Though India became a republic in 1950, an important form of caste discrimination has continued till today, with every successive government refusing to do anything to bring about an end to it. Go to any rural area, and you will find that there will be a separate cemetery for Dalits in villages. At some places, the government has even provided funds to build separate cemetery structures for Dalits. An effort was made to understand the issue as it exists in Central Gujarat’s Kheda district. Right to information (RTI) applications were filed in the district collector’s office and the panchayat office of a village to find out what the reality was.
Social activist Ashok Rathod of Navsarjan Trust, which is working in the district, made an application in Kheda district collector’s offrice. The reply that he received revealed that separate cemeteries are in existence in 50 villages of eight blocks of Kheda district. A separate RTI application about this was filed in the gram panchayat of Moholel village of Kheda district. The reply received suggested a shocking reality – that there the government fund was used to build a seprate cemetery building for the Dalits in the region.
In the RTI reply, the panchayat official revealed that in all there are five cemeteries or graveyards in the village. One is for the general category Hindus. The second one is a graveyard for Muslims. A third one is for the Christian community. Apart from this, there are two other cemeteries — for the Rohit community and another for the Valmiki community. Both are Dalit communities belonging to the scheduled caste.
In 2012, the government provided a grant to build a cemetery for the Rohits of the village. The panchayat administration released the grant. The cemetery was contracted to be built about one kilometer away from the one that exists for the general category Hindus. An amount of Rs 1.52 lakh was set aside for the purpose.
Moholel is not the only village were separate grant was released for building cemetery for Dalits. In Kheda district, recently similar grants were released in Chalali, Vaso, Balasinor and Khambhali. Recently, a Dalit died in Vadadala village of Petlad taluka. His relatives were denied permission in the general category cemetery in the village. Hence, the body had to be taken to Petlad town for cremation.
A social welfare officer in Kheda district, who has worked as in charge, has told me, “Separate cemetery places for Dalits in villages are against the constitutional ethic of equality. These types of cemeteries, unfortunately, are created from government grant. This does not in any way solve the problem of unequal relationship between communities in villages.”
Developmental grants in each taluka are released following a meeting of the district-level planning committee. Proposals for grant come from talukas. The district planning committee consists of the member of Parliament (MP) of the area, the district collector, the district development officer, members of the legislatives assembly (MLAs), officials of the district who decide to give grant to the proposal for developmental work, and so on. Money for separate cemetery is released from the grant approved by this committee.
What is shocking is that the top district officialdom has not been aware of the issues involved with separate cemeteries in Kheda district. The district collector, who also happens to be district magistrate, has told me, “I have no information or data about separate cemetery places for Dalits in the district.” When the senior official was told that information about separate cemeteries was received in an RTI reply, the reply was, “Cemeteries have to be the same for every section of village population.”
The villages where Dalits have separate cemeteries in Kheda district:
- Matar taluka: Asamali, Radhu, Chandna, Limbasi, Khandhali, Radhvanaj, Traj
- Nadiad taluka: Vaso, Palana, Silod, Salun, Manghroli, Moholel, Pij, Karoli, Bamroli, Narsanda, Vadtal, Piaplata, Hathaj, Paldi
- Mahudha taluka: Alina, Mahisa, Baladi, Salani, Undara, Kadi, Sastapur, Kaithaj
- Thasara taluka: Mainpura, Chetarsumba, Vanoti, Padal, Manjipura, Kalsar
- Kathlal taluka: Anara, Lasundra, Ladvel, Panaji Muvada, Fagvel, Gogavada, Kaniyel
- Kapadvanj taluka: Telnar, Betavada, Dantali, Antroli, Malitadi
- Balasinor taluka: Takaria, Rajpur, Sutriya, Dev, Pandava, Bathla
- Mahemdabad taluka: Kahmbhal
*Social activist and journalist