Dalit girl barred from attending Pooja, locked in a room

Odisha: A Dalit girl from Bande Mataram High School in Andara gram panchayat of coastal Kendrapara district barred from attending Ganesh Puja festivities celebrated in the School. Her trouble starts after she touched the coconut to be given to the God.

According to her, as punishment, she and 20 other Dalit students were insulted, faced cattiest slurs and kept locked in the school for five hours. “Sir said as we are Dalits we can’t take part in Pooja”, said the Dalit girl.

Savita remembers that it was her friend who had asked her to help scrape the coconut. “I had just started scraping when our sports teacher came and scolded me for touching the coconut and said I can’t participate in the puja.

When I started crying, the headmaster said we were destined to face such discrimination throughout our lives. As I was about to leave the school campus with my friends, a teacher snatched our bicycle keys and asked us to stay till the puja gets over. We begged our teacher that we were hungry and wanted to go. But they kept us locked till 3 pm, when one of us scaled the wall and told our parents what was going on,” says Savita.

“Though upper-caste students are allowed to enter the computer room and practice but don’t even have permission to enter the room”,” says Monalisa Malika, a Class IX student.

Bande Mataram High School reopened recently after the Puja vacations. While headmaster Ramesh Rout was not available for comment, Ashok Mallick, who is accused by the students of casteism, denies any such discrimination.

This has become a routine for Dalits. They are barred from their rights by upper caste people. According to Indian Express, at least 30 landless Dalit families of Andara are no longer allowed for sharecropping on upper caste land. According to the Dalits, they have also been stopped from selling vegetables. Dalits say they had learn to live with it. But this time it is different.

Madhav Malika, who was among the villagers who lodged a complaint with the tehsildar over the school incident, says, “They have declared war on us. They are hurt by the apology which we extracted from upper-caste teachers… We no longer feel safe as the Khandayats are in a majority.”

But the Upper caste people see nothing wrong in the “boycott”. “No one can force us to give their land, “If we don’t like somebody, how can we allow them to go near our land?” says former sarpanch Upendra Mallick.