CHANDIGARH: Indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike. While the elite live in denial and the comfort of a good life, it fails to even look at the gangrene that continues to kill in the name of caste.

Sandeep of Bhusthala village in Kurukshetra district of Haryana is a Dalit youth who had made headlines some months ago, after being targeted by upper castes for speaking out against atrocities. Today he is haunted by fear for his life.

It was on May 21, 2016 that this starry eyed boy was enthusiastically participating in the rituals for his marriage. But his excitement ceased when upper caste men from his village stopped him from the “Ghudchadi” (mounting a mare). Ironically, most of them who came to beat him up had been his friends till that day.

He recalls,” The ritual is to go to seek blessings at various temples. A mob of upper caste boys came and said that as I was a Dalit I could not ride a mare. They cannot allow it. Only a Rajput can ride a Ghodi and if a dalit does it their heads will hang in shame forever. It was disgusting to see these educated boys from my village saying all this. They were known to me for years.”

Sandeep stood his ground and the matter came to a point where the police had to intervene. He was given other options like going on a tractor to the temples. When he did not relent, he was told that he could only go to the Valmiki temple and not the others. This youngster went on a horse back to the Valmiki temple, but was denied entry into the village on a horse. He returned after getting married at the Valmiki temple.

But he paid a price. “They hurled casteist abuses as if it was their right. Being a citizen of the same country and abiding by the same constitution I want to know who gave them this right?” asks Sandeep.

But his life is far from normal today. He lives in fear. “I continue to get threats. Most of the accused are out on parole and bail.”

“Since the day I got married I have never had a normal day without fear. I am unable to work as a regular employee anywhere. I leave my house when the sun is up and return before it sets. I always accompany someone to work. I have chosen to work as a daily wage labourer which allows me to have fixed working hours,” he told The Citizen.

“My wife Veena is a MA in political science. She is scared to go out of the house, forget about being able to work, ' he added.

Sandeep has faced ostracization for defying the caste order. He was not given employment in the farms by the villagers and people even stopped talking to him.

It was here that social activists and radio journalists from Punjab Gurpreet Singh and Shiv Inder arranged for some finances and recently helped him purchase a second hand utility vehicle which now earns him an income.

“Though I am able to eat two meals in my house, the trauma and the threat still follows us and refuse to leave,” he says.

“The condition of Dalits is deplorable in the region. They are targetted for trivial things. I came across an instance of a Dalit being thrashed for refusing to retrieve the mobile phone of an upper caste from a drain. There have been other gruesome instances that got media attention like that of a Dalit boy's hands being chopped off for drinking water from a pitcher meant from upper castes but lots remains unreported,” says Kavita Vidrohi of Jan Sangharsh Manch Haryana.

She says that Dalits form around one fourth of Haryana's population but their voice continues to be suppressed and they remain deprived of their rights. Kavita had been instrumental in organizing protests in support of Sandeep.

The plight of his community can be best described in Sandeep's own words when he says, “ It feels that while giving life, God had written in my destiny 'I don’t say it is your fault to be a Dalit but you will be blamed for being one always'. This is how it stands for us.”