Ground Report: Ban On Temple Entry Lifted, Dalits Now Face Economic Boycott In UP’s Bulandshahr

by Swati Goel Sharma - Nov 5, 2019 02:07 PM +05:30 IST
Ground Report: Ban On Temple Entry Lifted, Dalits Now Face Economic Boycott In UP’s BulandshahrA view of Valmiki colony in Rakheda village in Khurja area of UP’s Bulandshahr district.  (Swati Goel Sharma)
  • Even though law does not allow prohibition in temples, the casteists of Bulandshahr are determined to practise discrimination through a new way — a subtle social and economic boycott.

    This has effectively silenced the ‘lower caste’ people who do not want to anger the ‘upper caste’ members on whom they depend for their livelihood.

Last week, a mobile-shot video went viral on social media in which a group of women were seen arguing with a man who had stopped them from entering a temple. It’s easy to make out that the women are “lower caste” Hindus and the man an “upper caste”.

“You seem to have fear of none,” a woman is heard saying (as translated from Hindi).

“What will you do when the bhangis from across the Yamuna come here packed in vehicles…,” another woman says.

“People will spit on you if they come to know this is how you think,” the first woman says.

The man replies, “The temple land belongs to our grandfather.”

“This is a temple. A temple!” the woman protests.

“Thakurs have funded this temple,” the man replies.

“Tell us the reason why you are stopping us,” the woman asks.

“We don’t want it, simple,” says the man.

The enraged women demand they be allowed to enter and offer puja to the female deity or be beaten to death at the very spot, just outside the temple gate.

The Chamanda Mai temple where Dalits were stopped from entering on 25 October. (Swati Goel Sharma)
The Chamanda Mai temple where Dalits were stopped from entering on 25 October. (Swati Goel Sharma)

The video, shot by the women, shows they are at least 10-15 in number including young girls with an equal number of men — upper caste — as silent bystanders.

The incident happened in Rakheda village in Khurja area of Uttar Pradesh’s Bulandshahr district on 25 October around 2 pm. The women returned to their homes without entering the temple but did not approach the police.

It was after the video sparked outrage on social media that the Jahangirpur police reached the spot and filed a first information report (FIR) on 30 October (FIR number 0131). One Mamchand, a man from the scheduled Valmiki caste, is the complainant.

His statement (as translated) says the complaint is regarding upper caste residents prohibiting Valmiki caste residents from entering public temples, public streets and shops and threatening the latter with murder and robbery. The situation is tense and it could lead to a riot any time.

Statement in FIR dated 30 October about prohibition on temple entry.
Statement in FIR dated 30 October about prohibition on temple entry.

Mamchand named 11 men from Thakur (Rajput) community as accused.

They have been booked under sections 147 (rioting) and 506 (criminal intimidation) and the SC and ST Prevention of Atrocities Act. Veerpal Singh, Sub-Inspector at Jahangirpur Police Station, told this correspondent that no arrests have been made yet as all accused are absconding.

On 31 October, newspapers reported that the controversy had been resolved after intervention by elderly people from both sides.

A report by Hindustan Times said,

Representatives of both castes submitted their compromise letter to the district administration and police on Thursday, claiming that there was no controversy in the village and everyone was free to worship in the temple. Police officials, in return, assured villagers that the case registered against a man on the basis of a video that went viral would be withdrawn and also issued warning to the wrongdoer that such act should not be repeated in future.

Veerpal Singh, however, said that while a “compromise” had been reached to allow entry into the temple, there was no question of withdrawing the police complaint. “The matter is now at court stage. How can it be withdrawn?” he asked.

The matter is off newspapers now.

When this correspondent visited the village on 1 November, the upper-caste residents dismissed it as a “non-issue”. They blamed the ban on temple entry as work of a few miscreants and said it was related to a Valmiki man wanting to sacrifice a pig for the deity.

Their version was refuted by the Valmikis when this correspondent visited their colony. The Valmikis shared a tale of constant humiliation and discrimination based on their birth, the temple entry prohibition being the most explicit.

It’s pertinent to mention here that hours after the women were stopped at the temple, a Valmiki man was allegedly thrashed by three Thakur men.

The FIR (number 0131) records the victim Bunty’s statement that on 25 October around 6.40 pm, he went to a field for defecation where some Thakur men who were already waiting there overpowered him. Using casteist slurs (“saale bhangi ko aaj maar lo”), the men beat up Bunty with lathis and rods and stopped only when his uncle arrived.

Statement in FIR dated 25 October about the assault on Bunty.
Statement in FIR dated 25 October about the assault on Bunty.

The police booked one Moola, Sonu and Golu under sections 323 (causing hurt), 504 (breach of peace), 506 (criminal intimidation) and SC-ST Atrocity Act. Sub-Inspector Veerpal Singh said no arrests have been made in this case too as the men are absconding.

The Upper Caste Side

“You are a guest in our village so spend time here by all means. Do let us know if you want to have home-cooked lunch. But there is nothing left to write anymore. Things are completely normal,” a resident told this correspondent, and refused to give his name. He said he was a Thakur.

“Please don’t make mountain out of a molehill,” he said.

Brahmins and Thakurs in the temple premises. (Swati Goel Sharma)
Brahmins and Thakurs in the temple premises. (Swati Goel Sharma)

Vikas Sharma, another resident, said the FIRs were a blot on the village. “Our village has a record of zero police cases. These cases have tainted the village,” he said.

Asked about the viral video, Sharma and the other man said it was “nothing” and that none of them believes in caste discrimination. In the same breath, they criticised the police case on those who prohibited temple entry as “not needed”.

They were now joined by several other men — all Brahmins and Thakurs — including the temple pujari, also a Thakur.

The village has around 700 votes — around 400 of Thakurs, 100 of Brahmins, 100 of Valmikis, and the rest of Kolis, Jaatavs and Muslims, the group said.

Shripal Singh is a farmer and a part-time pujari at the ‘Chamunda Mai Mandir’. The version he narrated was supported by the group.

In the wee hours of 25 October when Shripal went to the temple for cleaning the premises, he saw Bunty Valmiki sleeping on the temple rooftop. “I said what are you doing here, your family is looking for you all around. He said mata rani is asking for surki. I said what’s surki when someone told me it means ‘suwar ki bali’ [sacrifice of pig],” said Shripal.

Shripal Singh points to the roof where he said Bunty stayed  during the night before temple row. (Swati Goel Sharma)
Shripal Singh points to the roof where he said Bunty stayed during the night before temple row. (Swati Goel Sharma)

“I said nobody has ever done that in this village so please don’t do this, but he said he had already sent someone to buy a pig,” said Shripal. “We don’t know whether he indeed went on to sacrifice a pig, maybe at his house, and offered the blood in this temple, but it is for this very reason that the men stopped the women from entering,” he said.

Even if it was the case, wasn’t prohibition of other community members wrong?

Shripal admitted it was wrong, and said it was done by “kids” who were essentially “miscreants”. He said the prohibition was not supported by the “samaj”.

“The temple is open for all. We don’t bar even Muslims, let alone Valmikis who are Hindus,” he said.

Kaluwa Khan, who lives right opposite the temple, said he worshiped at the temple every time his buffalo got pregnant and was never stopped. Easaf Khan, who lives adjacent to Kaluwa, said his mother was a devotee of Chamunda Ma and she was never stopped either.

Kaluwa Khan (left) and Easaf Khan who live right across the temple. (Swati Goel Sharma)
Kaluwa Khan (left) and Easaf Khan who live right across the temple. (Swati Goel Sharma)

About the FIR on three Thakur boys later that day, Shripal said it was a case of one-sided action by the police. He refuted Bunty’s FIR statement and said that it was Bunty who was caught red-handed drinking alcohol at the local school.

“These Valmikis often drink at the school premises. There have been thefts as well. They defecate there and, without washing their hands, use the hand pump. We have told them not to do it, that children of all communities go there, but they don’t change their ways,” said Shripal.

“The Thakur boys in fact handed Bunty to the police after catching him, but the police acted under pressure and slapped harijan act on them,” he said.

Another man in the group, Vinod Jaadon, who introduced himself as a local farmer union leader, said that the temple video was made by the Valmikis as part of a “conspiracy”.

“It’s a fake video,” he said. When asked what was fake about it, Jaadon said the women arrived at an odd time and only to create a scene.

The group said that recently, Thakurs and Brahmins helped the “harijans” open a Valmiki temple in their colony.

“We helped fund its construction. We all went for the inaugural jagran. Go ask them,” said Sharma.

Chamanda Mai temple (left) and Valmiki temple. (Swati Goel Sharma)
Chamanda Mai temple (left) and Valmiki temple. (Swati Goel Sharma)

“We don’t discriminate against them. It’s only their drinking habit and unhygienic ways that we object to,” said Jaadon.

The men said all is well in the village now and the Valmikis have even withdrawn their temple complaint.

The Valmikis Side

“It’s true that they [upper caste] came for the jagran but they refused to eat the prasad offered by us,” said Ramban, a Valmiki.

Asked if the Valmiki temple, that also houses a Shiva idol, is visited by non-Valmikis, his neighbour Ramchand said the house of god is open to all.

“Kolis come. Jaatavs also come,” he said.

What about Thakurs and Brahmins?

“Anyone can come here. But we won’t lie, we haven’t seen them here except for jagran,” said Ramchand who is locally called ‘khalifa’ for his ability to sing and make musical instruments used in puja.

Ramchand ‘Khalifa’ in Valmiki colony. (Swati Goel Sharma)
Ramchand ‘Khalifa’ in Valmiki colony. (Swati Goel Sharma)

They refuted the allegation of pig sacrifice being the trigger. “How can we slaughter a pig in the temple? Who can think of doing such a thing,” a woman said, and presented a different version.

“A few days ago, a Thakur from a neighbouring village held a bhandara in the temple. They treated us like untouchables and made us sit separately on the ground. Amid filth. There was dog shit right where we were asked to sit. Many of us got up and returned without eating. Those people then held a meeting and mutually decided they wouldn’t allow us to enter the temple at all,” she said.

Others in the colony supported her statement.

Residents of Valmiki colony. Woman on left had returned from bhandara at temple. (Swati Goel Sharma)
Residents of Valmiki colony. Woman on left had returned from bhandara at temple. (Swati Goel Sharma)

Bunty, who has sustained an injury on his forehead, said the Thakurs’ claims that he wanted to sacrifice a pig was a lie. He said while he indeed slept on the temple rooftop once, it was two months ago and not two days ago as claimed.

Bunty, it is learnt, suffers frequent seizures that is often a cause of harassment to him. “When they [Thakurs] caught me in the field, I became sick again. They beat me up saying I have been possessed by goddess. They thrashed me and dragged me to the school,” he said.

Sunil, a resident, said the Thakurs perhaps wanted to frame Bunty as a thief in order to escape police action. He said he is glad that the police acted responsibly.

Bunty (left) and Sunil (right). (Swati Goel Sharma)
Bunty (left) and Sunil (right). (Swati Goel Sharma)

Local newspapers reported that when villagers from both sides met for a compromise in the office of sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) in Khurja on 31 October, threats of conversion to Islam were verbally made from the Valmiki side. When asked, Sunil and two women who were turned away from the temple, said they supported the idea.

“When they don’t allow us to enter their temple, don’t count us as Hindus, it’s better to leave Hindu religion altogether,” a woman said.

“One of our leaders in Khurja made this threat and we agree to it. We like the Muslim ways. Even though they have castes, they don’t practice untouchability. They share from the same plate,” said Sunil.

“Their hukka-pyala is same,” added another man.

While many nodded, a woman protested. “I’ll fight, I’ll die but I will not change my religion. Why should I? I love my gods,” she said.

(Left) Two young women who were among those stopped at temple on 25 October. On the right is the woman who protested conversion. (Swati Goel Sharma)
(Left) Two young women who were among those stopped at temple on 25 October. On the right is the woman who protested conversion. (Swati Goel Sharma)

Valmikis said that at the SDM office, the upper-caste people agreed to allow entry into the temple and apologised for their behaviour, but they aren’t satisfied.

They said they are being economically suppressed.

“They aren’t entertaining us at their shops. They are neither selling milk to us nor buying from us. After that incident, they have not called us to work in their fields,” a man said.

No End To Birth-Based Discrimination?

Normal as the village may seem on the surface, a little scratching reveals deep wounds and deep-rooted social problems.

The Thakurs and the Brahmins seem to be one community and the Kolis, Jaatavs and Valmikis seem to be another, even though there may be further fissures within the two groups.

The Indian Constitution abolished untouchability by law but birth-based discrimination persists.

If law does not allow prohibition in the temple, the casteists have found another way to practise discrimination — a silent social and economic boycott.

And well, the Valmikis do not plan to go to the temple anytime soon. They don’t want to further rile up the upper castes, on whom they depend for their livelihood.

Watch the video statements of the communities in this Twitter thread:

Swati Goel Sharma is a senior editor at Swarajya. She tweets at @swati_gs.

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