“The panchayat built latrines for everyone but not for us. When I was told I am eligible for a house and a latrine, I applied for both with a secretary. But was told it had been rejected.”
“Bablu Valmik, whose son Arun and sister Khushi were beaten to death on Wednesday for defecating in the open, is inconsolable,” The Hindu reported.
““What was their fault? They had just gone to relieve themselves,” the report quoted Valmik as saying. “If those who killed them are so strong, they should have killed me instead.”
Ironically, around 20 years ago, Valmik’s family from the Mehtar community of Dalits, had moved to Bhavkhedi village in Shivpuri district and struck a deal with elders to ‘buy’ it for ₹45,000. They came to be called its ‘rulers’ and earned the right to play the dhapli, a frame drum, during ceremonies for a fee. Valmik is the eldest of five brothers and three sisters. Earlier this year, he had played the dhapli at the wedding of Rameshwar Yadav’s brother.
Yet this ‘right’ could not protect the two children from the community from the brutal assault by Rameshwar and Hakim Yadav early on Wednesday.
The police have arrested the two and based on Valmik’s complaint registered a case of murder and under the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. Shivpuri Deputy Collector Pallavi Vaidya said the authorities were looking into the caste-angle of the incident, and added that under the Act, each of the victims’ families would receive ₹8,25,000. The panchayat had already paid ₹25,000 to each of the families.
But Valmik told The Daily that the family, despite being the ‘rulers’, had decided to leave Bhavkhedi and shift to Shivpuri. “Although the Yadavs are quiet now, I am scared they’ll come for us next,” he said.
Two years ago, “I had broken a branch from a tree on a road next to the field of the Yadav brothers for my tapariya (thatched hut). They abused me with casteist slurs and threatened to kill me.”
“We will get a house with the compensation money.”
An agricultural labourer, Valmik said his two-and-a-half bighas of land had been illegally grabbed by Yadavs. They told him: “After all, you do our labour. Instead of Rs. 100 a day, we’ll pay you Rs. 50. Or else, not give you work at all.”
He said caste discrimination was severe in the village. His family had to wait for at least two hours to get water from the handpump each time. “We fill water only when everyone else is done,” he said.
For the same reason, he pulled Khushi and Arun out from the local primary school, as each time they came back home panting with thirst. “Yadavs said their moda-modi (boys and girls) would not sit with ours on the bench. So the teacher told them to carry leaves from home to sit on the ground.”
For the mid-day meal, the Dalit children were asked to bring separate utensils from home. “They went to school for two-three years. After that it was becoming too much for them. If they are unable to study at the village school, where else will we send them?” he said.
Now, his eldest daughter, 12, who dropped out of the school, is paid ₹10-20 every week by the teacher to clean toilets and sweep rooms at the same school.
Valmiki recalled that Arun didn’t call Khushi buaji (aunt) as she was just a couple of years older. “He called her didi (elder sister) instead. While my father kept an eye on them, they used to play together the entire day, as the adults went out for work.”
“The only regret is that being her elder brother, I wasn’t able to protect her,” says a heartbroken Valmik. “And my son. Who will look after me in my old age now?”
(Inputs from The Hindu. Names are fictitious.)