For 70 years, members of the Valmiki community in Uttar Pradesh's Fatehpur Shamshoi village were denied a haircut due to an upper-caste diktat. That changed yesterday -- but only after they threatened to convert to Islam.
The barbers in the village had shut their shop for the last one month, as for the first time in decades, they were asked to give haircuts to the lower-caste Valmikis.
With the intervention of police and district administrative officials, the stand-off ended yesterday.
In Fatehpur Shamsoi, there are about 15,000 Thakurs and Brahmins, and about 1,250 Valmikis in 250 families.
"Yesterday, people from different communities interacted with officials of police and district administration, and the deadlock was resolved. After this, the barbers started accepting Valmikis as their customers," said Sanjeev Sharma, a former village pradhan, who brokered the peace.
For decades since Independence, Valmikis have allegedly not been allowed to get haircuts or shaves from the village barbers, because upper castes declared they would boycott the "impure and unhyegenic" razors.
A month ago, however, a Muslim barber agreed to give haircuts to a Valmiki family. But he refused to attend to them when the they later on turned up for a shave, allegedly under upper-caste pressure.
This snowballed into a major agitation, with all the Valmikis of the village threatening to convert to Islam.
"Almost a month ago my cousins, Anil, Bhura and Birjesh Valmiki had got haircuts at Asif Ali's saloon. A few days later, when they turned up for a shave, Asif refused. He was beaten up by upper caste villagers because he broke the rule," said Saurabh Valmiki.
"Other barbers also refused to give us haircuts or a shave out of fear. We filed a police complaint against them. By the time the police reached the village, all the barbers had shut shop and fled," he said.
Additional SP Sambhal, Pankaj Pandey, said, "The barbers have agreed to cut hair of members of the Valmiki caste and a few Valmikis even got haircuts. Earlier, we had received a complaint in this regard."
Over the past few decades, Valmiki men had to travel 15 to 20 kilometres to towns like Chandausi, Bhajoie and Islamnagar to get haircuts.
Valmiki is a Dalit community which has historically faced exclusion and oppression in the upper caste-dominated society and has frequently been affected by anti-Dalit violence and repression by members of other castes.
In certain cases, the members of the community have turned away from Hinduism in order to avoid the persecution associated with caste practices.
The 2011 Census of India for Uttar Pradesh recorded the Valmiki population, which was classified as a Scheduled Caste, at 1,319,241.
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