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MP: Gond Families Face Village Boycott Over Payment for Durga Puja Celebrations

The families had been deprived of all facilities like buying ration – and were denied work – because they could not afford to contribute Rs 200 for Durga puja celebrations.

New Delhi: Fourteen families from the Gond tribe were boycotted for over two weeks after they could not afford to contribute Rs 200 for Durga puja celebrations in the village.

According to a report in the Indian Express, the families in Madhya Pradesh’s Balaghat district had been hit severely by the coronavirus-induced lockdown and had volunteered to pay Rs 100 each. However, their contribution was refused.

The families approached the district administration after they were deprived of all facilities like buying ration and were denied work. The local administration resolved the issue this week.

Local puja organisers from the Sarwajanik Durga Puja Sanstha had held a meeting in Balaghat’s Lamta village on October 14 and decided that all 170 families in the village would have to contribute Rs 200 each for the Durga puja celebration. However, 40 Gond families, many of which comprised of migrant labourers, said that they would not be able to pay the amount.

Under pressure, 26 families finally relented and paid the amount while the remaining 14 families offered to pay Rs 100 but it was refused.

After the Durga puja celebrations were over, a meeting was held on November 3, where village representatives issued a diktat for ‘paani-tanga’ where no villager was allowed to speak to or visit the 14 families. Furthermore, the families were not allowed to purchase ration and the village doctor – a private practitioner – also refused to treat them.

“Our bad financial position made us incapable of paying anything more than Rs 151 as chanda (donation) for the village’s Durga Puja celebrations last month. Since then a group of powerful men has pressured the villagers to socially boycott us,” Munsingh Masram, one of the villagers from Motegaon who had been targetted, told NDTV.

Dhan Singh Parte, who was from one of the families facing the boycott, said that the workers at the Lakdi depot, where his father worked as a labourer, were not allowed to work with him. “No one would come close to my father at the depot. The wooden logs are heavy and people usually work in groups and carry them but my father was asked to work alone in a corner, if at all,” Parte told the national daily.

Also read: Madhya Pradesh: Congress Says Tribal Man Burnt Alive Over Loan Was ‘Bonded Labourer’

Another villager Saghan Singh told HT that the boycotted families were prevented from accessing medical care at the village’s primary health centre and were not invited to functions taking place in the village.“The villagers stopped us from grazing our cattle and working in the other people’s farms. They even banned us from availing medical facilities at the primary health centre of the village,” Singh said.

Lakshmi Wadkhade, who started working as a labourer to support her family of seven after her husband fell ill, said that she could not afford to pay Rs 200. “I was in Allahabad looking for work when my ill husband and daughter back home were boycotted. I had walked six days to return from Nashik after the lockdown. We had no money for days and starved until we were given 5 kg ration,” she said and added that they had offered to pay Rs 100 which was declined by the organisers.

Wadkhade also said that her family had been boycotted last year as well. “I had to return to work in the city and send Rs 500 to my family to pay to the Sanghatan to get the boycott lifted,” she said.

After the social boycott imposed on the families continued from November 3 to November 17, they approached the zilla president of Gond Samajh Mahasabha and submitted a memorandum to the police inspector at Lamta police station.

“We reported the matter at the Lamta police station, after which the cops tried to resolve the matter through consensus, but to no avail,” Parte said.

After the villagers refused to relent, the families approached the Balaghat Collector and the Superintendent of Police and the Sub-Divisional Magistrate.

“These families approached us and we held a meeting with the villagers. They have been warned that if this continues, action will be taken against them. The matter has been resolved and situation has normalised,” the collector Deepak Arya told the Indian Express.

“The sub-divisional officer, the police station in-charge are trying to convince the villagers that if they don’t end the social boycott, appropriate legal action will be initiated,” Madhya Pradesh home minister Narottam Mishra said.