CASTE CONFLICT: TORTURED BARBERS SEEK SOCIETY SUPPORT

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

The State Government is yet to rise to the occasion. Barbers of Orissa are yet to be saved from Social slavery. Human-rights activist Baghambar Pattanayak, who has been working for their liberation, is yet to be free from Jharapada Jail where he has been lodged since more than a month for having led a protest rally in the capital city of Bhubaneswar. Tormentors are yet to be punished.

Against this backdrop, members of ‘Goti Mukti Andolana’ (movement for abolition of bonded labor) under the leadership of Ms. Swati Sucharita besought support of the social workers and political leaders in a convention held in the Red Cross Bhawan auditorium on 03 Nov.05.

Leaders mostly of the leftist parties expressed solidarity with the agitating barbers and called upon the government to release Sri Pattanayak unconditionally from the jail.

They called upon the government to implement the Bonded Labor Abolition Act in the State in order to end the sufferings of the barbers in the hands of upper caste Hindus.

In the district of Puri, where universal brotherhood is supposed to be the creed under the “Patitapavan’ Flag of Srimandira, the Khandayat caste people have been treating the barbers as social slaves and have been playing havoc with their human-rights. In these pages we have dealt with this mischief repeatedly.

Had the administration come forward to protect human rights, the scenario would have taken a turn towards the better. But political dependence on majority votes on one hand and administration resting in the hands of mostly the upper caste people, has not allowed the Law to proceed.

It has become a long history of injury inflicted upon the barbers. They are being compelled to wash feet of guests visiting upper caste families and to clean up their orts. Reluctance to do such jobs has landed them in unbearable problems. Jalandhar Barik of Sanabenakuda village shades tears even today when he remembers how his old father was tortured to death by the Khandayats in 1988 as he refused to carry out feet washing. Four ears later Jaladhar himself was subjected to public abuse in 1992. Hadibandhu Barik of Bhubanapati village, who, put to the rack for refusing to wash feet of a bridegroom and his companions, has not dared to return to his village since March this year shudders to recall the ordeals a 75-year-old clan chief had to suffer in the hands of the Khandayats. The list is long. But the most grueling is the nightmare the women of the barber caste were subjected to by the higher caste goons in Bhubanapati this year where one of them was paraded in naked body to demoralize the rebelling community. Women in groups were tortured, stripped off whatever ornaments were on their bodies, their houses looted, they were ostracized and ousted.

The Goti Mukti Andolana has staged peaceful demonstrations so many times. But administration remains nonchalant.

Whom the State really belongs?

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