A story of social ostracisation and boycott is emerging from Madhya Pradesh’s Balaghat district where several families belonging to the Gond tribe have been facing extreme social discrimination owing to their economic and cultural vulnerabilities in a caste driven social order such as India. Fourteen families belonging to the Gond tribe living in Madhya Pradesh’s Balaghat district are being compelled to face social boycott and ostracisation because they could not manage to contribute a sum of Rs 200 each for the celebration of Durga Puja in the village premises. The members of the Gond tribe are an already marginalised and economically impoverished group and owing to the coronavirus pandemic and the associated lockdown, their financial condition had received a major blow and they found themselves helpless and unable to contribute towards the community’s Durga Puja celebrations that were recently concluded. The families had taken into consideration their economic vulnerabilities and offered to pay a sum of Rupees 100 each but other members of the village had not accepted their request and it was not considered.
As a result, other members of the village are now extremely discontented with the 14 Gond families that could not pay the sum and thus they are being compelled to experience social boycott and marginalisation. These families have been deprived of all facilities such as buying of ration, access to work and employment inside the village etc. Fed up with the sheer apathy and neglect with which they are now being treated, the 14 Gond families reached out to the district administration which has now promised to resolve the issue within a week.
The story is from the Lamta village of Balaghat. Here the local Durga Puja organisers had held a meeting and decided that all the 170 families living in the village would make a contribution of Rs 200 each towards the celebration. This became a major concern for the 40 Gond families residing in the village as most of them were working as migrant workers and had been severely hit by the coronavirus induced lockdown. The main challenge that haunted them was the impossibility of being able to pay the contribution amount given the economic hardships that they had already been facing owing to the pandemic.
Giving in to social pressure, 26 of the Gond families relented and the remaining 14 families proposed to offer Rs 100 each but the proposal was refused by the Puja organisers.
After the Puja celebrations concluded, the members of the village decided to unanimously boycott these Gond families and neither talk to or visit them. These families were not even allowed to purchase ration or visit the village doctor. The doctor who made his services available in the village was warned against treating members of the Gond families that had failed to pay the contribution amount.
According to a report published in The Indian Express, the families are extremely poor and owing to the lockdown, their financial condition had deteriorated further and there was no way in which they could manage to pay the contribution amount.
When the villagers continued to remain indifferent to the condition of the Gond families and did not lift the social boycott, they were compelled to reach out to the Balaghat Collector to make their demands heard.
The Balaghat Collector Deepak Arya stated, “ 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 resoled and the situation has normalised.”
It will be interesting to see whether things have really become normal for the Gond families that have been ostracised by the other members of the village and are being denied access to even basic facilities in the village such as access to ration of the right to seek the attention of the village doctor in case of illness merely because they failed to contribute the given amount of money for the Durga Puja celebrations in the village.
It will also be important to see what kind of steps the district administration takes to ensure that Gonds and other vulnerable social groups are protected and not violated in a caste defined social order.