By: Tikender Panwar
Barapole, a beautiful village in the tribal valley of Kinnaur district, had around 100 houses belonging to scheduled tribe and scheduled caste families who had been living there together for ages. The village was known for its strong institution of local devta (deity) considered an incarnations of Lord Shiva.
Bhimu and Surgyan, childhood friends from two different communities of this village, had spent best of their times together. They had lived and studied together in the same village. Bhimu, though a Dalit, was adept in studies and had dreams of becoming a scientist. Surgyan was good in sports and always excelled in school championships. After finishing their secondary education they went to Rampur College for their graduation.
Surgyan did not do well in studies and being from a landholder family it did not trouble him much to drop out of college. Soon after that he took a job with a company constructing a hydel project around their village at that time.
The company CEO was arrested for fraud after which clouds of uncertainty prevailed over the future of the project. The workers had not been paid their wages for three months. Surgyan led the workers against the management. Bhimu, at that time of need stood by Surgyaan and mobilized the local youth in their support because of which partial wages were released.
Every year in the month of September a mela(fest) was conducted in the village when the local devta (deity) was taken out of the temple. One member each from a family participated in the day-long visit of the Devta to bless devotees in around a dozen villages. It was a custom that whenever the local devta moved out of the temple, Surgyan’s tribe acted as the main functionary and Bhimu’s clan had the responsibility of carrying the diety’s seat. Bhimu being the young lad from the clan was supposed to carry a 35 kg drum on his back.
Bhimu’s education had turned him liberal and broad-minded. Bhimu and few friends from the Dalit community refused to perform that part of the ritual. They termed it unfair and against the egalitarian idea of the Indian society as enshrined in the constitution. But people from his own community turned against him and they called the village panchayat. The village panchayat asked Dalits to carry the load and give up arrogance. They were threatened of dire consequences and subsequently given options to live up to.
The village fell in the catchment area treatment (CAT) plan of the hydel project. Some amount (money) was distributed amongst the villagers as liability for the environmental pollution created by the project. This amount was distributed equally to all the houses through the institution of the ‘devta’ and was considered a loan that was never to be paid back.
Kaardars asked the Dalits to either accept what they were asked to do, or pay back the entire amount given to them. They were also threatened of pillage of their house belongings. This got Bhimu and his friends on caution and they gave two alternate proposals to ease-up the situation. According to the first proposal, Dalits were prepared to carry the drums on their back for half period of the festival and so should be Kaardars prepared to. The second proposal was that Dalits would remit the loan provided Kaardars also return the loan given to them in the same stipulated period.
This infuriated the long-held ego of Kaardars and they decided to take on Dalits. A mob raid was carried out at night and every house was ransacked. The small belongings of poor Dalits comprising their cots, beddings, kitchenware and earthen pots were thrown out. Surgyaan was also part of the mob which was carrying out the ransacking in Dalit houses. When Bhimu’s house came where Surgyaan had spent best of his times with his childhood friend, he didn’t give a second thought. Bhimu poignantly watched Surgyan throw his belongings out of his small hutment erected by his father.
‘I would never betray a friend to serve a cause. Never reject a friend to help an institution. Great nations may fall in ruin before I would sell a friend to save them.’ Edward Abbey (1927 – 1989)
Edited by Akhilesh