A lower-caste Indian Dalit couple attempted suicide following a beating from police and damages done to their crops, triggering calls for an end to the brutal evictions of poor minorities on Thursday.
An online video showed half a dozen officers pulling and assaulting a couple with sticks. The officials were ejecting them from government-owned lands in central Madhya Pradesh state.
Moments after the eviction, the couple consumed pesticides and later rushed to the hospital, S. Vishwanath, the chief of the local administration, told a press conference late Wednesday. Besides, the statement came hours before the government fired him and the chief police.
Forcing a couple to attempt suicide by destroying their crops is most inhumane and shameful,” said Kumari Mayawati, Dalit political leader, on Twitter.
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“The national criticism of the incident is natural. The government will take stern measures.”
Government and senior police officers were not directly accessible for comment.
The eviction was part of a campaign to stop the encroachment on land. Moreover, the government had reallocated the area where the couple farmed. It is now meant for the building of a college, said a police officer who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Prejudice against the Dalit tribe
On Thursday, the state government instructed an investigation, and also suspended six officers. India banned caste discrimination-a system that separated Hindus into groups based on occupation-in 1955.
But centuries-old prejudice against low-caste groups persists. This made it more difficult for them to have access to education, jobs, and housing.
Rising population and increasing pressure on land to develop homes, highways, and industry are provoking conflicts, with low-caste citizens often getting evicted, especially in rural areas where prejudices are deeply rooted, critics argue.
According to census data, over half of India ‘s low-caste population is landless. Many states have laws intended to give land to Dalits, but few have yielded results, Dalit activists and leaders say.
“They were begging the police not to destroy their crops as they were in debt. However, the police chose not to listen to them,” N Kumar, the couple’s neighbor said.
He said the couple had told the police to wait two months to have their crops harvested.
Ram Prakash Sharma, a rights activist for the tribal and Dalits in Madhya Pradesh, viewed the event as “unfortunate” and implored officials to do much to assist the couple.
“The Dalits in Madhya Pradesh are one of the most backward people, and they don’t own farmland,” he said.
“The government must provide this couple with a home and a job so that they can feed their children and not die of starvation.”