop the illegal mining. While the incident itself has left scars of humiliation and pain running deep through them, the aftermath of the incident has completed deprived them of a livelihood.

The upper castes in the villages have completely ostracised the two men, refusing to give them any work since the incident.

“It’s been five months now, and there are no means for us to survive. Nobody is giving us work and neither do we own land to take care of ourselves,” laments Rajeshwar.

As the men in the house are unable to find a work, the burden of running the family and feeding everyone has fallen solely on the women in the house – who are now rolling beedis to make a meagre living.

“We have been rolling bidis for many years now,” says B Latha, Rajeshwar’s wife. “But it was a part-time activity. Now, it’s become our primary job. We roll around 150 bidis to earn Rs 100 a day,” she says.

Rajeshwar and Latha have two daughters. “How can we run a family on an income of Rs 4,500 a month – even that is not fixed. I cannot roll 150 beedis every day,” she adds.

“With this small income I’ll have to run my family – buy vegetables, provisions and also repay our loans,” Latha rues. Rajeshwar had taken a loan to build their house earlier, and another loan for treatment costs when he was hospitalised.

“Two years ago my husband was hospitalized. He would regularly get seizures. So we admitted him in a super speciality hospital and got him treated. For this purpose, we took a loan of Rs 40,000. We are still repaying the debt,” says Latha.

Although the government had given them a compensation of Rs 20,000 after the incident, they money soon ran out.

“With the money we paid some of the loans. Now, there is no other source for us to make an income,” Latha says.

“The upper castes have been thoroughly refusing work to us. Maybe they fear that they too will be jailed if they mistreat us, or they just don’t want to hire us as one among their community members is languishing in jail because of us,” Lakshman says.

“I don’t know the exact reason, but everyone is acting hostile and refusing to give us work,” he adds.

Lakshman’s wife Bhavana says that the incident has devastated their livelihood. “For no wrongdoing of my husband, he’s facing this torment,” she mourns.

“We have no source of income now other than rolling beedis. Life is becoming very uncertain. We don’t know how to pay fees for my son for the next academic year,” Bhavana says.

Lakshman appeals to the government to aid them financially and give them a job, so that they don’t have to rely on others for work.

(Rajeshwar and Lakshman)

But this is not just the story of Lakshman and Rajeshwar – almost all Dalits who approach the police or the Collector and fight casteism face social boycott in their villages, says Suman Damera, PhD scholar from University of Hyderabad.

Suman, who is studying atrocities against Dalits, says, “I found during my field visits in several villages of Andhra and Telangana that this is very common when Dalits show resistance.”

From Lakshmipeta in Andhra to Pathapally in Telangana, all the Dalit victims share the same plight of exclusion, says Suman.

“The upper castes spread the rumour that if someone employs the Dalit victims, soon they too will end up in jail as they might complain against them under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act. Or they instill the fear that Dalits will outgrow them, and start dictating terms to them,” Suman says.

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