Dalits in Punjab village 'ostracised'

Dalits in Punjab village 'ostracised'

 An uneasy calm prevails in the Mahasing village of Sangrur district in Punjab where hundreds of Dalit families are at the receiving end after being ostracised by upper caste landlords.

The dispute involving the Dalits, who work essentially as farm labourers, is over payment of wages. The Dalit assertion has rankled the upper caste landlords to an extent that they issued a diktat warning fellow villagers against helping or talking to the Dalits in the village.

Sources said the edict also warns of levying a fine of Rs 5,000 in case someone is caught interacting with the Dalits. The issue, village sources said, has been simmering since about a month or so. But the situation started to deteriorate as the Dalits alleged they had been denied even their basic rights.They say not only have they been rendered jobless following the controversy, shopkeepers, too, are now scared to entertain them, afraid of incurring the wrath of the upper caste landlords. Even supply of milk to these households has been hit.

The genesis of the problem, perhaps, lies in the acute shortage of farm labourers during the current paddy sowing season. According to sources, the Dalits had demanded Rs 2,000 per acre as wages for sowing paddy. The landlords, however, found the demand unjustified and offered Rs 1,500 which was declined. This left the landlords enraged.

The district administration has tried to calm down tempers. It has claimed that two groups have reached some kind of truce. Authorities say they have warned the warring factions against any discriminatory behaviour that tarnishes the social fabric and breaches peace and harmony.

The issue has also acquired political overtones with the Congress and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) raising their voices in support of the alleged boycott of the Dalit families.

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