Caste based atrocities swept under the rug: Sikkim's lesser evils
Caste-based discrimination takes place not only when caste-based atrocities are committed, but due to the very existence of the caste system, where people are born unequal (to borrow Dr. Ambedkar’s words). Recently, in an atrocious affair that came to light from Reshi, a village in Rhenock, East Sikkim, and a man had been denied the permission to carry out the last rites of his father for marrying a woman belonging to the SC community.
Man Bahadur Bhujel, hailing from Reshi, had married Kamala Darjee (a Nepali Dalit woman), 22 years ago and was boycotted from the family for the same. However, when Man Bahadur’s father expired, the villagers expressed Bhujel that he won’t be able to carry out his father’s “anthesti kriya”, it was heart-rending for him. He was compelled to stay away from the bereaved family, calling him a lower caste (Pani muni ko jaat).
The duo pleaded the villagers to permit them to carry out the last rites, but their request was turned down by the villagers. The couple later tried to carry out the last rites at their home but failed to find a priest.
The couple has then approached the President of All Sikkim Scheduled Caste Welfare Association, Sekhar Sewa, who had assured justice to the family.
Sewa said that he was informed of the atrocity by a resident, Thakur Rasaily. Bhujel and his family also sent a complaint letter to the association. “He called me up and unfolded to me the entire experience. I immediately visited the village and spoke with the villagers. It was truly heart wrenching for me. According to the tradition, all the sons and daughters and daughter in laws must stay together for the rituals. But here, out of five brothers, only Man Bahadur Bhujel was kept separate from the rest of the family.” He stated.
“I did meet with the district collector, superintendent of police and the sub-divisional magistrate, Gangtok regarding the case but did not file an FIR. Our aim is to send a loud and clear message to the masses that each and every one of us is an equal fragment of the society and no single individual should be considered any lesser or discriminated based on caste," he added.
After media attention and intervention by the association, the villagers sought forgiveness and made a declaration accepting Bhujel and his family. Following the incident, on account of increasing events of caste discrimination, members of the ASSCWA and individuals from the Scheduled Caste community staged a silent protest rally from east district administrative centre to bar papal in Richey, Gangtok on the 28th of January.
Sewa stated, “Our motive behind the protest rally was to make our voices heard. Even though we’ve all come such a long way, there are many people who see us differently and keep us at distance. They practice discrimination under the label of old age customs and traditions.”
He said that the ASSCWA will be organizing various awareness campaigns to educate people about caste discrimination and its consequences. “It is not just this incident; there have been plenty of incidents of caste-based discrimination across the state. Every year we receive at least 4 to 5 complaints, and god knows how many incidents go unseen and unheard. Our people do not realize that we have various reservations and we are protected by law. People belonging to my community are oppressed and bullied for a reason that they cannot speak for themselves. But somebody has to speak up and I will speak. Tomorrow, even if I’m no longer a part of the association I will continue to work for the betterment of my people. As long as my people are innocent and moral, I will be their voice and protect them. I will not tolerate injustice.”
By Mahima Grace Rai
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