In Punjab, a sweeper is killed in broad day light while wife awaits compensation
“It has been reported as a routine murder case,” says Community Correspondent Jai Kumar. “But in Ludhiana city, people prefer if the caste issue is left unsaid. But the truth is evident. A lower caste man was murdered by higher caste men while he was doing his job. It is easy to call it a crime story but that does not excuse the violence and oppression inherent in the system. I received a phone call from the victim’s wife just today. It’s been three months since the murder but she has not received the promised compensation.”
Jai gets angrier by the minute. “How do you think the wife is surviving? She’s a widow and she’s a Valmiki- the most underprivileged even among the lower castes. Who will speak for her if the compensation is not made? If it’s not a person committing the violence, it’s the violence of the system.”
Jai Kumar is referring to the murder of Tarsem Singh, a municipal sanitation employee who was beaten to death in broad daylight by two men for asking them to move so he can continue doing his job. The men refused to comply with Tarsem’s request and after a brief war of words; they brutally trashed him with an iron rod. Tarsem’s wife who was with him was also assaulted but while he succumbed to his injuries, she survived.
Outraged by the senseless killing, Tarsem’s community mobbed the streets asking for justice. The police filed a report and both the killers are currently in jailing awaiting sentences. The Municipality promised a compensation of Rs. 200,000/- and to give his wife a position as the fulltime employee. The woman has since been waiting and is being driven to despair as she struggles to make ends meet. She waits alone. She has no children and no close relatives to rely on.
“The Valmiki community are the most vulnerable of all castes. Incidents of violence against them are a daily reality. Just the other day, a Valmiki woman politician was killed by the upper castes, brazenly and in broad daylight. It goes without saying that what we hear off are only the reported cases. The rest are unheard.”
Unlike the neighbouring state of Haryana where caste is openly spoken about and brandished and even used as a convenient vote bank, Punjab is reticent to voice its caste issue. The violence and crimes are carried out in perfect silence.
The predominant religion ‘Sikhism’ purports to be casteless and secular but actual social practises and norms have clearly defined caste boundaries. Lower caste Sikhs have separate gates to enter the house of worship. They are forbidden from reading from the Holy books and are kept away from religious ceremonies. In fact, when B.R. Ambedkar, social reformer and architect of the Indian constitution decided to convert his dalit followers and himself to ‘Sikhism’ to escape and revolt against the Hindu caste system, prominent Sikh theologians actively discouraged him.
In matters of caste and jobs, Punjab is no different from the rest of the country. The lower castes are mostly employed sweepers, rag pickers, leather workers and manual labourers while the upper castes make up the higher positions. But the state and the religion refuse to acknowledge these realities.
Says Jaikumar, “If an upper caste is murdered, it is automatically news. If a lower caste is murder, unless you throng the streets and scream for your rights, it is an invisible death or maybe a statistic. Even when it is reported it is a crime story. Even when the community speaks out they are grossly misrepresented. Everybody follows it but nobody wants to talk about caste in Punjab.”
That he says, is the greatest tragedy of all.
For more on the caste system in Punjab- http://readerswords.wordpress.com/2008/01/23/the-deafening-silence-of-dalits-in-punjab/