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Last Updated: Saturday, 24 September 2005, 11:46 GMT 12:46 UK
Indian caste forces naked parade
By Sandeep Sahu in Bhubaneswar

Barber caste press conference in Bhubaneswar
The barber caste victims were brought to Bhubaneswar
Police in India have launched a manhunt for 29 men who allegedly forced a group of women to parade naked after a row over caste tradition.

Six women in a village in the eastern state of Orissa were dragged by their hair, beaten and paraded naked by a group of upper caste men.

They were attacked because the men in their families had refused to wash the feet of upper caste wedding guests.

The incident took place at Bhubanapati, 70km (44 miles) from Bhubaneswar.

The women belong to the lower barber caste. Their menfolk had refused to wash feet of upper caste Khandayats.

The washing of the feet of marriage ceremony guests according to caste is customary in the area.

One of the women victims, Tilottama Barik, says she was singled out in Monday's attack.

"I was dragged out of my home, beaten up and stripped naked by the attackers," she said.

Another victim said she was picked up from her home, detained inside a room and sexually abused for more than two hours.

Denied access

Though the victims immediately filed a complaint at the local police station, no-one has been arrested so far.

The fact that nobody has been arrested even five days after the incident shows the seriousness with which the administration is taking the issue
Rabindra Behera,
rights activist

The officer in charge of the Brahmagiri police station, Dilip Kumar Tripathy, said a manhunt had been launched to arrest 29 upper caste people named in the complaint.

But he rejected the allegation of sexual assault.

The frightened women and their children have fled the village, believing they are still in danger.

They were brought to Bhubaneswar on Thursday by activists of the Ambedkar Lohia Vichar Manch, an organisation fighting for the rights of oppressed castes, and met senior officials of the state administration.

"But all we got was a lot of empty promises", said Mamata Behera, general secretary of the Manch.

"The fact that nobody has been arrested even five days after the incident shows the seriousness with which the administration is taking the issue," Rabindra Behera, another leader of the Manch, said.

There has been tension in the area for more than three years over the feet-washing ritual.

There have been several attacks on barber caste people, including one in which one person was killed.

Barbers have been socially ostracised and denied access to water sources and other common assets in scores of villages in the Brahmagiri area.

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