On 15 June this year, the people of the Navdihwa locality of Rapura, a village in Jharkhand’s Garhwa district, held a protest at the zonal office of the Kandi block headquarters in the district. The protesting families belong to the Prajapati community, listed among the backward classes in the state, and they had approached the administration over the closure of a road in their village by two upper-caste families. The protesting families say that access to the road has been restricted by a barbed wire put in place by the Rajput families in April 2020. Around three to four hours into the protest, the local administration asked the villagers to leave by citing lockdown rules, and told them that a resolution would be arrived at soon.
When I first spoke to the protesting families that day, they told me that a similar protest was held on 21 December 2020—they had organised a hunger strike in front of the anchal karyala, or circle office, but the fast ended on the same day after the officials at the circle office gave a written assurance, which said that a solution would be worked out. The villagers told me that they have been assured many times in the past, but the issue is yet to be resolved. They said that all the work being done by the administration remains on paper, and on the ground, the road is still inaccessible.
The dispute arose over an unpaved road that connects the Navdihwa tola, or locality, to the village’s market. According to the people of the locality, this road used to be around eight to ten feet wide. But since April last year, two Rajput families, who live at the entrance to the locality, have claimed the road as their own. Santosh Kumar Singh, a 41-year-old member of one of the two families, erected a barbed wire fence across it, and told me that “I have closed it since it is my land.” The villagers say that the remaining road is so narrow that it is difficult even for a child to cross it.
The locality has a population of about 350 people. Only two houses in the locality belong to Rajput families, while there are 35 houses of the Prajapati community. The Prajapati community is also referred to as Kumhars, and is considered one of the most marginalised communities in the state. The dispute over the road is between the Prajapatis of 30 houses and the Rajputs, while some members of the Prajapati community have supported the upper-caste families’ action. The protesting families told me that they have been using this road for decades and that the sudden closure has left them struggling for access to their daily lives.
Bhateshwar Prajapati, a 50-year-old resident of the locality who is among the protesters, told me, “It’s been more than a year. You must have seen how we people come and go through this road.” His daughter died in February this year due to Tuberculosis, and he told me that “when we brought her dead body in a car to the village, her body had already gone rigid. We thought that we would carry her dead body on a cot, but due to the barbed wire on the road, the body had to be brought on the shoulders like an animal.” He added, “People don’t even carry their animals in the way we brought our daughter.”