By Counterview Desk
One of most naïve arguments on rural areas, including those of Gujarat, has been regarding their homogeneous characteristic — the existence of “harmonious” social relations in which “self-sufficient” village communities live in a peaceful atmosphere. Based on this type of thinking, the Gujarat chief minister began his now famous “samras” experiment, under which village panchayats elected uncontested should be rewarded. However, sociologists have long demonstrated that in areas of strong homogeneity, there is a general tendency to repress controversy. As a result, when disagreements arise, they can result into serious crises.
Well-known human rights organization Navsarjan Trust’s documentary evidence, collected from several villages of Gujarat, recorded in several of its reports (click HERE to see them) has long suggested how such homogeneity in a caste-ridden society is a sham. Despite efforts by Dalit NGOs to fight discrimination against Dalits, as evidenced during their representation to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and a public hearing organized jointly by Navsarjan Trust and Gujarat Human Rights Commission, cases of social boycott, even forced migration, continue.
In 2009, a Navsarjan study, “A Legally Immune form of Discrimination: Report on Socioeconomic Boycotts of Dalits in Gujarat”, noted, “As Dalits become increasingly educated and aware, they have begun to demand the enforcement of their legal rights. These efforts have been met with staunch resistance by other castes, whose members have a stake in maintaining the existing status quo. By deterring attempts to access the law through complete ostracization from the social and economic life of the village, boycotts have become a major tool through which upper castes have stemmed the Dalit struggle for equality.” Updated information by the NGO has found that there is little sign of improvement in the situation, though the number of protests has evidently gone up.
About 26 families of Ghada village in Deesa taluka of Banaskantha district are failing to return to their village ever since they were forced to leave their homes for a “safer” haven, which they found 27 kilometres away from the village – in the open area front of Deesa mamlatdar’s office. Living in makeshift tents since 2009, their case has reached the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), and representations about their plight have been made to the Gujarat governor, apart from senior officials in Gandhinagar Sachivalaya. Begun with a small brawl, which led to a Dalit being overrun with a tractor, a riots-like situation in the village forced the villagers to leave Ghada.
According to Kantibhai Parmar, a senior activist, “The Gujarat government officials are refusing to recognize the 26 families as internally displaced, as it would mean a loss of face to them. Instead, they have promised to give these villagers land and housing in the village where they lived. The offer has been repeated by principal secretary, social justice and empowerment department, Sanjay Prasad, apart from local officials like district development officer and taluka development officer. The Dalits have refused on the ground that there is no guarantee for their safety. Meanwhile, they continue living in their makeshift tents, made of bamboo and polythene sheet. While they have been issued ration cards to buy food and police protection has been provided, children cannot go to school, and they live under unhygienic conditions.”
In a gruesome case, a Dalit youth, Lalji Kalabhai Sarvaiya of Akolali village of Una taluka in Junagarh district, was burnt alive on September 13, 2012 by a village mob of 150 persons. His house and along with that of a neighour, along with their belongings, were all set on fine by upper caste people, who suspected that Sarvaiya had a love affair with a girl belonging to a non-Dalit caste. After the ghastly incident, the family, which included Sarviaya’s parents and five brothers, were forced to shift to the Ambedkar colony in Una taluka, where they live today. While the case is pending in Junagarh sessions court, complaints have been made to the NHRC, and there has been a demand to for a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) investigation. Living unprotected, the family members and relatives of the deceased have no permanent source of livelihood after they fled from their home, leaving behind 14 bighas of land they owned.
In yet another case of Junagarh district, social boycott of Dalits has been continuing in Baman village, just 10 km from Junagarh town, since April 2013. It all began with a right to information (RTI) application by one of the Dalit youths about the “misuse” of the neighbouring open land being used by upper caste people as a dumping space for all the dirt of the village. The open space, which is actually common village land, is situated next to the Dalit houses. The health department asked the sarpanch of the village to remove the dirt from the place where it was being dumped.
This angered the upper castes, and a complete ban on keeping any contact with the Dalit families of the village was imposed. The Dalits are not being allowed to use the local flour mill to grind cereals; they can’t get their hair cut in the village; they can’t even get drinking water from the local village source. They must visit a neighouring village to fulfill their requirements. Thought a complaint has been lodged with the NHRC as also local government officials, the situation has not changed.
The Dalits of Rampar village of Muli taluka in Surendrangar district face a similar social boycott. Their only crime was, they tried performing puja in the local Meldi Mata temple, in whose construction they had also constructed. Now, the Dalits of the village cannot buy milk or vegetables or food items in the village shops, as they had “impured” the temple. A Rs 5,000 fine is in force on those who seek to “cooperate” with the Dalits in violation of the decision, arrived at by village elders belonging to non-Dalit castes. “While social boycott is on, the Gujarat government has been doggedly denying that any such thing exists in the village”, alleges activist Kantibhai Parmar.
A similar social boycott can be found to be existing in Jhaspar village in Padra taluka of Vadodara district, where the Dalits objected to a separate entrance and a separate sitting arrangement for them during a religious function, Navchandi Yagna. They also protested against paper dishes for food that was being served to them, while others were offered steel plates. “If you do not accept meal as is being offered, you are free to leave”, the Dalits were threatened. This made the Dalits to lodge a complaint with the local police, leading to beginning of social boycott against them. The Dalits are not only, not allowed to buy up anything from the village shops; they are not offered any work, too.
— Rajiv Shah