Upper caste people torch Dalit houses (Times of India)
“At least 30 houses of Dalits were torched by the upper caste community at Lathor village in Balangir district on Sunday night, following a clash between the two groups over a petty issue.
“The situation had escalated beyond control, with people so incensed that they even torched the fire-fighting vehicle that was brought in to extinguish the fire. No media persons were allowed to enter the village. [...]
“Police sources said four youths from Dalit basti in the village, under Khaprakhol police station, had gone to one Laxmi cloth store on Sunday evening to purchase some cloth. The shop owner Jaydev Meher, along with his two sons Daya and Bharat, reportedly had an altercation with the boys over the purchase, in which one of the Dalit boys was assaulted. The Dalit community took it seriously and decided to teach a lesson to the shop owner for assaulting a boy of their community. ‘The situation went out of control when the Dalits came in a group and attacked Bharat Meher, who was seriously injured and admitted to Khaprakhol hospital,’ said a senior resident of the village.
“According to him, the upper caste people then convened a meeting and marched towards Dalit basti at night. They torched the houses of the basti and within a short span the entire basti was ablaze. ‘We did not get time to save our belongings. We started running towards jungles to save our lives,’ said a resident of the basti.
“[A]bout 193 victims were rescued by police, which includes 33 boys and 85 women, all of whom were given shelter in a local high school.”
Fact-finding Report on Caste-Violence in Balangir, Odisha (February 19, 2012):
“We were taken straight to the Durgeshwari High School, which was providing temporary shelter to 193 people of 45 families. All of them are Dalits belonging to the Ganda caste. The entire Gandapara [Ganda neighborhood] of Lathore village was gutted down to ashes on the 22nd January by a mob of more than 500 people, most of whom belonged to the Meher caste. Since then, all of them are staying in the school building. We stayed with the affected families, spoke to them at length, visited their burnt locality and also spoke to people in the neighbourhood and in the Meherpara [Meher neighborhood]. What emerged from the variant conversations is that it was not a spontaneous incident, nor was it an incident of inter-caste feud. It was rather a planned attack on Gandapara, where the Dalits were economically, politically and educationally becoming assertive. It was a well thought-out attempt to demolish their growing prosperity and dignity. It was also clear that the people from the [backward] Meher castes were used by the [uppercaste] Marwari baniyas [merchants] and the RSS/BJP to unleash the violence on Gandapara.
“The incident: On 22nd January, a young Dalit boy Ganesh Suna had gone to the market to buy a new shirt. While coming out of the shop the shopkeeper Bharat Meher alleged him for stealing a shirt and beat him up. When Ganesh’s grandfather, an aged person came to confront Bharat, he was beaten up too. They reported the incident to the members of ‘Sri Krishna Club’ of Gandapara and a few men came and confronted Bharat. The people of Gandapara then went to lodge an FIR in Khaprakhol, police station which is 20 km from Lathor. The rest of the men of Gandapara were also in Khaprakhol attending a shradh ceremony. Back in Lathor a baseless rumour was spread that Bharat has been killed by the people of Gandapara. By 2 pm a crowd of around 500 people gathered near a temple. The belligerent crowd was provided with ample alcohol, petrol and kerosene. This crowd then was unleashed on the entire Gandapara where they targeted each and every household. Within the same locality there were houses of people belonging to other castes which were spared. The houses were completely looted first and then broken and finally set on fire. The carnage started at around 2 pm and the fire continued to burn till around midnight.”