Sunday, November 19, 2000,
Chandigarh, India






THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
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SCs suffer boycott for 5 years
Their fault: they asked for hike in wages
From Varinder Singh
Tribune News Service

JALANDHAR, Nov 18 They had left their homes five years ago following a social boycott by the village upper caste people over their demand of enhancement in wages. And they still are homeless, thanks to the indifference on the part of everybody the administration, the police and villagers.

This is the predicament of some 105 Scheduled Caste families of Bathoi Kalan village of Patiala district, on whom a social boycott has been clamped for years with no relief in sight from any quarter. Their long and harsh marathon to get the justice and be rehabilitated in their ancestral village has not borne fruit yet.

Their only fault was that they had dared to ask the landlord employers to revise the age-old wages and rates of manual winnowing of paddy in 1995.

A large number of Scheduled Caste people have migrated to other villages in search of labour, leaving behind their homes. The only thing which has been driving them to fight for justice has been hope, which too is fading now.

Mrs Gurdip Kaur, a victim of boycott, who had come to know about their fate from a Phillaur-based office of an NGO, which has taken up their case, said she had taken an advance of Rs 2,000 from a village landlord and had been doing daily household chores in his house for 20 years till 1995 when the trouble engulfed her and others like her. "I had been asking for a raise, but all my requests had been thrown to wind and one day when others also did so, we were shown the door," she said.

Recalling the day when the Scheduled Caste families were virtually declared outcasts, Mrs Jarnail Kaur, who had worked like a bonded labourer for about three years for a mere Rs 3000, said all labourers had refused to winnow paddy till their wages were revised. This angered the landlords so much they unanimously decided to boycott the whole working class of the village, consisting of balmikis, jheors and jogis. And the boycott continues till date, since they are not allowed to enter the fields and are being tormented on one or the other pretext. "Fed up with the humiliation, which had become a routine, we decided to move out of the village and go elsewhere in search of bread and butter and settled as labourers in a brick-kiln at Chount Kheri village.

Mrs Gurdip Kaur and Mrs Jarnail Kaur said though their fate is yet to be decided by the Punjab and Haryana High Court, where they had filed a writ petition, the police was pressurising them to strike a compromise with the other party. "We are called to the police station on one pretext or the other and made to sit there for whole of the day only to be told to come next day. Can we afford to do so when we don't have any other means to earn our livelihood than to do manual labour?" questioned Mrs Gurdip Kaur. She alleged that in spite of a direction by the high court on August 13, 1999, the police was yet to register a case.

Tejo, another victim, now working at a brick-kiln in Bhanra village, maintained that while their children were out of school, other villagers had encroached upon the small chunks of land allotted by the government to their forefathers in the form of a cooperative society way back in 1960s. "For fear of an attack, we don't dare to go to our village. They have been even beating up our children," said Tejo.

The SSP and DIG, Patiala, were not available for comment.
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