A woman sarpanch from the Dalit community in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kishtwar district has resigned from her post alleging discrimination against her by upper-caste Hindu members of the Poochal Block Development Committee (BDC).
Speaking to The Kashmir Walla, sarpanch Kamlesh Kumari said that she was consistently disrespected for her identity as a Dalit. “All the people in there [BDC] who are upper caste including some panches, DC, chairman, disrespected me, [taunted me by] calling me Dalit,” she alleged.
In a statement issued earlier, Ms. Kumari stated that she resigned “after bearing brunt of atrocities and hatred based discrimination by upper-caste Hindus particularly towards schedule caste and finding no safeguards from the caste-based ruling elite coupled with stigmas inflicted upon the undersigned and my family by the upper caste Hindus i.e.; Block Developmental chairman Kishtwar Shri Suresh Sharma, BDO Kishtwar Shri Sheetal Sharma, JE (Junior Engineer, RDD Block) Kishtwar Shri Vijay Parihar and also in view of sustained life threats to me and my family and outgoing burnt of caste-based hatred and corruption in the system in Jammu and Kashmir (UT) in general and District Kishtwar, in particular, I am going to resign from my services as Sarpanch today on and therefore I cease to be Sarpanch with immediate effect.”
Ms. Kumari said that matters became worse after she objected to alleged corruption in the BDC. “For the past 5-6 months, I have been speaking out against corruption. My panches were paid less money,” she said. “When I filed an FIR against the chairman for enquiry, all of them (upper-caste Hindu men) came together and started threatening me.”
Following the alleged threats, Ms. Kumari said that she is worried about her and the family’s safety. “My kids and my husband are also worried. From last one month, I have not been able to go anywhere because they were threatening me and then I thought resignation is the best option,” she said.
Ajit Bhagat, Ms. Kumari’s husband, accused the JEPD chairman’s involvement in the corruption within the panchayat, particularly in the disbursement of wages under the rural employment generation scheme. Mr. Bhagat said that the discrimination was not limited to just the Dalit community but Muslims as well.
“When it was time for the payment, there was an upper-caste Junior Engineer,” who, he said. there are two wards [represented by] upper caste Hindus to which they paid 16000 17000 rupees while the three wards by Muslims and Dalits were being paid 2000 and 3000 rupees,” he said.
Mr. Bhagat further alleged that this was why Ms. Kumari was harassed. “The upper caste Brahmins tortured [Ms. Kumari],” Mr. Bhagat told The Kashmir Walla. “I can’t even say how much. When she used to walk, they criticized her like kids. This is a dispute from the past 4-5 months.”
The BDC chairperson Mr. Sharma, however, denied the allegations against him. “All the accusations are baseless,” he said. “I am BDC chairman of 12 panchayats, we keep an eye on every panchayat. She had no issues with me, she had issues with the panches and the ward members of her village. She has an uncle who is a sarpanches and her sister-in-law who is a panches, they bring their personal issues here. They did not get along with the panches and they are maligning the whole RDE department and the BDC chairman.”
Ms. Kumari, in her statement, had also stated that “I am much dedicated towards my work and never surrender before the evil. For the last couple of months, I am continuously pressurized by the BDC chairman Kishtwar namely Suresh Sharma for doing the corrupt practices. But when I categorically refused to indulge myself in corrupt practice as my moral do not allow me to violate the norms of PRI [Panhayati Raj Institution], lateral BDC chairman Kishtwar Suraish Sharma called me in his office in presence of BDO KCSM ishtwar Sheetal Sharma and other panches and curse me on the basis of my caste and use (sic) unparliamentary language to demolish my modesty, even he physically hit me publically and called me as untouchable and the BDO Kishtwar Sheetal Sharma and other officials remain mere spectators. The written complaint had been filed against BDC chairman at Police station Kishtwar and other offices of higher authorities but no stagnant action has been taken yet as the administrative machinery of district Kishtwar work on the mercy of these politically affiliated persons.”
Ms. Kumari said that the constant harassment has put “a huge stress” on her resulting in “cardiac disorder”, and “a state of depression” on her family. Through the statement, she has held BDC chairman Suresh Sharma, BJP District President Pardeep Parihar and BDO Kishtwar Sheetal Sharma responsible for in case “I and my family is physically or mentally effected/harmed (sic)”.