Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Bhubaneswar, Apr 17:
Eight voters belonging to three ousted dalit bonded labour families of Birakesharipur village under Satyabadi Assembly constituency in Odisha were able to exercise their franchise today following the intervention of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
The families headed by Surendra Sethi, Maguni Sethi and Hina Sethi Human were escorted by a team of special police force to the booths as per the NHRC order to ensure that they did not face any problem while voting.
Rights activist and advisor to Odisha Goti Mukti Andolan, Baghambar Pattanaik, in a complaint to the NHRC on Wednesday, had sought its intervention in the matter as the ousted families had expressed their desire to exercise their franchise in today’s polling.
Acting on the directive of the Commission, Lalit Das, special secretary of the state Home department directed Puri SP Anup Kumar Sahoo to make special arrangements for the ousted families to cast their votes.
Accordingly, a special police force led by Tapan Das, IIC, Gadishagoda, escorted the eight voters of ousted dalit bonded labourer families to the polling booth at Birakesharipur where they exercised their franchise.
It may be recalled here that members of these three families belonging to the washerman caste render customary service to the upper caste villagers and their community in lieu of 15 kg of paddy per head per year called ‘Bartan’ or a piece of land belonging to upper caste community called ‘Heta’.
As per custom, they carry on head a box loaded with approximately 60 kg of articles and accompany Danda artists from village to village in the Odia month of Chaitra for about two weeks without wages.
After Surendra Sethi refused to carry load due to old age, he was physically assaulted. Three families, including that of Sethi belonging to the washer man caste, were driven out of the village last year as Sethi lodged a case in Gadishagoda police station against the assaulters.
The victims met Joydeep Nayak, IG of Police, SC & ST Protection Cell, HRPC, Odisha, Puri collector Dhirendra Kumar Pattanaik and SP Anup Kumar Sahoo,in the month of February this year. But despite a directive from the collector to the SP in this regard, the victims had failed to get back to their village.