Carpenters in a western Uttar Pradesh village allegedly refused to build a bier for a dead Dalit woman, delaying her funeral procession till police arrived and brought a carpenter from an adjoining village.
Dharam Pal of Babu Khera village, about 20km from the Sambhal district headquarters, told reporters on Saturday that his ordeal began on March 19, a day after his wife Indresh Devi died following prolonged fever.
“We wanted to cremate her the morning after she died. In keeping with tradition, we asked a carpenter to come and build the bier but he refused, saying his community had decided not to take up any assignment from the Scheduled Castes,” Dharam Pal, 60, said. “We went to the other carpenters, but they all refused.”
Local custom allows only professional carpenters to build the biers, made with bamboo.
“The upper castes practising untouchability is nothing new in our village but this is the first time that carpenters, who belong to the Other Backward Classes, behaved like the upper castes,” Dharam Pal’s younger brother Subhas said.
“Later, Dalits of the village assembled and called the police. But even the police failed to persuade the carpenters of our village and had to bring one from another village.”
Subhas said the family had been ready to pay Rs 500 — double the normal rate — for the bier. “We were grieving and therefore remained silent for a week about the matter. But after a meeting on Friday, we decided to let the world know about this act of discrimination,” Subhas told reporters.
“We want the government to resolve such issues. It would be difficult for the about 20 Dalit families in this village to continue living here if such problems persist.”
Discrimination against Dalits is punishable under the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
Rakesh Kumar, station house officer of the local Aechora Kamboh police station, said no case had been registered because “we have not received any formal complaint from anybody”.
Mohammad Salim, the village panchayat chief, said Babu Khera had always been peaceful, and whenever any problem arose, “we sit together and resolve it”.
“I went to their (Dharam Pal’s) home when I heard about the problem. We called the police, who quickly found a solution,” Salim said.