Barbers, milkmen shun Dalits
Tirupati, Aug. 30: This is the district where upper castes force a Dalit to drink his own urine and get away with it. The indignities that upper castes subject the Dalits to reaches such ridiculous extents that it would have been a joke had it not been for real.
First the urine incident. In the run-up to the mandal and zilla elections almost 45 days ago, a Dalit youth Murugesh relieved himself in the presence of upper caste men belonging to the Telugu Desam in Prichatur, some 75 km from Tirupati. The next day, the upper caste men brought him in a procession and forced him to drink his own urine for the crime of relieving himself in the presence of the upper castes. A furore followed, with about 400 Dalits sitting on dharna, tension in the mandal headquarters town which even led the police opening fire. They wanted a case under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act. For several days, no case was booked. When the police did move, they arrested the Dalits for violating prohibitory orders. More than six weeks later, the Dalits want the police to take the first steps towards justice.
Back to the present. Across the railway tracks of the famous bone-setting town of Rachapalem, about 25 km from Tirupati which is famous for its bone-setting, lies the pathetic habitation of Arundhati Dalitwada. The entire Madiga community here lies in a comatose state of complete helplessness.
The villagers are such outcastes that the town's milkmen do not sell them milk. "They say their cows will fall sick if they sell us their milk," says M Salamma. The barbers in the town do not cut their hair. The dhobis do not wash their clothes. For all these, they have to head to Puttur, the mandal headquarters where such visible symbols of untouchability do not exist.
They have a Mathamma temple which the upper castes can visit, but the Daltis cannot visit the Lord Rama temple in town. The Dalits do not have the benefit of benediction of the local priest.
Chengaiah, an elderly Dalit, states that for their marriages, they stick to the lagnams indicated by the Brahmins from out of town. The groom ties the knot at the appointed hour to the sounds of the "military band". The town's nada-swaram players do not play for the Dalits. The Dalits cannot lie on their charpoys if the upper castes are about. They have to turn the charpoy upside down and lie in them. For they dare not presume they are equals to the upper castes.
They cannot draw water from the same tap. When they ask for water to drink, the townspeople pour it to them from a height so that their touch does not defile. The Dalits here have got around the two-glass system by an ingenuous way: They take their own glasses, so that they don't have to take separate glasses.