Pune: It was in Class IX when Ramesh Salunkhe (name changed for safety reasons) went to a barber’s shop where he was made to realise that his caste limited his entry to many public places. Ten years later, armed with a degree and a well paying job in a renowned Pune-based company, Salunkhe went back to the same barber’s shop only to realise that no matter what he achieves in life, he will always be an ‘achhut’ (untouchable) who is not allowed to get his hair cut in the village barber shop.
Despite complaints to the police and Panchayat Samiti against this atrocity, Nagansur village of Akkalkot taluka in Solapur district, does not allow people from scheduled caste or tribe to get their hair cut in local salons, forcing them to travel 10 km to a nearby village to avail the basic facility.
Salunkhe informed Sakal Times that this is an age-old practice and continues despite bringing it to the notice of administration and political leaders. He said, “Nobody cares about the downtrodden in our country. The political leaders who make tall claims about fighting for Dalit rights don’t do anything except filling up their pockets and using the community for their political mileage. We are living in the 21st Century in a State like Maharashtra which was the land of progressive thinkers and still have to hear words like ‘achhut’.”
Salunkhe said this discrimination was going on in the village before Independence and most of the people have become used to it. He said, “We have submitted an application about this issue to Gram Panchayat and Pritam Yawalkar, Deputy Superintendent of Police, Solapur.”
Mahesh Vathar (name changed for safety reasons), (26), who also hails from Nagansur, has a similar tale to tell. Vathat, who works with a private firm in Pune, said, “Six months back when I went to take a haircut at the local salon in Nagansur, the barber told me I am a Dalit and he is not going to give me a haircut. When I reasoned with him, he said he is under pressure of senior people from the village and will not be able to give me a haircut.”
Vathar said the people from his community who cannot afford going 10 km to get a haircut for their young children have started giving them a haircut at their homes. He said, “There are ample shops in our village at a distance of 500 metres from our home but we are not allowed inside those haircutting shops because of this discrimination towards us. So now people from our community have started giving haircuts to younger ones at home itself.”
Jayram Ingle (name changed for safety reasons), (26), another villager of Nagansur who is working in a hotel in Pune, said the only reason for not giving a haircut to them is that they belong to Dalit community. He said, “I went to the cutting salon in Nagansur with one of the Gram Panchayat members but still the barber refused to give me a haircut and cited that I am a Dalit.”
“When I was a child I always used to tell my father to take me to the haircutting shops in our village as I wanted a good haircut like the other boys at school but he always used to take me outside the village to a small shop for the haircut. Whenever I questioned him he used to tell me that we belong to Scheduled Caste and are not allowed in the barbers shops of our village,” added Ingle.
The local youngsters belonging to Dalit community have submitted an application regarding the issue to Gram Panchayat and to Pritam Yawalkar, Deputy Superintendent of Police, Solapur.
Sarpanch of Nagansur village, Prakash Pote, said, “I have tried many times to convince the haircutting salon owners to allow people from Dalit community inside their shops but they don’t. They told me if they are going to allow Dalits in their salons, people from others caste will boycott them and will stop coming to their shops. MP, MLA, Collector, and Police everybody knows about this issue but nothing positive has happened in this regard yet.”
When Sakal Times contacted Pritam Yawalkar, DSP, Solapur about the issue, he said, “I am aware of the issue and we are trying to sort it out. We have conducted 3-4 meetings in the village to resolve the issue and will sort it out soon.”
Sakal Times contacted Siddhram Mhetre, Congress MLA from Akkalkot and Sharad Bansode, BJP’S Member of Parliament from Solapur repeatedly but both were unavailable for comments.