Dalit farmers suffer due to Orissa temple controversy

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Puri, Jun 23: Though discrimination against India's lowest Hindu castes are technically illegal, this notion is not yet completely accepted by all the Indian states. In Orissa, a board outside a temple for the Goddess Kali declares "Harijans can pray from here". The warning sign was put up in August, 2010 after three dalit schoolgirls entered the shrine to offer Prasad to the Goddess, an icon of empowerment and Shakti.

The caretaker of the temple in Orissa's Puri says, "It is against tradition." "Our fathers did not allow harijans to step inside the temple, and we will also bar their entry. We will die rather than let it happen."

Chandana Bhoi is one of the young girls who visited the Goddess and denied the cast arrangement system by the upper class stating that there shouldn't be any discrimination and even the dalits can do the same work as that of the upper class do. She meant, when we all are humans of same flesh and blood, then why such baseless casteism? "We pray to the same Gods, so why are we treated so badly?" she triggered a sensitive question.

The innocent dalit girl's entire village waits for the answer. Ranapada is home to 80 Dalit families who earn their living as sharecroppers. But since the 2010 temple controversy, they have been given no work. Upper caste leaders from surrounding villages decided to teach them a lesson by acting harsh on the poor dalits. To take the dalits to task, the landlords in the area took back the land given to them for cultivation.

"They did not call us to cultivate their land - neither women nor men," says an out-of-work farmer. "We used to work in their fields and share the harvest. Then they stopped hiring us."

The Dalit farmers are now employed by the local officials to work under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme or NREGA. They have spent months working on constructing a road. But they have been paid just half of what they are due. Wages not being handed out are a common problem with NREGA - middlemen or contractors are also known to pocket part of the money that's due to hires.

The dalits are branded impure since the time they are born. Untouchables are shunned, insulted, banned from temples and higher caste homes, made to eat and drink from separate utensils in public places and in extreme cases, are raped, burned, lynched, and gunned down. This is the reality of strict caste system that is being followed since decades.

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