Dalits? They can take a long walk
Gadwal, Aug. 28: Welcome to the Middle Ages. That is where Ganganpally village in Dharoor mandal in Mahbubnagar district is stuck. This is the village of G Venkat Rao, who just finished a seven-year tenure as zilla praja parishad chairman. He did not contest last month's elections ? perhaps wisely. His son did, and lost.
The Raos' huge white building lies just inside the village, and the main path runs just past his house. The Dalitwada is further down. Dalits perforce have to pass by the house of the ex-chairman. When they do, the Dalits remove their slippers, carry them in the hand and pass by ? those who have slippers that is. In this desperately poor place, not many Dalits have slippers.
Some of the more daring ones go past the house wearing their footwear but there is always a fearful glance at the building. On Tuesday, there didn't seem to be anyone about in the house, Rao senior being away in Kurnool. Dalit Narasimhulu walks past wearing his slippers ? but looking keenly to see if someone is watching.
Just outside the gate of the Rao residence is a small cement shed that doubles up as a temple with an idol of Hanuman, a very makeshift and informal affair. Even here, the Dalits, even the most courageous ones, do not dare step inside. There and informal affair. Even here, the Dalits, even the most courageous ones, do not dare step inside. There is another temple, dedicated to Shiva, and it is the same case here.
Dalit Hanumanthu stands outside the temple and bows deeply in prayer while a upper caste youth steps inside with a cursory namaskaram at the Hanuman temple. Has Hanumanthu ever stepped inside? "No," he says. "We do not even stand on the step of the temple." The step, a mere cement slab, is also part of the temple. The Dalits who bring offerings stand outside and pass them to the priests. Narasimhulu, the middle-aged man who has just walked past the house wearing his slippers does not dare step inside. He has his own reasons. "Who are we to break God's rules? He made us like this, we will stay like this." Even as we stand in front of the temple, bang in front of the racha banda, the stone bench in the centre of the village that doubles as the village meeting place, not many are willing to sit on it. In fact, no one does. And an old man walks past, promptly picking up his slippers as he crosses Rao's house.
Further down is the village 'hotel', run in the front portion of the house by a Vysya family. We look for the mandatory two-glasses. There seems to be none; the basket of glasses meant only for use by Dalits seems to be missing. Then suddenly it hits us: Hidden in a corner of the aluminium sheet roof of the hotel. A small rope bag having about half-a-dozen glasses, and some detergent. Dalits who consume the 50-paise-per-cup tea wash their own glasses. The upper castes and the backward classes have no such requirements.. About 1,000 families live in this village, about 200 of them Dalits. The village has a government school and an Anganwadi. The school runs but the anganwadi ? run by "the bapanamma" from out of town ? doesn't. No one remembers the anganwadi worker, who has to be at the centre every day and supply nutrition supplements to the villagers. The centre taps power from the main lines, as to very many hutments. They seem to be deprived of even the basic requirements such as toilets. It is unfortunate that even the construction of a solitary community latrine is not spared by the corrupt contractors.
The government aids individual hutment owners to build their own toilets. But here, a community latrine has been been built by "a contractor from Rayalaseema" as Rangappa, another Dalit youth, puts. They want a well in the middle of their colony to be cleaned so that it can be used to draw drinking water. "Write about it, perhaps someone will read it and give some money," he says.
There is but one paved road in the village ? and none to the village that is almost 5 km from the highway and is surrounded by cotton fields. In a sense, the village is cut off more than just physically. It is cut off from the age in which we live.