Activists say that the committees are designed in such a way that it highlights the supremacy of the land-owning upper castes.

Telanganas Village Development Committees act like feudal landlords perpetuate casteImage for representation: Vallam Karthik
news Caste Sunday, June 03, 2018 - 15:49

“What is a village but a sink of localism, a den of ignorance, narrowmindedness and communalism?”

These strong words expressed by Dr BR Ambedkar still feel relevant even after 70 years of India’s Independence. In many villages in two Telangana districts, people face the dominance of a proxy caste machinery, under the name of Village Development Committees (VDC).

Earlier this week a large group of Dalit activists descended on the local Tehsildar’s office, situated in Nizamabad district’s Armoor mandal. They were protesting the alleged boycott of a reported 300 Dalit families after they questioned the upper castes in Aloor village.

Speaking to the media, the families said that there was nearly six acres of graveyard land in the village that belonged to the local SC community, which was allegedly encroached by upper castes under the pretext of VDC.

“When we questioned them, they imposed a social boycott against us. We demand that the people behind this be arrested under the SC/ST Act. We also demand the return of the land that is rightfully ours,” one protestor told reporters.

What are VDCs?

VDCs began surfacing in the two districts a little over a decade ago as a form of self-organisation without needing to approach the police or courts for disputes. The idea was that each caste would nominate two members from its community to the committee.

The committees also ensure that the presidential and executive positions keep changing annually on a rotating basis.

While there have been reported instances of VDCs working well, like in Ankapur or Gangadevipally, there have been several cases of social boycott organised by these VDCs, with allegations that they even overpower village-level elected bodies in some places.

Several villages in Armoor subdivision in Nizamabad and Kamareddy districts are the bedrock of the VDCs and their excessive execution of powers by side-lining elected bodies.

Activists also say that most of the times the decisions taken by the VDCs reflect casteism and misogyny.

Despite being an extra constitutional authority, VDCs are often dubbed an ‘internal redressal mechanism’ and ‘local self-governance.’

Incidents not isolated

In July last year, around 150 Dalit families in Manthani in Armoor subdivision alleged that the local VDC imposed a social boycott on them over a land dispute, due to which they could not buy any goods, including milk and groceries.

According to reports, it was also announced that if anyone spoke to the ostracised families, they would have to pay a fine of Rs 1,000. A similar incident allegedly took place in Bejjora village in the same subdivision.

Activists say that the committees are designed in such a way that it highlights the supremacy of the land-owning upper castes.

Long-lasting boycotts

Earlier this year, TNM had carried a piece on the social boycott of the Sarpanch of Bussapur, a Dalit woman. Jakulla Mamatha Srinivas alleged that her family was boycotted after she stood up against the Reddys (a powerful land-owning community) for the land rights of Dalits. The diktat for the boycott was allegedly passed by the Reddy Sangam of the village and backed by the VDC.

Mamatha even complained to the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC), which issued a notice to the police. Despite this, she says the social boycott is still in force.

Speaking to TNM, she breaks down as she narrates her ordeal, saying, “Nothing has happened. No one has showed us a solution even though it has been more than 8 months. The boycott continues.”

In Mamatha’s case, the prime accused is the vice president of the VDC, she claims. “If it was someone else, the committee would have involved itself. In this case, it remained a mute spectator and acted against us,” she alleges.

Mamatha says that even for tractors and machinery needed for agriculture she has to wait, as she is borrowing them from other villages or from members of her own community.

Larger issue

Other than Nizamabad district, the adjoining Kamareddy too sees a prevalence of VDCs.

Just earlier this week, the president and treasurer of Jangampally village’s VDC were found brutally murdered in Bhiknoor mandal in the district. The duo were reportedly killed due to a dispute regarding ‘village related’ issues.

Speaking to TNM, Kamareddy Superintendent of Police, Shwetha Reddy, said that the investigation was underway.

When asked about the alleged overreach of the VDCs, the police officer said, “Whenever we receive complaints or if it comes to our notice that VDCs are acting beyond the law or indulging in unlawful activities, we take necessary action under the purview of the law.”

On the other hand, the ACP of Armoor refused to comment on the VDCs over phone.

Activists say that disciplinary action is taken not just against Dalit communities but even against other backward communities and women who refuse to accept the VDC’s diktats.

On the ground

Venkat Dandi, vice president of the Telangana Most Backward Castes (MBC) Association, opines that VDCs are nothing but the replication of feudal and casteist structures, formed to undermine the democratic mechanism.

Venkat, who is based out of Nizamabad and works for the rights of Dalits, tribals and most backward castes, said, “These committees have come into existence as Dalits and other lower castes started asserting themselves economically and educationally. Earlier, the political power in the village was concentrated with land-owning communities and upper castes, but now the changes have challenged the structure.”

Venkat says that even politicians up to MLA level are afraid of interfering with the VDCs, as they play a crucial role during the time of elections.

“These VDCs and other caste organisations even pass a resolution to vote for their favourite candidate in sarpanch elections. It is not an exaggeration,” he adds.

Observers and activists also feel that the excesses of the VDCs are highlighted only when the victims are Dalits; when it is against other backward castes or women, everything is kept covered.

“We can’t see caste angle in every incident that takes place but we can’t deny that there is unrest being created due to these VDCs. It is high time that the government issues strict orders prohibiting them and start a campaign to strengthen elected local bodies,” Venkat says.

Representation no use

Members of the Dalit community are also usually allowed to nominate two members to the VDC. However, they allege that they are often overshadowed by the others.

Human Rights Forum (HRF) state president, Madhava Rao, told TNM, “In Armoor area, these committees are undemocratic and atrocious. They use brute power against anyone who speaks against them.”

When asked about Dalits becoming easy victims of VDCs despite having representation in the committee, he said, “In villages, Dalits are minority communities and as upper castes have more representation they will have their say.”

Madhava Rao also feels that Dalits must pull themselves out from the VDCs in order to challenge them, instead of continuing as minorities and being at a disadvantage.

Assistant Professor Dr K Raja Ram, Department of Mass Communication, Telangana University, Nizamabad, says that VDCs are nothing but deviating power structures.

Speaking to TNM, he said, “These bodies have come up deviate existing Panchayat Raj reservations which are accommodating Dalits and marginalised communities and women.”

“As these sections have started posing a challenge to their dominance with the help of reservations, VDCs were formed by feudal landlords to retain power,” he further observed.

 

Read: Four months on, boycott against Dalit sarpanch continues in Telangana village 

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