It's a constant worry for 40-year-old Lachala whether she can find work for the day. Lachala walks several kilometers to neighbouring villagers in desperation to seek work. This, after Lachala and others from Mala families (categorised as Scheduled Castes) of Marampally village in Nizamabad district have been socially boycotted for defying the diktats of the upper-caste Reddys.
Though the upper-castes have hit where it hurts by depriving them economically, women like Lachala continue to fight against the caste discrimination everyday by doing a dheeksha (protest) at night at anti-caste revolutionary Dr BR Ambedkar's statue in the village.
A library in Ambedkar’s name
Reddys and other upper castes in the village have socially boycotted the 80 Mala families for their simple demand of providing 30 square feet of land for constructing a library, named after Dr BR Ambedkar. Madiga families in the village – also Dalits – have participated in the boycott as well, fearing ostracisation if they don’t.
Construction site of library
The Village Development Committee (VDC), an unelected village body, promised Gram Panchayat land to the Malas in January last year. However, as the Malas couldn't collect sufficient funds for construction of the library, they deferred the date of construction. They later collected Rs 5 lakh and began the construction in December. But the VDC, comprising mostly Reddys, objected to the construction, claiming that they have been constructing the library by encroaching on 6 square feet of land, which the Malas deny. The conflict escalated from there on, as the Malas questioned the discrimination based on their caste.
62 days of boycott
The Reddys, who allegedly couldn't digest the fact that Malas were questioning them, announced the social boycott against them with a fine of Rs 10,000 against anyone who defied the order, says Bantu Rajeshwar, member of the Marampally Dalitula Aatma Gaurava Poratta Committee (Marampally Dalit Self-Respect Struggle Committee).
"It's been 62 days since they (VDC) imposed a boycott on us. Since then it has become extremely difficult for us to make a living. Nobody is buying our milk, nor giving us any farm related work. We are forced to hunt for jobs in the nearby villages. This is how they have been tormenting us," laments Lachala.
Under the aegis of Marampally Dalit Self-Respect Struggle Committee, the Malas have however, made a resolve to fight the caste discrimination collectively.
"Since nobody is giving us any milk or work, we are sustaining by sharing the resources as a community. Every day, our women are protesting at night against the discrimination after coming from work, bracing the cold. The men, too, are protesting by gheraoing the RDO office etc.," says Rajeshwar.
The Reddys’ political clout
Though the Malas have been determined in the struggle, their hope is fading with each passing day. "It's been two months now since we have tried every possible protest to lift the boycott, but nothing has changed because of the political power the Reddys enjoy," Rajeshwar says.
The main offenders who have imposed the social boycott are none than close relatives of Armur MLA, A Jeevan Reddy, according to the victims. Police have registered a case against Churukanti Srinivas, Dinesh Reddy, and Arukula Ravi – all close relatives of Jeevan Reddy – and 22 others, under SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act for socially boycotting the Malas. However, the boycott continues to prevail.
"It is all political power because of which we are not getting any justice. Ideally, as soon as the case was registered, afraid of the consequences, the Reddys should have come in for a compromise, but since they know that they have political support, they don't want a compromise," says Rajeshwar.
Against the injustice meted out to the Malas, Dalit-Bahujan activists took out a rally on Sunday in the village. Convenor of Bahujan Resistance Forum, Sujatha Surepally participated in the rally.
Speaking to TNM, she says, "VDCs should be banned across Telangana first. These VDCs are casteist structures as they comprise only upper-caste people. Dalits have no say in them. The other demand is to provide employment to these 80 families, where they don't have to depend on the upper-castes anymore."