At least 30 houses of Dalits were torched by the upper caste community at Lathor village in Balangir district on Sunday night, following a clash between the two groups over a petty issue.
The situation had escalated beyond control, with people so incensed that they even torched the fire-fighting vehicle that was brought in to extinguish the fire. No media persons were allowed to enter the village. The situation was brought under control only after the deployment of armed police late in the night.
The victims were given shelter in a local high school after they were rescued by police. A shop owner, who was injured seriously in the incident, was shifted to VSS Medical college hospital of Burla on Monday. Police arrested 42 villagers.Four platoons of police were deployed in the village apprehending further untoward incident.
Police sources said four youths from Dalit basti in the village, under Khaprakhol police station, had gone to one Laxmi cloth store on Sunday evening to purchase some cloth. The shop owner Jaydev Meher, along with his two sons Daya and Bharat, reportedly had an altercation with the boys over the purchase, in which one of the Dalit boys was assaulted. The Dalit community took it seriously and decided to teach a lesson to the shop owner for assaulting a boy of their community. “The situation went out of control when the Dalits came in a group and attacked Bharat Meher, who was seriously injured and admitted to Khaprakhol hospital,” said a senior resident of the village.
According to him, the upper caste people then convened a meeting and marched towards Dalit basti at night. They torched the houses of the basti and within a short span the entire basti was ablaze. “We did not get time to save our belongings. We started running towards jungles to save our lives,” said a resident of the basti.
“We have deployed armed policemen and arrested 42 villagers. Now the situation is under control,” said SDPO (Patnagarh) Laxmi Narayan Panda. According to him, about 193 victims were rescued by police, which includes 33 boys and 85 women, all of whom were given shelter in a local high school.
Markets and business establishments remained closed in the village on Monday.