This Incident Has No Place in 2020. After a Dalit Girl Picked Flowers, 40 Families Ostracised in Odisha Village

Social Commentary

This Incident Has No Place in 2020. After a Dalit Girl Picked Flowers, 40 Families Ostracised in Odisha Village

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

If we needed more proof that casteism remains as real an issue for our country today as it did a thousand years ago, we need to look no further than this story from Odisha.

As many as 40 Dalit families say they have been ostracised by the rest of their community, including grocery shop owners, teachers, and potential employers for two whole months, a recent report said. Their crime? A young girl from one of the families was caught picking flowers from the backyard of an upper-caste neighbour’s home.

The 40 families, who live in Odisha’s Dhenkanal district, say they have been boycotted socially for months, after a complaint was filed against the girl, which eventually snowballed into a confrontation between two communities.

“We had immediately apologised so that the matter could be resolved, but following the incidents, several meetings were called and they decided to boycott us. Nobody is allowed to talk to us; we are not allowed to participate in any social event of the village,” the girl’s father was quoted as saying in The Indian Express.

Members of Dalit families say that local store owners have now stopped selling goods to them, meaning they have to walk 5 kilometres for basic supplies. They have also struggled to find work in the fields, which is the main source of income in their district.

Local children have been asked not to attend school while the families have been warned against holding weddings or funerals on the street, the report goes on to add.

The families who called for the boycott, meanwhile, admitted there had been orders to stop speaking to the families, but have denied all the other allegations. “It is an inter-community matter and will get resolved eventually,” the Sarpanch was quoted as saying, adding that the situation would soon return to normal.

Authorities were also quoted as saying in the publication that a peace deal was in the process of being brokered between the two communities. “We have called for another meeting with the leaders from both communities. If they do not resolve the matter, we will go ahead and file an FIR,” a police official said.

Even with this promise of action, however, the villagers’ extreme overreaction to the actions of a child smacks of discrimination that has no business rearing its head in 2020.