Laxman Koli, 65, on his way back home after selling milk to the local dairy farm in this recent picture.
DADELDHURA, Feb 5: Laxman Koli, 65, is quite happy and busy these days. “I remain active from early in the morning till late evening as I have to look after so many cows and buffalos,” he said while sharing that in a day he sells around Rs 400 worth milk.
Reflecting back, he says that he never expected to do what he is doing nowadays. As a member of the Dalit community, he was considered untouchable by ‘high caste’ people and therefore never imagined that he would sell milk.
“Though they would not misbehave or do anything annoying in public, ‘we knew our place’. They would not love to accept things touched by you. There are many people in our community who are best in farming, but our products are not easily sold, so we feel discouraged,” he lamented.
That is now a thing of past. Much has changed. With the opening of new professional dairy farm in his village, Dalits can sell of milk just like non-Dalits.
“Now we have dairy farm in our village that buys milk from us. This a great thing for us,” he said. “Earlier I used rear cow only fulfilling our family’s needs. But nowadays we rear many cows and buffaloes and sell their milk. Our family’s earnings have increased because of it,” added the local of Alitaal Rural Municipality - 6.
According to Koli, caste discrimination is rampant not just in village but in the district headquarters, as well. Unfortunately, so called well educated people also believe such things, he said.
“Due to the prevalence of such attitude, Dalits are not able to expand the reach of their business in the district headquarters. Despite working hard we are always sidelined,” he said.
Koli claimed that small to big eateries and hotels discriminate between Dalits and non-Dalits even to these days. Even, as customers, he claimed that Dalits are not treated respectfully.
“We pay the equal amount of money for what we eat. Still they discriminate Dalits while serving food to them. No matter how many political and social movements we saw in this country, Dalits still are not treated as equal,” he noted.
He stated that the discrimination is deeply rooted and it is hard to uproot it as people of other castes ‘do not accept Dalits equal to them’ in their heart. “Just showing off that you treat everyone as equally is not sufficient. In reality, caste issue is still quite prevalent and serious,” he lamented.
Several organizations are supporting Dalit community members for increasing their income generation capacity. Some of these efforts focused on engaging the Dalits in the agriculture sector.
Koli claims that many of the Dalits had to give up professional farming, as they could not sell their products.
“This dairy farm has increased our hope to make a living by professional dairy farming. By purchasing milk from Dalits, it has boosted our morale. We hope that it will continue to function in the days to come,” he said.
Around 22 Dalit families in the village are presently involved in dairy farming. These families rear jersey breed cows and compared to local breed they give greater quantity of milk.
“Jersey cows are very profitable. Dalits are rearing such cows. Most of the families in our village have more than two and some even six or more,” Kolhi informed.
The new dairy farm, which has given this big relief to Dalits belongs to Kamal Singh Airi. He collects milk from the villagers and sells over 1,000 liters of milk per day to Khaptad Dairy. He said that he makes good profit by it.
However, the dairy farm was not Airi’s solo effort. He stated that he was supported by the ‘Ekikrit Bikash Samaj’ to start the farm. “In setting up the dairy farm, many government and non-government organizations extended support to us. They focused on adding value to local products and marketing them and our proposal to setting up a dairy farm, was supported by many of them,” he said.
Laxman Koli, 65, on his way back home after delivering milk to the local dairy farm in this recent picture.