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Thrashed by landlord's men, Dalit boy's death 'result of feudal oppression'

By Bharat Dogra*
On the morning of June 5, 18 year old Ratnesh Kumar Shrivas, widely known for his gentle nature and behaviour, was walking on a road to catch some transport for taking him to the town of Banda, where he hoped to get some plumbing work for this day.
He had left his home in Gharoda village of Mahua block, Banda district (Uttar Pradesh) only a few minutes back. He lived in an extended family of washerman or dhobi community which is listed as scheduled caste or SC in Uttar Pradesh.
He had walked only a short distance when he was confronted by three members of an extended feudal family known for its arrogance and aggression. These three persons started abusing him badly and making derogatory references to his social background. They rebuked him for not coming to work for them in their fields where they had called him a day or two earlier and said that he should go to work for them now. Ratnesh expressed his inability to do so as he was committed to work elsewhere.
The three persons then collected very hard-hitting stones and beat him repeatedly with these stones. On seeing first the scuffle and then the cruel assault, several persons gathered and Ratnesh’s mother came running from her home.
However by this time the boy had been hit many times and although attempts were made to rush him to a hospital, his life could not be saved.
This cruel assault on an entirely innocent boy who was peacefully walking to his worksite has sent shock-waves in the area and at the time of my visit to this village the day after the attack on June 6 I found several villagers and dignitaries gathering at the victim family’s modest dwelling in Gharoda village.
Several villagers stated that the entire village except this one family is one in condemning this attack. They said that the village is known to be peaceful and has been resolving its differences peacefully but just a few persons of a rich family, which lives in a mansion quite near to the hamlet of the washermen community, are responsible for destroying the tradition of this village of living together peacefully.
The victim belonged to a very poor and entirely landless family. Shivkaran (photo), the father of Ratnesh, is very weak physically and broke down badly even as efforts to console him were being made. The condition of Ratnesh’s mother was even worse. It is clear that this family will not be able to recover from this loss for a very long time. 
There have been several cases of people being forced to work against their wishes and made to pay a heavy price if they refuse
Hence the demand for prompt and adequate compensatory payment for this family as well as providing cultivation land patta to this family is growing. In addition this family should get proper security. The police has already arrested those involved in the attack.
At a time when in conditions of extreme heat in the region increasing concern is being expressed about the serious health risks faced by open space workers, it is shocking to know from such an incident that the choice to work or not in certain conditions is not in the hands of the worker and that in some extreme cases a worker can even be killed by feudal and other aggressive elements for refusing to work in their fields or construction sites. If such heavy pressures exist which make it difficult for workers to refuse work, then won’t they may be exposed to the extreme health risk of having to toil for working in very high-risk situations against their wishes?
Despite its extreme cruelty, this is by no means an isolated case. I have come across several cases of people being forced to work against their wishes in different contexts, and made to pay a heavy price if they refuse.
In Masuri village of the same block, for example, Jiteendra, a boy of about 16 years of age, was ordered by a feudal person to get a sack of mustard seeds processed for its oil. The self-respecting boy did not like being ordered around like this and refused to do this. On hearing about his refusal, the feudal person kicked the boy so hard that he fell on a thresher and lost his right arm.
All those responsible for such oppressive acts should get the maximum punishment that exists in the law for such cruel acts and in addition the victims and/or their families should get adequate compensation.
*Honorary convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. Books: "Protecting Earth for Children", "A Day in 2071" and "When the Two Streams Met"



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