Upper castes wield VDCs to run villages in Nizamabad
DECCAN CHRONICLE | G. Ram Mohan
Morthadu: While the ruling dispensation celebrated Dr B.R. Ambedkar by erecting his 124-foot statue and naming the Secretariat after him, exploitation and caste prejudice persist at the village level with a few dominant caste groups oppressing marginalised sections.
Many villages in the districts are controlled by an extrajudicial social class framework known as village development committees (VDC), especially in Nizamabad, where this correspondent spoke with villagers who remain under the iron grip of the upper castes.
Dalits in various villages claimed to have faced discrimination and harassment over issues ranging from land to washing clothes, and that those who disobey their extra-constitutional judgements face social boycott, reinforcing Dr Ambedkar's view that villages were cesspools of caste prejudice.
G. Ravi, a State Bank of India branch manager in Morthad, bemoaned that despite making progress as a member of a Scheduled Caste community, he was bullied by upper caste members of the VDC in his native village of Mothe in Velpur mandal of Nizamabad district.
Ravi, who belongs to the Madiga caste, told this correspondent that his father had laboured in Yemen for 27 years before purchasing four acres of land in Mothe, but VDC members were conspiring to grab 1.4 acres worth Rs. 50 lakh located close to a temple.
"The land is dry and we used it to graze our livestock. The VDC asked us to donate the land to the temple for free, and we disagreed. I paid a challan at the mandal revenue office to have the land's boundaries fixed. The VDC complained to the collector and, subsequently, the revenue development officer (RDO) investigated the matter. VDC members were told that it was private land and that it could only be taken if given voluntarily," Ravi said.
He stated he had spent Rs 2 lakh fencing the boundary to safeguard the land, but the VDC circulated misinformation, alleging it was encroachment of temple land.
Tractors were deployed to break up the fencing. "My police complaint was ignored, but the SI filed a case against me based on a complaint from a VDC member about the removal of a flexi, claiming that the land belonged to them," Ravi explained.
According to Ravi, this was driven by the caste discrimination and enslavement. "Though Guradi Kapus, Yadav, Kummari, and Padmashalis are all part of the VDC, it was the upper-caste Guradi Kapus who were at the forefront of the attack on us," he said.
The bank manager also alleged that VDC members were trying to grab the land by claiming that the family had given it up as part of 'bhoodan'.
Ravi stated he finally decided to give up a part of the land to settle the dispute with the VDC but things became worse. "We were attacked on March 19. We are facing a social boycott. Harvesters from the village are being prevented from cutting the standing crop on my land or those of my uncle. Two Dalit boys who gave witness accounts about the incident are also facing a boycott," he claimed.
Ravi approached minister Vemula Prashanth Reddy, whose hometown of Velpur is three kilometres away. "I was told that he does not support the VDC, but no action was taken," Ravi said.
A government school teacher informed Deccan Chronicle that IPC and CrPC are useless because "a parallel government is in place," while numerous others indicated that the conflict between VDC and Dalits is age-old and ongoing.
Temple trouble: Social boycott widely prevalent
Ravi's story is not a rare one; caste discrimination is prevalent in villages throughout the Nizamabad district.
In another glaring instance of caste discrimination, the VDC wrongfully evicted G. Gangayya of the Mudiraj caste in Rammanapet, Velpur mandal, from private property where he was running a tiffin centre.
"I forcefully evicted from a private property I rented to run my hotel business. Thereafter, I shifted my business to our community hall, but there is hardly any footfall due to which I suffered losses. The room is still vacant, but I am not permitted to occupy it. The property is owned by a Nizamabad resident. He was told that if the VDC's diktat was not followed, he would have to pay a fine," said Gangayya.
In Rammanapet village, the Mudiraj community is facing a social boycott by the VDC.
After learning about the five-month-long boycott, district officials visited the village on April 7 and stated that such a boycott was illegal. The assistant commissioner of police arranged a truce meeting between the community elders and VDC, but people report that little has changed since.
Around 20 families who did not own a house and others who were constructing houses were asked to vacate, and were accommodated by other families of the community. Those from the community who had borrowed money were also asked to pay up within a day.
"A family belonging to the Gangaputra caste who stayed in my house for rent was forcibly evicted and their belongings were taken away," said S. Gangadhar, a local.
Locals stated that the problem started when they objected to the dumping of illegally mined sand from a local stream on the premises of the Peddamma temple, a deity of the Mudiraj community,
A belt shop was opened, and tipplers were urinating near the temple. To keep them at bay, community members built a compound wall around the 5.3-acre temple. This was challenged, and a clash ensued between the Mudiraj caste and other communities allegedly instigated by the VDC.
VDC members, on the other hand, projected a different picture, stating that members of the Mudiraj community were unruly and did not coexist with others.
R. Shoban, whose wife is an MPTC (mandal parishad territorial constituency) member, acknowledged that social boycott was illegal and stated, "In fact, the Mudiraj community is the one that is not with all of us. The problem erupted after a member of the Mudiraj community rammed his into over a person and abused others in foul language. I was the one who called the cops when trouble seemed imminent."
"The VDC stands dissolved now. We only have a core committee to oversee religious functions in the village. We only objected to the construction of the compound wall around the Peddamma temple area as we will be denied access to the other temples on the premises," he said.
The village has 17 temples dedicated to various deities, all of them nestled on endowment lands. As caste-specific deities, all the temples have compound walls with the names of the caste engraved on them.
Members of the Mudiraj group stated that they had never objected to members from other communities praying in the temple. They claimed that the issue of temples and deities was being used to cover up the issues of social boycotts and illegal sand mining.
"The Telangana High Court took cognisance of the issue and sent a judicial representative who confirmed the existence of social boycott. They cannot deny the existence of VDC as an affidavit filed in the name of VDC, represented by its chairman Peerla Suresh, claiming that the Mudiraj community had occupied endowment land," C. Ramesh, the lawyer for the Mudiraj community, who represented them in the High Court, said.
Armoor ACP R. Prabhakar Rao ruled out any form of social boycott. "The Mudiraj community itself boycotted the others as they are more in number," he claimed.
VDC fleece villagers to settle disputes
In Shapur village of Nandipet mandal, the social boycott of Munnuru Kapus came to the fore.
The VDC had demanded a community member pay a fine of a little over Rs. 1 lakh to settle a dispute with another individual. As he refused to pay up, the VDC ostracised the entire community.
"The talks between the VDC and the Munnuru Kapus to settle the disputes in the presence of police is causing immense financial burden, sometimes we incur around Rs. 2 lakh to resolve the issues. To pay them, I had to borrow money at Rs. 2 interest rate," a resident of Shapur said.
According to the locals, the VDC is a law unto itself and should be prohibited.
"When the VDC decided to build a 'kallam' (place to dry paddy), I had to sell my private land for Rs. 12 lakh, well below the market rate of Rs. 20 lakh. Caste is not the main element in determining who has authority in the village - the sarpanches or the VDC. When a Velama became sarpanch in our village, it was still the VDC that called the shots," another resident said.
Alcohol, which is paid for by the public, is also included in VDC meeting expenses. "Previously, the expenses on toddy would not have been high, but belt shops now sell expensive alcohol, fuelling the imposition of higher fines on people," the resident explained.
"When Dalits insisted on washing their clothes alongside those of the upper castes, they faced objections."
M. Ajay Kumar
"Washermen go to the homes of upper caste people and collect their clothes, but they insist that we leave our clothes at the dhobi ghat and pick them up after the washing. We objected since we pay the same amount as the upper castes."
M. Prem, an MBA graduate
"It's been two years since washermen washed our clothes because the upper castes refused to have their clothes washed together. When the issue of E. Ravi (Morthad bank manager) came up two years ago, we were given the option of supporting him or facing a boycott. We had to yield as some of us are dependent on the upper castes for sustenance."
M. Nadipi Gangaram
"VDCs came into the picture after reservations were implemented in panchayat raj institutions and sarpanchs were elected from SC, ST, and BC communities. To circumvent the constitutionally mandated sarpanch post and wield power, VDCs began to flourish. They help upper castes have their sway over the village."
Prof. Prabanjan Yadav
Journalism dept, Nizamabad University
"Caste boycotts can occur if fishermen increase prices, washermen raise charges or Madigas refuse to play drums. When they target a community, the VDC gathers members of the other castes. That is made possible by the hierarchical caste structure. One community oppresses another caste below it in the caste structure, allowing the social order to continue. Even the cheque power that sarpanches exercise over funds in the panchayat were curtailed by making the signature of their deputies usually, from the upper castes, a necessity."
Prof. Sujatha Surepally
Sociology dept, Satavahana University