Representational use only.

Patna: Shiv Prasad Ram, a 45-year-old Dalit man, succumbed to his injuries days after being allegedly beaten by a group of powerful people for using a common hand pump in Maulanapur village under Bheldi police station in Saran district of Bihar. Angry over Ram’s death, local Dalits staged protests, blocked a highway and demanded action against accused on Sunday and Monday.

Hundreds of Dalits from Maulanapur and nearby villages blocked NH- 22 for over two hours to register their protest after the body of Shiv Prasad Ram reached the village following a post-mortem. Local police officials pacified the protesting Dalits and persuaded them to end the highway blockade by promising police action in the case.

The police have failed to arrest anyone among the dozen named accused in the incident so far. Beside Ram, who died from his grave injuries, two others were seriously injured in the attack on May 12 and they are still undergoing treatment.

The incident shows that amid the statewide lockdown imposed to tackle the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, the practice of untouchability and stigma against the lower caste still continues.

Ram along with five other Dalits, including two women, were attacked and beaten allegedly by upper caste and OBC villagers on May 12 when they were washing their hands and feet at a common hand pump after open defecation in a nearby field in the village. Ram and three others were admitted to Patna Medical College and Hospital (PMCH) last week after their condition deteriorated.

“We were attacked, beaten and seriously injured for using a hand pump. Our crime was that we had ignored warnings and repeated threats not to use the hand pump by powerful villagers,” said Mahesh Ram, a Dalit youth from Maulanapur village, who is a close relative of Shiv Prasad Ram.

According to Mahesh, a group of 14 people with bamboo sticks, iron rods and traditional sharp iron weapons attacked the Dalits who were using the hand pump. The Dalits, including Shiv Prasad Ram, Chandan Kumar Ram, Sikandar Ram, Vivek Kumar Ram , Panna Devi and Saroja Devi were beaten and injured. All of them were rushed to the government-run Community Health Centre at Garkha. After initial treatment, doctors referred them to Sadar Hospital in Chapra, the district headquarters of Saran, for proper treatment in view of serious injuries. Afterwards, doctors at the Sadar Hospital referred three of them including Shiv Prasad Ram to PMCH in view of their critical condition.

“Ram (Shiv Prasad Ram), after battling for life, died during treatment at PMCH,” Mahesh said.

An FIR was lodged in this incident on May 15 by Chandan Kumar Ram, son of Chilhan Ram, a native of the same village from which fourteen villagers were named as accused. The police complaint states that Ranjit Kumar Diwedi, with a pistol in his hand, loudly abused and threatened Dalits for using a common hand pump. Soon, a group of other co-villagers including Pankaj Shah, Santosh Shah, Nagendar Shah, Subodh Shah, and Pramod Shah joined Diwedi. They first abused and humiliated the Dalist and called their caste names, and then attacked them, according to the complaint.

“An hour after this Incident, local police officials facilitated angry Dalit villagers to talk to the district Superintendent of Police who assured them that a case will be lodged under the SC/ST Prevention of

Atrocities Act and the police will take action against the accused. But nothing has happened till date, nearly 12 days after the incident,” Chandan said.

However, Bheldi police station’s officer-in-charge K N Singh said no arrest has been made in the case till date but the police will arrest the accused soon or carry out property attachment of their houses if they do not surrender. “A Police team has conducted raids at different places on Sunday night to arrest the named accused but failed to arrest anyone,” he said.

The OC admitted that Dalits in the village were still angry and a low intensity tension has gripped the village following the death of Shiv Prasad Ram.

Caste-based violence against Dalits is rampant in BIhar. According to the latest data from the National Crime Records Bureau, nine states including Bihar accounted for 84% of all crimes against Dalits in India in 2019 even though the Dalits of these states account for only 54% of the country’s Scheduled Caste population. According to this data, among the states with high crimes rates, Bihar has a comparatively lower conviction rate of 12.2%.

This story was first appeared on newsclick.in