One year ago, Dalits were forced to leave Maharashtra village. Why have most failed to return?
Shalubai Shinde was the sarpanch of Rudrawadi village in Maharashtra’s Latur district when she was forced to flee with more than a dozen Dalit families on the night of June 7, 2018. Caste tensions with the dominant Maratha community had taken a violent turn. Facing threats and a social boycott, the Dalits had decided to leave.
One year later, a few families have returned but many others, including Shinde, now live around 20 kilometres away in another part of the district. Much of the daily wages they earn go towards paying rent.
“Two months ago, when we went to [Rudrawadi] to collect our rations, the Marathas of the village came and threatened us,” said Shinde, who now works as a daily wage labourer in a village near Udgir town in Latur. Shinde was one of 12 complainants who had filed a police case against 23 Maratha men. Referring to the case, she said: “Since we have accused them of violence, they will not let us return.”The Dalit families had asked the state government to rehabilitate them but the district administration has so far resisted the demand.
How trouble began
Rudrawadi is a small village with a population of around 700 people. Most of the residents and all the landowners are Marathas. Matangs are the only Dalit community there. They own no land and almost all work on the fields of Marathas as agricultural labourers.
The violence against the Dalits began in May 2018, when Marathas in the village allegedly objected to a Matang family performing a wedding ceremony at the base of the village temple. A few days later, after an altercation at a shop, a group of around 50 Maratha men dragged a Dalit teenager out of his house and beat him up. Among the crowd allegedly was Dhanaji Atolkar, the deputy sarpanch of the village and a member of the Maratha community.
After the families filed a case against 23 Marathas, including Atolkar, dominant caste people in the village retaliated with an extended boycott. On June 7, the Matang families left the village and took shelter in the campus of an abandoned engineering college. Scroll.in met them there in July 2018.
Among them was the teenager’s family, which continues to live away from the village. His father Tukaram Shinde, the primary complainant in the FIR, said most of those who have not returned are accusers in the police case. They fear retribution from the Marathas and prefer that the government give them land to build homes elsewhere.
“The government had said they would give us rehabilitation but they have not done anything about this,” said Tukaram Shinde in a phone conversation. “We are now living on rent and doing daily labour.”
Around 30 to 35 members of six families are living together near Udgir in Latur, Tukaram Shinde said.
So far, the state administration has released Rs 75,000 of the sanctioned relief of Rs 1 lakh to 12 families. It is waiting for the police case to conclude before it releases the last installment of Rs 25,000, said an official in the state social welfare department in Latur.
Despite the families’ demands for rehabilitation outside the village, the district administration has resisted this. Scroll.in has reviewed the case file with the district’s social welfare department. The only mention of rehabilitation comes in a report which says that the district administration convinced the group to rescind its demand for this in July.
At the time, the district administration tried to persuade the families to return to the village. Latur’s district collector G Sreekanth told Scroll.in in July 2018: “The Matang community people want to get rehabilitated. I will never let it happen for one reason. If you keep running how much will you run?”
“It will set a very bad precedent in Maharashtra and the entire country that after being ostracised, the administration supported them and rehabilitated them,” he added.
While there has been no violence in the village since the events of last year, those who have returned still face discrimination from dominant caste people, said Ramesh Shinde, who now lives in the village and works as a labourer. He also plays musical instruments when called for it. Nobody in the village gives him any work even today, he said.
“The environment is peaceful, but they do not call us for work,” Ramesh Shinde said. Around eight or nine other families have returned, including his own family, he said.
“We weren’t sure we would get anything when we had left,” he said. “We had built good houses in the village and we couldn’t leave that. So we came back.”
For the police at Ahmedpur, the situation in Rudrawadi is now peaceful, despite even its sarpanch being unable to return. “Our investigation closed with the filing of a chargesheet on July 9, 2018,” said head constable Navare, posted at Ahmedpur police station which handled the case. The investigating officer retired in February. “There is no sarpanch in the village now. […] The village is completely fine now.”
A resident of the village confirmed that Dhanaji Atolkar, the deputy sarpanch and one of the accused in the case, was now acting as the sarpanch.
Navare added that the 23 accused had been charged under sections of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities Act) and the Indian Penal Code. No charges were made for social boycott, which Maharashtra had made illegal in June 2017.
Tukaram Shinde was under the impression that though no witnesses had yet been summoned in the case, its hearing began three months ago in a district court in Udgir. Navare, however, said the trial had not yet begun.