Homeless in Chatarpur

Desperate and Homeless, Suicide is Both Option and Threat for this Dalit Man, and Father of Four

 

Video Report

 

Sarman Ahirwar, a Dalit labourer from Chattarpur district, stands at the district collectorate with a train of four small children and a rope to hang himself.

 

He has travelled over 100 kilometres to give the Sub Division Magistrate a petition which asks for assistance to rebuild his home, roofless for the past decade. 260 kilometres away in pre-election Bhopal, and 600 kilometres away in pre-election Delhi, claims are made to have a house and toilet built for each citizen who needs it. But maybe some citizens are less important than others.

On Friday the 13th of July, as the monsoons teased Bundelkhand with surprising promptness and vigour, Sarman’s kaccha (‘the front is kaccha, the back is pucca’) house in Bhoyra village of Chattarpur, Madhya Pradesh, fell apart, leaving his family of five small children roofless.

 

Sarman alleges that the house was pulled down in a conspiracy by the pradhan and secretary of the panchayat. The pradhan, Ashok Jain, who lives in a small town 6 kilometres from Bhoyra, denies the drama flatly, and says the rain and Sarman’s own family is responsible for pulling the house down. According to the secretary of Bhoyra gram panchayat, Deshpal Singh Bundela, Sarman’s wife was eligible for a house under the Indira Awas scheme 12 years ago. According to this scheme, launched in 1996, BPL families were eligible for assistance to build permanent houses with toilets. Lists of eligible beneficiaries were prepared by the gram sabha. According to Bundela, Sarman and his wife received the Rs 60,000 due to them under the Indira Awas Scheme and managed to build walls for one room, with a tin roof, and two more kaccha rooms.

 

When the rains came a few weeks ago, the two kaccha rooms finally gave way. Sarman has been living with his children in the one room with walls since.

 

Over the past decade, Sarman has been trying to get the pradhan to help him complete construction. Recently, he has been petitioning for a house under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, a revised form of the Indira Awas Scheme, under which BPL families are eligible for assistance to build permanent structures. Jain insists that his records show that Sarman is not eligible for this scheme, as he has already been the beneficiary of a previous scheme for housing.

 

This ‘previous’ scheme, ironically, is the Awas Yojna, which had his Sarman’s wife’s name on the list. She died of tuberculosis a year ago.

 

33-year old Sarman is a daily-wage labourer, employed in mostly local construction work. This supports his family of four sons and a daughter. His share of his family property is under dispute, and, according to him, a couple of Yadav families in the village are out to kill him. ‘I’d rather die here, of my own will, then at their hands,’ he says.

 

Prakash Ahirwar, his elder brother avers that the land they own, around five bighas, has not been divided between the sons, and everyone tills the land together. They claim that Sarman has been disturbed since the death of his wife, drinks often, and is unable to sustain much employment, either on his family’s land, nor daily wage labour. ‘We’re not going to give him any land, he will sell it for money like he does everything else,’ says Prakash, dispassionately.

 

After ‘a hundred’ rounds of petitioning, ‘Pradhan, SP, DIG, zila panchayat, SDM’, Sarman is at a precipice he doesn’t feel able to return from.

 

‘If any gods have to listen, then listen now. Else let me die. Nothing is going to come of my life,’ he says. The rope he hangs around his neck, like a morbid accessory, plays mute witness.

 

This Khabar Lahariya article first appeared on Firstpost.