By Counterview Desk
In 2009, Gujarat’s Dalit rights NGO Navsarjan Trust carried out a complete survey of 1,655 villages, involving nearly 98,000 persons, in order to identify despicable untouchability practices, prevailing in the “progressive” state so many years after Independence. While the survey may be an eye-opener for influential sections of society, a wake-up call to activists, experts and policy-makers, it went a big way in making Dalits aware of the need to bring about an end to untouchability practices in Gujarat’s rural areas. Following the survey, Navsarjan Trust activists intensified their fight against untouchability wherever they see it happen. And today, they proudly tell anecdotes how they were instrumental in bringing about an end to untouchability in a few villages, at least in public life.
Sanjay Atmaram Parmar, a senior activist of Navsarjan Trust, has given the instance of at least two villages, situated not very far off from Gujarat capital, Gandhinagar, where untouchability practices prevailed in public places in the past, but not anymore. Thanks to his and his team’s intervention, the Dalits of Dharisana and Jalundra Mota villages of Dahegam taluka of Gandhinagar district asserted against untouchability and discriminatory practices in a unique way.
Because of these activists’ intervention, for nearly three years now, dominant communities owning tea stalls and haircutting saloons do not discriminate against Dalits. In Dharisana, boards have been put up outside shops which say that there would be no caste-base discrimination in their shops.
Indeed, in Dharisana, outside tea stalls and haircutting saloons, one can read a board, which reads, “Tea and coffee are served in our hotel without any caste discrimination”, or “Haircutting and shaving is done in our shop without any caste discrimination”. “There are no more Ram Patras, as the separate cups for tea meant for Dalits were called before 2010 in Dharisana village”, recalls Parmar. “The situation is almost similar in Jalundra Mota village. In both these villages, Navsarjan activists played a major role in bringing in official intervention to end caste-based discrimination prevailing till 2010.”
In 2010, in Dharisana village, the village elders decided to hold a programme to provide meal to the village children as part of their spiritual pursuit. First they decided to hold the programme in the Ramji Temple. As place was found to be too small, they shifted the venue to the village school. While Dalit children were not called, a few of them reached there, and along with others began having. This angered the elders, who asked the Dalit children to leave the school premises, telling them that the programme was meant only for non-Dalit children. While a few of them left the spot, leaving utensils in the school, others ran away with utensils in hand.
Two Navsarjan activists, who had received training as paralegals, Hitesh Chavda and Govind Chavda, contacted Sanjay Parmar in order to find out what could be done to end such discrimination. They first approached the Dalit children who were having meal but were asked to leave. They gave exact details of what happened in the school premises. A larger meeting was called, where Dalits gave instances of how untouchability prevailed in daily life. Dalits were not allowed to enter into haircutting saloons. Nor were they allowed to perform rites in the Ramji Temple. The girls were told that they could perform their rites only outside the temple. They were not even allowed to drink water at the temple. This made the activists to decide to draft a memorandum and submit it to government officials.
A memorandum was drafted, containing five different types of untouchability practices prevailing in the village. It was resolved that there was a need to fight out untouchability. The memorandum was submitted to Gandhinagar district collector Sanjeev Kumar and district police chief Piyush Patel. Directions were issued to the deputy collector and social welfare department officials to do the needful. The sarpanch and other village elders were called to take stock of untouchability. If untouchability continued, there would be legal action, they were told. The elders agreed not to continue with discrimination. Boards were put up at various public places that there was no caste discrimination in the village. Officials monitored the situation for a month.
Jalundra Mota village
In Jalundra Mota village, also situated in Dahegam taluka of Gandhinagar district, Dalits were not invited for a function called to set up the village temple. Dalit youths, belonging to all three sub-castes of the scheduled cast, Vankar, Valmiki and Rohit, came together to voice their opposition. An application was prepared and handed over to the district collector and the district police chief. The village elders were called for discussion. They told the officials that they would allow Dalits to have meal separately in the temple. The Dalit youths considered this an insult, and insisted that they should be allowed to have meal with others. The officials threaten legal action. The village elders were forced to allow Dalits to have meal with the rest of the villagers. Today, no discrimination exists in the village.