By Counterview Desk
Kadi taluka of Mehsana district in North Gujarat is considered a hotspot of caste-based discrimination against the Dalit community for quite some time now. With a population of 2.97 lakh, the taluka was declared as one of the most “caste sensitive” spots of Gujarat, taking into account the fact that caste relations have frequently acquired violent conflicts. Kadi town witnessed some of the worst anti-Dalit riots in 1995, when members of the high-caste Patels reportedly ransacked and torched Dalits’ shops and carts, brutally assaulting many of them. The arson continued for over four hours while the police and a minister, belonging to kadi, were mute witnesses. While the town has been quiet ever since the event took place, the taluka’s rural areas have lately seen increasing incidence of caste conflict, with Dalits facing the main brunt of attacks.
In the second week of May 2014, the Dalits of village Lunasan were forced to write to the district collector, Mehsana, that the higher caste persons in the village had barred them to access water from the village’s public bore, and that this kind of practice continued, they would have no other option but to migrate from the village. While the matter was finally resolved with intervention from officials in Gandhinagar, around the same time, during the marriage season, in several of the villages one witnessed furious high-caste resistance to Dalits taking out marriage processions. Instances galore of high-caste persons forcibly asking Dalit bridegrooms to get off of the mare they rode during marriage procession. The usual argument – especially forwarded by Rajputs – was Dalits, belonging to low caste, had “no right” to ride a horse or a mare. This was the privilege of Rajputs.
“In some of the villages, following altercations, high caste persons allowed Dalits’ marriage procession to pass through via public road, but in a few others Dalits continue to live in fear, and give in, saying they wanted to avoid conflict with the dominant caste groups”, says Bharat Parmar, a senior activist of Dalit rights NGO Navsarjan Trust, working in Kadi’s rural areas. “Wherever Dalits, apprehending attacks, approached Navsarjan Trust for help, we ensured police protection, and no unbecoming incident took place. But often this was not the case, one reason why the Dalits succumbed to high caste pressure. And if they did not succumb to pressure, they faced violent attack.”
Parmar regrets, what is particularly appalling is, the other backward class (OBC) Thakores are economically worse off than Dalits; even then they side with high caste Rajput Darbars in not allowing Dalits, for instance, to ride the mare during marriage procession. Former foot soldiers of the British or pre-Independence princely states, Thakores consider themselves as part of the warrior community, kshatriyas. To Thakores, like high caste Rajputs, sword remains the symbols of their strength. In fact, the resistance from Patels to Dalit assertion during ceremonies like marriage is not as strong as from the Rajput Darbars and Thakores. Many Patels have left to towns and their interest in village social fabric has “considerably shrunk”, Parmar points out.
Thus, on May 17, 2014, in village Sarsav, the OBC Thakores sided with high-caste Rajputs, Darbars, when the latter asked the Dalit bridegroom to step down from the mare. The Dalits had to oblige. Darbars, supported by Thakores, said they would allow marriage procession, even music, but “would certainly not allow the Dalit to ride the mare.” Earlier, on May 2, 2014, in Nagrasan village, while the marriage procession was still being carried out, the Darbars forced the Dalit bridegroom to alight from the mare. “Last year, apprehending conflict, the Dalits of Bavlu village approached Navsarjan Trust, as there were going to be two marriages in Dalit households. We called police as a measure for protection. After some hesitation, the protection was provided. The marriage processions passed by the main village street without any difficulty”, says Shantaben Senama, a Dalit rights activist from Kadi taluka, adding, “In village Kolad, just three kilometers sway, however, the Dalits were even refused marriage procession, as here no police protection could be obtained.”
If Senama is to be believed, resistance against caste discrimination has begun go take different forms in Kadi taluka’s rural areas. Thus, in village Vidaj, the barbers refused to allow Dalits to have haircut in their saloons under pressure from higher caste persons. In retaliation, the Dalits have stopped doing their traditional “job” of removing dead animals from the upper caste areas, which they were supposed to obligatorily perform earlier. In Khavad village, following protests by Dalits, the barbers were forced to put up boards saying there would be no caste discrimination in hair dressing. In Kherpur village, one of the worst violent attacks on Dalits took place in 2008 following Dalit youths’ participation in a garba dance festival. They were barred from entering the temple on common village plot. “After a long-drawn out campaign by Navsarjan Trust, after five years, on May 21, 2014, the Dalits were welcomed into the temples, and the atmosphere of conflict has ended”, Senama said.