BANGALORE: The village well is where castelines cut deep between the `we’ and `they’ notion in Waganagere village of Gulbarga. While the upper castes have their own wells, the pariahs living on the outskirts have one well. Take it or leave it.
Located in a dry region where drought is common, there are no natural lakes or even a river close by. The usual sources of water are tubewells and wells. But these sources of drinking water are not accessible to the dalits and the only well for almost 120 dalit households usually has very little water, according to the National Law School of India University’s Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy.
Citing one instance, the study says a dog had fallen into this well and died. The dalits were left with no option, but to consume the toxic water after removing the carcass. “Even in such inhuman conditions, dalits are not allowed to enter the main part of the village and fetch water from the tubewells situated inside the village, where the upper castes live,” the study says.
While detailing how the village has clearly segregated sources of drinking water for different castes, the NLSU study also talks of how in extreme cases of drought, the upper castes do allow dalits some water. Except that the water is poured into the dalits’ pots from a distance, to prevent them from using the well!
Village Waganagere is just one among such extreme cases of caste prejudice in a state known for its royal Mysore and Vijayanagar kingdoms. At 126, Gulbarga district has the highest number of cases registered under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act 1989 in Karnataka.
In Bommanahalli village of Gulbarga district, the dalit population of 20 households experiences untouchability in many forms. Non-dalit castes here are mainly Brahmins, Kurubas, Ayyanars and Muslims. The Dalits mainly consist of the jatis Madaru and Holeyaru, both Scheduled Castes, and reside on the fringe of the village in a separate colony.
There are segregated water sources for dalits and non-dalits in this village too. “All sources of drinking water are not accessible to dalits. They have separate tubewells. When there is scarcity of water, the dalits are not allowed to directly draw water from the well or tubewells. One of the upper caste members would pour water into their pots,” the study says.
Life and later
The great divide is not confined to the living: even graveyards are segregated for dalits and non-dalits. In the event of a death in any dalit household, the body is paraded. The procession is strictly prohibited from entering the residential areas of the upper castes. There has been no violence on this issue, as the geography of the village and location of dalit households and their graveyard allows for dalit processions to parade the body out of the way of the other castes. Hence, there are no conflicts over access to burial grounds.
Harvest and forget
Dalits are not allowed to enter the houses of non-dalits, except when it is convenient, such as harvest season, when manual labour is required to transport the crops. Even then, the employed dalits have restricted access: while delivering the harvested crops, they are allowed entry only till the verandahs of upper caste homes.
During marriages and other celebrations, non-dalits are served food inside the house. Later, the lower castes are served, but at a distant place. The food is not offered in the plates and tumblers served to the rest of the guests; they have to bring along their own tableware.
The upper castes also demand that a separate cook be hired to prepare food exclusively for the lower castes. And the clincher: the ingredients for the feast, and the cost, are to be borne by the dalits themselves!