After own village, freedom fighters want Pardhis out

The Republic Day did not bring any cheer to a group of Pardhis who are awaiting news of their resettlement at a temporary shelter in Betul, since their homes were burnt by a murderous mob four months ago. In fact, Saturday only reinforced the community's status, which was once branded 'criminal tribe' by the British. Freedom fighters in Betul boycotted the Republic Day function because the administration failed to vacate Shahid Bhavan, where the Pardhis have been sheltered for the last three months. The local body of freedom fighters had warned the administration to hand over the Bhavan to them by January 26.

"The sanctity of the place has to be maintained," said president of Betul District Swatantrata Senani Federation, Birdichand Gothi.

Since they were driven out of Chothia village near Amla town, Pardhis have had a tough time. Everywhere they go they are branded as thieves and the local residents oppose their resettlement. The place where their houses once stood has been levelled and saplings planted.

On September 11, politicians cutting across party lines colluded with villagers to burn down each and every house in Paridhidhana, angered by the rape and murder of a Kunbi woman allegedly by Pardhis from Maharashtra. One of the accused was a relative of a resident of Pardhidhana. Two Pardhis died in unnatural circumstances over the next two days, but the administration claimed that the deaths were natural.

The victims were first shifted to Bhopal, about 230 km away, and brought to Shahid Bhavan three months ago. There were protests when villagers learnt that Pardhis were on their way to Betul.

Another group of 150 victims lives in Baretha village, about 30 km from Betul, because the villagers have warned the administration not to let them return.

"We were afraid that we will be driven out again. We no longer feel safe because the security was removed on Friday." said Ratna Pardhi, one of the 122 people sheltered in Shahid Bhavan. Police were deployed at the Bhavan because the presence of Pardhis had become a law and order issue with villagers insisting that they be driven out of the state. "Why don't they just kill us," a male member asked after the community learnt that the freedom fighters wanted them removed.

Betul Collector Arun Bhatt said the freedom fighters' body's demand was not justified as the place was being used as a temporary shelter. The Bhavan is used only occasionally by the body. He admitted that some freedom fighters boycotted the felicitation function.

Bhatt's proposal to resettle the victims at a place other than their original settlement is hanging fire with the Government. He said the administration had paid compensation of more than Rs 10 lakh to the Pardhis whose houses were burnt.

The National Commission for De-notified, Nomadic and Semi-nomadic Tribes visited the place after a series of reports in The Indian Express and indicted the administration and the local politicians for the lawlessness. The Commission noted in its report that several Pardhi women complained of rape by villagers in retaliation to the earlier incident.

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