For 500 odd dalits in Andej village which has a population of over 5,000, buying 1 kg rice is a 30 km return journey.This is despite the fact that there are a dozen odd shops in the village laden with all the goods they need. The tragedy is that they are refused even a rickshaw ride, though they have money to afford one!
The social boycott of the dalit families here by the dominant Muslim community, has made life miserable for them.
The Muslim boycott of the backward communities started on July 1 after a scuffle between two groups in which a dalit was left with a fracture in the left hand. The injured man lodged a police complaint under the Prevention of Atrocities Act against those who had assaulted him.
This upset the majority population of the village. It was soon followed by a verbal fatwa warning the auto-drivers of the community that they would be fined Rs 2,000 if they ferried a dalit community passenger.
The grocery shops followed suit. Andej has some 700 Muslim and 100 dalit families, including Shenwa, Valmiki and Rohit communities. There are around 40 Patel families in the village too.
Since July 1, 2011, the 100 backward communities including Dalits have been boycotted by the Muslims of the village and are allegedly not allowed to purchase anything from the public market. They are also not allowed to use the local transport system which is dominated by Muslim auto-drivers from the village.
The 100 families are forced to use other means of transport which are much most costly. The village has around 15 Shenwa and 60 Rohit community families. Both these communities are considered backward even among the Dalit communities.
"We are not allowed to purchase anything from the local market," Shankar Shenwa told DNA. "They (Muslims) have announced a penalty of Rs2000 on any Muslim driver who allows us to sit in his vehicle," Shankar added. The scuffle that led to the atrocity case and the boycott took place after Shankar's brother, Manu Shenwa, was accused of stealing stones meant for some construction work in the village being carried out by one Hussain Khokhar."Khokhar came to my house, asked me about the stones, and then started beating me. Later other people joined him," Manu told DNA. He said that Khokhar, along with five other people, had assaulted him and fractured his left hand.
An atrocity case was eventually filed by Manu. This precipitated a boycott of all the backward communities of the village by the majority Muslim community. Fatu Rehmu, sarpanch of Andej Gram Panchayat, was not available for his comment but, her husband, who handles all the activities of the panchayat, told DNA that it was true that the Muslim auto-drivers were boycotting the backward communities.
"But they are doing this because they do not want any conflict between the two communities. It is best to avoid people from these communities if there is a possibility of conflict," he said. However, he denied that members of the backward community were being prevented from purchasing anything from the local market.Suresh Jadhav, a local Dalit activist, told DNA that when they tried to intervene and sort out the matter, Muslim families said that they would do so only on the condition that the atrocity case was withdrawn.