Gangtok: Are incidents of caste-based violence against the scheduled caste community on the rise in Sikkim? The All Sikkim Schedule Caste Welfare Association (ASSCWA) certainly feels so.
In protest against the growing incidence of caste-based violence in the state, members of the ASSCWA and individuals from the schedule caste community staged a silent protest rally from East District Administrative Centre to Bar Pipal in Sichey, Gangtok, on Thursday.
What prompted the protest was the death of Om Kanta Bhujel, a resident of Reshi in Rhenock constituency in East Sikkim on January 15. When the family took Bhujel’s body to the river for final rites as per Hindu customs, one of his five sons was not allowed by the villagers to attend the cremation “for being married to a dalit woman.”
Of Bhujel’s five sons, one Man Bahdur Bhujel had an inter-caste marriage with Kamala Darjee, a Nepali dalit. Chaos ensued during his father’s funeral when villagers denied Man Bahadur to carry out the father’s final rites along with his brothers, and forced him to stay away from rest of the bereaved family, about 500 metres away from the family home, calling him lower caste (or Pani Muni ko Jaat in Nepali).
Following the incident, Man Bahadur and his family sent a letter to ASSCWA on January 17.
“They were facing trouble to find the priest for the next 13 days of ritual, as the local villagers were putting an embargo upon the family and its final rites ritual. After they sent us a letter, we went on the spot. It was gross injustice as even according to tradition, all five brothers must stay together. But why was only Man Bahadur forced to carry out the rituals separate from the rest of the family. Not just Reshi, there have been multiple such incidents of discrimination in Gangtok as well,” ASSCWA President Shekhar Sewa said.
Sewa wondered how such discrimination could exist in today’s time.
“There have been many big responsibilities taken upon by the schedule caste community in the state and the nation. They praise us for the successes, but when someone from another community marries someone in our community, the in-laws differentiate and discriminate,” Sewa said.
No FIR was filed after the incident, as ASSCWA feels “there is no room for arrest.” After media attention and intervention by the Association, however, the villagers sought forgiveness and made a declaration accepting Man Bahadur Bhujel and his family.
“We are protesting to make sure such incidents are not repeated in future. We may take to the streets if such subjugation upon the people of our community does not end. After the incident unfolded, the villagers now declaring they have accepted Man Bahadur Bhujel, is wrong. Who are they to accept or deny someone in a community? Such incidents must not be repeated anywhere in the Nepali community,” stated Sewa.
Sewa said the ASSCWA will take action if such an incident is repeated in future.
“The only reason we are holding a protest rally is that even in the 21st century certain individuals see us differently and discriminate against us. Our attempt is at raising awareness. Our organization works for the safety and security of the scheduled caste community,” another member of ASSCWA said.
“In inter-caste marriages, when someone marries someone from the schedule caste community, they should not be bullied or shamed. We want to teach a lesson to individuals with such an ideology, our aim is to put them behind bars and make our community strong,” Sewa said.
ASSCWA has also received support from the All India Nepali Schedule Caste Welfare Association, the Bharatiya Gorkha Sena and from places like Bengaluru and Nepal.