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THE PRESS ROOM

In AP's untouchable village Dalits Still Thirst for Reform 

Indian Express (Front Page), Express News Service

Friday, March 26, 1999 

ANAKAPALLE, MARCH 25: When the world is all set to enter the next millennium, the Dalits of Pallapu Kumarapuram in Munagapaka mandal in Visakhapatnam district have to stand away from the village well for someone to draw water
and pour into their pitchers, so that they do not `pollute' the water in the well by their touch.

Even at the village's lone small restaurant, the Dalits cannot step in to have a snack in the stainless steel plates in which the upper castes are served. That will invite the wrath of the upper castes for their audacity. They will have to hold leaf platters in their hands and ask the server at the restaurant to
drop the snacks into them, like beggars. If they need a drink of water to wash the food down at the restaurant, they have to proffer the glasses brought with them and the attendant will fill them. They are barred from using the hotel glasses.

The village restaurant is run by a woman of upper caste. "She is a kind woman. But she is afraid of crossing the line drawn by her castepeople,'' says Nukaraju, himself a Dalit.

The village has a population of 400 people. Of them, 12 families belong to Scheduled Castes. There is only one well for the entire village. The rest of the population belongs to an upper caste whose members loathe the very sight of the Dalits.

The dozen Dalit families have to wait outside the houses of upper caste families until they come out, draw water from the well and pour into the `untouchable' containers. If the upper caste people are busy, the Dalits have to wait until they are free and ready to be generous to them.

Even this facility had been denied to them for sometime when the Dalits gathered courage and questioned the sarpanch as to why they could not draw water from the well. The upper castes then decided to offer them a concession -- the upper castes would first draw water and fill their containers at home
and only after that would they draw water for the Dalits' needs.

Even when it comes to washing clothes, there is untouchability. The uppercaste families wash their clothes at one of the two tanks in the village which was intended to serve the needs of the Dalits. Only after they finish the day's
washing, are the Dalits allowed to use the tank water for washing their clothes. The other tank nearby, the upper caste considers as its own and does not allow washing there by the Dalits.

Though the Dalit youths resent the apartheid, their parents restrain them from protesting. "If we try to do anything to end the discrimination, our parents and grandparents shout at us as they do not want to annoy the upper caste,'' says
Appalaraju, who is doing a course in industrial training.

As the Dalits swallow their self-respect and stay meek before the upper caste, this heinous practice does not seem to have caught the eye of the district administration. Which century is this village entering?

Copyright 1999 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.