Dalits Ask For
Justice In West Bengal
If I speak
untruth, I can survive,
If I speak the truth,
It will be Explosive
Baul singers famous for love songs provide a musical odyssey to otherwise
lackluster journey from Kolkata to Shantiniketan. The chaotic Howarah
station wherefrom the train Vishwabharati Express left for Shantiniketan,
reflected the old glory of Kolkata, the financial capital of the country.
Today, thanks to the 30 years rule of the progressive left, Kolkata
just live in its past. It is a city unlike other metros where the poor
can afford to live, they say in their support of existing system yet
failed to answer as why the man-pulling rickshaw is still one of the
most familiar sights in this city of joy.
Old trams, pot holed
roads added with unimaginable road traffic with heavy congestion and
pollution are the hallmark of Kolkatas road. A crude reminder
of where it stand. Yes, they say that they stand for the poor and hence
Kolkata welcomed every one with open arm. After the genocide
of Muslims in Gujarat, it was Kolkata which invited the terrorised
face of Gujarat who was asking for his life. The entire country
reciprocated that it is Bengal where the communal forces can be kept
at bay. A very sensitive state and yet no communal riots are other hallmark
of the left fronts rule in West Bengal apart from the land reform
which it claims to have done though in reality in the first two years
of its coming to power. Later on, the government just getting on the
interest of the old good work that it claimed to have worked during
its earlier period.
Despite all this,
Kolkata does not look a city of freedom. At every nook and corner, you
may feel somebody from the Marxist party is spying to you. Diwaron
ke bhee kaan hote hain is a saying in Hindi but it could be well
said about the cadre of the CPM in west Bengal where political dissent
is just a blasphemy and you can ask nothing more than that. The highly
intoxicated police force and administration can teach you a lesson.
Everything is done in a very peaceful and systematic way in Bengal.
During my recent
trip, I could not meet a single person from Riksha puller to Dalits
who have been evicted from their place who could laud the great
communists ideology of the ruling class in West Bengal. While
the left front and its leaders have been critical of the imperialism
and globalisation, very little has been done for the vast
majority of Dalits in West Bengal. Will the left and its elite leadership
would ever think of their bhadralok imperialism imposed upon the Dalits
in West Bengal. Will they come out against it? West Bengal government
does not even admit that there is a growing discrimination against the
migrants Dalits from Uttar-Pradesh, Bihar, Delhi and Haryana. While
the government is keen to be seen as a very secular government but it
is the same government which does not mince words against the Madrasas.
It is the same government which cleans the streets of Kolkata to greet
John Major, when he was prime minister of Britain and visited Kolkata.
Stories of torture
against the Dalits are not reported to outside people from Bengal. The
intoxicated beaurocracy and police are there to play with data
as the left are expert in the same.
The entire left
front structure is in the hands of upper castes said Mr Abhijeet Dutta,
a lawyer in Howarah and though the backward communities forms a majority
in West Bengal, it is a difficult nexus to break. While there is no
doubt that the upper elite leadership of the left front is not corrupt
yet the same is not true at the local level.
Kishan Balmiki narrate
the plight of the Safai Karmcharis in the municipality. Many employees
have been retired and yet to get their dues it take more than 5 to six
years. Many of them have not yet got their PF dues. For getting a job
other then the Safai Karmcharis we are asked to present our caste certificate.
As our parents had come more than 50 years back to this place our children
should be domicile to this state yet we are asked to bring our caste
certificate from our native place. In the Municipal Corporation, there
are positions in the name of Privy cleaners as well as New Resident
Mehtars. Unlike other states and municipalities where officially
scavenging is prohibited, in progressive Bengal, the Municipal Corporation
feel it is its duty to get the manual scavenging done from the migrant
Balmikis. Like most of the states are serving notices to people who
have dry latrines to convert them to the severe line or flush latrines,
in progressive Bengal, the municipality still feel that if scavenging
is prohibited it would ruin the livelihood of thousands of people while
ignoring their legitimate demands of housing, electricity and schooling.
Interestingly Kishan Balmiki also narrates how he has not been promoted
to the position of a Supervisor because he was not matriculate. While
he planned to do matriculate and got the promoted salary yet the Corporation
want him to work on his present position of cleaning the streets. While
for him the Corporation suggested that he should be doing the traditional
work, one Bhadralok Brahmin was given a position of Supervisor despite
his education being below 5th standard. May be because how could they
employ a Brahmin into cleaning shit business which has been reserved
for the Balmikis for over so many years and Kolkata cannot be an exception.
The Case of Bellilius
Park in Howarah : Over 18 months back, the Howarah municipal corporation
evicted about several hundred Dalit families mostly from the Balmiki
community from the Belilius Park, Howrah. These families had been living
in this area for over 40 years and their forefathers had come to Bengal
and stayed over here. Many Dalit intellectuals says that the British
always took the Balmikis to the areas of the cant and provided them
housing facilities so that they could their menial work. Belilius Park
is about 2 kilometer away from the famous Howarh railway station. It
has a land of over 120 bighas which has not only a school but also various
shops now leased to hundreds of people. An NGO in the name of environment
filed a petition and got the order from the Kolkata high court for the
eviction of the people. People were evicted without any alternative
given. While the temples and schools of the community were demolished
along with their houses, the Bhadralok police and authorities kept Netaji
Subhash Chandra Bose intact in the dirt of the now defunct park. While
the communists boast of morality, their morality kept quiet how a statue
of a person become more important than the lives of several thousands
people. They shout slogans and force the Delhi government to change
its master plan otherwise face their wrath, keep a conspicuous silence
over the same happening in Bengal.
Kishni Balmiki from
Panipat Haryana who has been staying in this locality for over 40 years
narrates the brutality of the police during the eviction : They
did not allow us to pick up our utensils and other items. There were
commandos and bulldozers. Our gold ornaments and TV sets were stolen.
Even the daily usage items were picked up by the anti social elements.
We dont know where to go from this place.
Shame of Kolkata
and the response
One and half year
ago, I wrote a story Shame of Kolkata on this eviction
and send it to many friends who felt that the story could damage the
image of left front and help the fundamentalist forces and thats
why many of them did not carry it out. We circulated it to many friendly
people and also to many of the left front people in Delhi who we personally
know but without any response. Perhaps they cannot speak against their
Bhadralok politics. We thought that they would speak in the same force
as they had been in Delhi and elsewhere but to our utter disappointment,
they did not even acknowledge our report which was mailed to some of
them directly. Question is not whether they acknowledge us or not, the
question is that these Balmikis had worked very hard for the left front
candidate in various elections. And though they call the CPM is the
most fascist party at the moment, none of them could be charged to follow
the Hindutva line. They had been former friend of the Bhadralok communists.
Many journalist friend advised me that the only people fighting for
the downtrodden are the CPM and gave me example how bad
Mayawati, Ram Vilas Paswan, Lalu Yadav and others were. When they give
such examples of corruption they tend to reflect the upper caste Hindu
psyche which is selective in these things. Nobody, is debating here
the pros and cons of identity politics. For us the issue of the eviction
and rehabilitation of the Balmikis of Belilius Park is utmost. It is
not left verses right issue. It is an issue of the rule of law and whether
the left front which claims to be moral guardian of the proletariat
really respect rule of law.
Some friends in
Kolkata objected to my questions regarding Dalits. They are not
sincere, they said. We had fought for their case for years and
they dont come to us. It is difficult to find a friend among them.
Despite doing our best we get nothing, they said. It was surprising
that the mainline Bengal politics as well as social scientists ignore
this fact that Dalits or any other marginalized refuses to be just a
tool in the hand of any one. They would like to be a party of every
struggle with dignity and honor. The days of a feudal politics where
the upper caste speak of the rights of Dalits and they just listened
are over. Interesting aspect of this socialism in Bengal is their continuous
apathy to the cause of Dalits. Oh, We dont believe in caste like
you people from Uttar-Pradesh and Bihar are habitual of, they said.
But sir, how many of the upper castes clean shit in the morning, I asked
to a friend. Is it not a grave reality that the toilets are cleaned
by migrant scavengers only. Let us assume that you only believe in class
struggle and all of us who make noises about the Dalits are castiest.
Please tell us who are the poorest of the poor in this country? Who
are landless? Who are tortured in the police custody? Who clean shit?
Who washes cloths? Who are the fishermen? Who are the leather workers?
Do you mean these all are rich people, I asked. And what is the reality
of other side? Should I name them and find about their land? How come
you communists who educated in oxford now cry against the same when
our number to go England has just arrived? How come the landowning Bhadralok
become a well wisher of preliterate? Perhaps this is the only reason
why communism has been destroyed in its own land of revolution because
we gave it up to big landlords to lead the movement of landless and
kept away the landless because they happen to be Dalits, Adivasis and
backward classes because we did not want to really fight against our
own caste brothers.
Sorry Sir, but the
Balmikis of this country are the lowest of the low and if they cannot
be communists then who will be the communist? How can the Bhadralok
communists leave them alone? Is caste more important for them then a
broader socialistic vision?
But the problem
with the issue of scavengers is not just the left parties. None of the
others dared to raise the issue of Belilius Park in their election manifesto.
None would come to them and share their grief. An old woman in her 70s
said pachas saal tak inkee tatee saaf karne ka yeh sila mila
hai. (This is what we have got for fifty year cleaning of their
shits and toilets).
The biggest achievement
of the left in the last 30 years is to use the Bengali chauvinism for
its own purposes and therefore there is no question of any body raising
slightly the issue of the violation of human rights. Outside Bengal
they are the only people visible to us to fight the menace of the BJP
with their educated casteless comrades. At a
conference two years ago Comrade Bardhan said that why should you abuse
us when we were not in power. His reference was to the Dalits who were
questioning the credentials of the Dalits to support them in the all
India context. I now want to remind our comrades whether the Dalits
of Howarh are victim of that?
Balmikis: A community
living in Uncertainity
18 months have passed
when the communities were evicted mercilessly from the Belilius Park.
Some of them are living in the nearby slum of East West
bypass beside South Eastern Railway Carseth. The conditions are horrible
there as people know they can be evicted any moment without any notice.
The left front is expert in the paper work and that is why they want
to keep this huge Babus over our head all the time, their trade unions
will call for nation wide strike if any of the babus are ask to be accountable.
It is imperialist theory of the World bank they would shout loudly and
hence we must be keep the Babus all the time.
At the East West
bypass, I enter the house of Chandra Pal Balmiki, 47, who has 6 children.
Some of them stay there in a one roof hut while others at P Road where
he has rented a small house for Rs 800 per month. Their expenses have
gone up as they have to reach the place on the time.
Over 150 evicted
families were virtually encroached this land when they had no other
place to live. Just behind them is the railway track which link Kolkata
to Mumbai. The pain in the face of Phool Kumari comes in open when she
narrate those horrible events of eviction, they did not even
allow us to collect our utensils. We lost our radio and TV as well as
many other utensils. My husband Ganga Prasad fell unconscious on two
occasion, as it was too much to bear. For many days he was just struggle
for life. I earn Rs 2000/- per month for my family by working in six
multi stories complexes in the area. I go at around 5 am and come in
the evening around 6 am. That is the cost of our living. Nobody knows
what our children will do and how long will we be staying here.
Another woman who
seems to be in her mid twenties narrates her own problem. She lives
with her small daughter and young mother. I was born and brought
up here but now the question of our identity has become vital. My husband
does not work and I have to work in the nearby buildings to survive.
We dont know when will the municipality come again and throw us
None of the administration
or political parties are here to speak to the people about their plight.
That is the pain of being non Bengali in a city or state which always
harped on the big slogans of unity of the proletariat. Are these not
Kishan Balmiki who
led the movement of the Dalits against eviction work in the Howarh municipal
corporation. Staying in Bellilius Park was easier for us as far as access
was concern. We had all facilities including schools and doctor. Now
we are far away in small rented house. Can we afford to live in such
meager salary by spending money on commuting and living? I pay
rs 1,400 as house rent and 600/- for commuting. It not only takes our
time to reach but also create hassles at home. I normally leave my house
around 5.30 am and return by 11 am.
The major chunk
of the community evicted are living in Bagar ( Balgachhia) Howrah. Bagar
is a dumping place where the entire waste of Howarah town is dumped.
The number of families here is about 1500. The condition of this place
is unimaginable. There is no electricity and no water hence people live
in dark. Being dumping place, there are pigs, dirt and ooze at first
place when you enter and staying there for even an hour will make you
sick. An elderly woman from Panipat Haryana who is working with Howrah
municipal corporation asked me to stay there for a day and feel
their problem. Beta tenu yehan reh ke dekh, abhee to tu pankhe
ke neeche soya hoga isliye pata nahee chala. Hum log kaise rahte hai
jara dekh. I could see the tears already drying in her eyes. They
cannot even cry because there is no one to listen. Many children have
left school because the school is far away. For these people who work
in the private houses to clean the toilets as well as Howrah municipal
corporation, things are more difficult as their timing and money clash
together. They cannot afford to go clean the toilet on Bus or rickshaw
which will end up in nothing. In the evening they come home late with
nothing to celebrate and enjoy, the only enjoyment for them become producing
more children and thereby increasing their miseries.
will never admit it that people are starving in their state. Over 18
people have died in the last one and a half year from the evicted Balmikis.
And I can vouch after seeing many faces, some more are just waiting
to die any moment. The conditions of the areas where these people are
living are simply hellish, with no medical treatment and
burdening their already burdened life with more expenses, it is Kolkatas
Shame not to love them who have kept them clean all their lives. In
the hellish Belagachchi, with mosquitoes and old houses, one can see
how even 16 families are living in one verandah with all of them cooking
together in the evening. The faces of old men, children and women are
showing how nutritious their food might be. Without any
concern, the people will virtually die in such a hell.
Phool Kumari Devis
husband Ganga Prasad is unwell and she has to earn wages for her family.
She goes early in the morning around 5 am and return only at the evening
at around 5 pm. Where do we go from here babuji, this land belong to
railways. We dont know what to do but we are only waiting for
Ganga Devi who came
from Kanpur has been living with her mother and daughter. The condition
of all the three is reflect what she could be managing to eat. Sir,
I was born here and my daughter is also born here and still I have to
prove that I belong to this land. My earning is about Rs 1000 per month.
What should I do? Where should we go? They have destroyed our life.
I dont even have the ration card.
Gopal Balmiki is
about 3o years of age. His father died six years ago and he was just
doing private work for his subsistence. All the dues of his father are
still not paid. As he takes us to the back of his house, the dirt and
filth attacks you. Just in front of his so-called kitchen
is the dirt spilling around. We cannot live here, sir, though
we clean the houses of other, we ourselves remain in such a filth.
Walking down the
lanes of this place one can see the mountains of filth and dirt which
comes here to make the Howarah city clean though one know how clean
is the city. But without electricity, water and other Medicare facilities,
these people are dieing slow death. The anguish and pain reflect when
Idrajeet speak to us. He looks handsome yet totally broken. I
earn two thousand rupees per month. I clean a full seven-story building
for which I go at 6 am and return around 11 am. We have five children.
Both husband and wife work there and there is no one who can take care
of our children. There is no guarantee of our future here. During the
rainy season this area become totally hellish. We did not have such
problem in the Bellilius Park.
Kisni Valmiki is
originally from Panipat Haryana and lives here with her relatives.
I work in the Howarh Municipal Corporation. I get up at four in the
morning and return at eleven during the day. I have four children. With
out electricity we have lot of problem. We cannot sleep in the night
because so much of dust and filth. If you stay here for a day, you will
realize the pain and anguish of ours.
Barasa Balmiki has
been living in Howarh for over 45 years. He cleaned latrines and worked
with the Howrah Municipal Corporation for over 30 years and now retiring
during this month. He knows that there are difficulties. Now living
in a makeshift home at the Bagar Belagachhi he says that he does not
know when will he get his money. I want to go back to Haryana
as many others have done but you know our pensions never come to the
bank. We have to come to this place to collect our pension. And therefore
spending huge amount and time in train traveling is not feasible and
that is why many of us are forced to live here.
His young son who
was a student of class 9th had to leave the classes because there was
no school nearby.
The horrible scene
is yet waiting when I visit a big but zunk old semi constructed house
where 16 cots are visible like a dormitory. The structure cannot be
called a house because the roof can collapse any moment therefore endangering
the lives of all the people. Many of the people were sleeping during
the day. Many of them might not even have taken their meal. They cook
together as they say in front of the house. The situation is alarming.
All of them feel totally dejected and isolated in Bengal.
According to Channo
Devi who belongs to Panipat Haryana without electricity and toilet facilities
we are just living dead. We have been put in a living hell, she
says and adds that we go to work at 4 am in the morning. We cannot afford
Bus so go either by cycle or on foot. My daughter cooks for me. See
my feets and hands they have developed various kind of diseases.
And Channo devi shows her legs and hands which look like skin disease
which will grow in the coming days if things are not taken care of.
What is happening
in Bellilus Park
We were informed
that NGO had filed a case to clean the Bellilius Park in the name of
beautification. And the Howrah Municiple Corporation wanted to honour
the courts verdict did not demolish the 65 shops which fall with
in the premises of this Park as they belonged to upper caste Bengalies.
Inside the park where these families were living has now become another
dumping ground. Piles of dirt lying with people from the nearby area
come to defecate in open while some of the washermen do their work from
the dirty stale water of the area amidst which the statue of Subhash
Bose is still there. Perhaps Netaji would be weeping wherever he is
when he sees his statue in such a dirt being left unattended. The remains
of temples, schools are still there. As we are discussing the issue
I see young boys and girl sitting in open and defacating in the area
while the washermen and women cleaning the cloths and drying them over
the remains of the destroyed houses. The beauty of the park is that
there are only pigs and stray dogs apart from a few washermen who have
to clean the cloths in the stale water in the area. The big street light
poles are still lying and telling the story of the police brutality.
If the story of
destruction of Belilius Park has not become an issue in Bengal, the
conscious keeper of the country, then we will have to think about the
issue of human rights being politicized in India. We will have to think
how the ideological pursuits are dominating in the Indian political
scene who dont want to speak against their own atrocities. An
unwritten code of conduct is working here for the media and for the
activists they say, it will help the BJP hence we must keep quite. But
for how long? How long will the lives of the Dalits be kept in such
a subjugation where they dont have anybody to speak with and complaint
Just in a few yards
from the old destroyed temple, a small dhobhighat ( washermenplatform
) is being constructed by the Member of Parliament Mr Swadesh Chakrawarty.
It is interesting that Mr Chakrawarty did not bother to meet and see
the eviction of this area. His party has forced the Delhi government
to change its master plan and reverse a Supreme Court Judgment regarding
factories in domestic residential areas, which according to court were
polluting Delhi. The party seems averse to antagonize its vote bank
in Bengal at the cost of migrant Dalits. We all know how the Member
of Parliament are using their funds. These funds could have used to
rehabilitate the people even if there was a need to displace them in
the name of environment and beautification.
Nothing happen to
Bellilius Parks which was evicted in the name of beautification.
Today, it is just a reflection of old demolished houses, temples and
schools and show us the brutality of those who shout atop of their voice
against global imperialism while condoning their own brand of racist
imperialism in Bengal which the migrant Dalits face. It is more ironical
that none of the mainstream political parties and even the media has
come forward to raise the issue. Have we become obsessed with the market
and international events that we tend to ignore these issues related
to lives of thousands of people without any importance? If displacement
can become an issue elsewhere surely it could have become in West Bengal
but why this conspicuous silence. Is it because all the opposition platform
are in the hands of progressive left who would not like to dig their
own grave by raising these issues.
In the eighteen
months miseries of the Dalits of Howarah have increased and none of
the left front people including its member of Parliament bother to ask
as what is the way out. The ruling party in West Bengal and its well
wishers will have to tell the world whether they are the best defender
of a Varna system or they care for the lowest of the low in Indian society.
Whether the discrimination being done to the migrant Dalits in West
Bengal will end or they will simply say there is no such problem. Hope
they will not deny that manual scavenging is officially not prohibited
in West Bengal and that municipal corporation employ people for cleaning
private toilets. One sincerely hope that the Dalits of Howarh will get
justice and for that the government will have to be sensitized as well
as upheld rule of law. It cannot throw away its people who kept its
cities clean despite facing indignities and humiliation. In fact, it
is Kolkatas time to repay the debt of the Dalits who worked day
and night so that the city remains clean and hygienic. Let the left
front government come out of its preconceived mindset and abolish manual
scavenging, give the Dalits representation in the government services
and rehabilitate them in such a way which become symbol of a new India
where work is not confined on the basis of the caste and where every
one is free for his choice of work and living.
can be reached at [email protected]