By Kantilal Ukabhai Parmar*
Justice HL Dattu, chairperson, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), has been asked to intervene immediately and take steps against human rights violation of scheduled caste people in Par village, Santalpur block, Patan district, where several Dalit families have been forced to migrate and is currently sitting in front of the Patan district collector’s office. At the same time, he has been asked to intervene in the social boycott currently going on against Dalits in Rantej village of Bechraji taluka in Mehsana district, and in Nandali village of Kheralu taluka of Mehsana district.
The dominant caste people of North Gujarat in these villages have been violently reacting to refusal of Dalits to pick up dead cattle for skinning, a caste-based occupation mainly restricted to the Rohit or Chamar sub-caste, following the gruesome Una incident, in which four Rohit youths were badly thrashed by cow vigilantes on July 11, 2016. Latest in the series is several Dalit families of Par village of Santalpur taluka of Patan district being forced to migrate to Patan town following their social boycott by dominant caste people.
Currently sitting in front of the district collector’s office in Patan, the Dalit families of Par village want an alternative site to live, because they feel, they will never be able to live peacefully with the dominant castes, especially Rajput Darbars. Those participating in the sit-in or dharna include women, children and old.
The forced migration to Patan town, significantly, happened a week after the social boycott of Dalits, begun in Randej village of Bechraji taluka in Mehsana district of Gujarat because of the same reason – refusal to pick up dead cattle. However, unlike Par village, the Dalits of Randej decided to fight back. They filed a first information report (FIR) with the police. However, this did not help, because the FIR was purposely kept weak, and no criminal case was registered against those responsible for social boycott.
This made Dalits to represent to the district collector, asking him to provide transport facility, cash dole to those who are unable to earn because of the social boycott, and ensure smooth distribution of milk and other daily needs from shops, especially the public distribution system. All this, the representation insists, should be done under police protection. The representation also demanded strict action against shopkeepers and those responsible for refusing to sell items of basic necessities. It also demanded alternative employment to the affected families.
The conflict in Randej village began following the dominant castes arranging for a separate sitting arrangement for Dalits during a temple ceremony, after which the community refused to have food at the afternoon feast organized by the temple managers. Objecting to this, dominant sections of the upper caste gave a call to socially boycott of Dalits, something that other villagers followed out of fear. A penalty of Rs 2,100 was imposed on all those who dared interact with Dalits.
Dalits do not get any essential commodities from the ration shop. No one would ply vehicles to the Dalit area. Shopkeepers refuse to sell milk, vegetables, and other commodities of daily needs. Dalit daily wagers are being refused jobs. This created a situation of food insecurity among Dalit families, especially children and women.
“We have been boycotted by the upper caste Hindus of the village,” said Mohanbhai Rathod, a member of Rantej village Panchyat. The Dalits refused to attend as they were asked to have meals separately some 50 feet away from the upper caste members. Besides social boycott the upper caste members have refused to retain us even as farm labourers,” said Amrut Rathod, a dalits community member from the village. There are several such instances where dalits from the village have been refused items of daily need.
Dalit woman Lilaben (52) from Rantej village had to come back without millet as the village shopkeeper refused to give her 2kg grain. Forty-eight-year-old Lalabhai Rathod was denied cooking oil. There are several such instances where dalits from the village have been refused items of daily need. “They have not just boycotted us socially but also imposed penalty of Rs 2,001 on whosoever in the village is found dealing with Dalits. Besides social boycott the upper caste members have refused to retain us even as farm labourers,” said Amrutbhai.
After filing a police complaint against eight people of the village under SC/ST Atrocity (prevention) Act, the villagers submitted a memorandum to district collector of Mehsana, who has assured the Dalits to solve the problem. DD Nayak, assistant social welfare officer at Mehsana, said that he along with his deputy director, sub-divisional magistrate Baucharaji, taluka development officer and police sub-inspector Bechraji, and others held a meeting with both groups and tried to solve issue. Rantej is located about 70 kilometers away from Vadnagar, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home is located.
A resident of Rantej, Hemlata Rathod, said that they were already fed up with years old system of discrimination. “We have been always given milk from a distance. They will not give us milk in hand. We have to place the money on the table. We are also not allowed entry in the temples. We are fed up and hence said no to separate arrangement to eat,” she says.
As for Nandali village, after an FIR against social boycott was registered, Dalits started facing more problems in getting things of daily consumption like milk, vegetables and grocery. Following the FIR, the villagers got together against the Dalits for going to the police and announced their social boycott. Upset over no arrest in connection with an FIR for their social boycott by the dominant upper caste communities, a group of Dalits from Nandali village in Mehsana submitted memoranda to the district collector and the superintendent of police, apprehending forced migration.
Human rights activist Kaushik Parmar, under whose leadership the memoranda was submitted, said, “Nandali is a village dominated by upper caste Darbar (Kshatriya) community. The FIR was filed against eight persons and some of them allegedly have influential links. Nandali is a village dominated by upper caste Darbar (Kshatriya) community. There are five-six Dalit families living in the village.”
According to Parmar, in April last year, one of the Dalits was beaten by a villager following which he had registered a complaint with concerned police station. Parmar said, “However, following this FIR, the villagers got together against the Dalits for going to the police and announced their social boycott. Even though FIR was registered in August last year, police have not made a single arrest in the case. At the same time, the harassment of the Dalit families has continued to such an extent that three families have already migrated to a neighbouring village. And the remaining Dalits are facing problem in even getting fodder for their five cows and have to go to neighbouring villages for the same.”
Against the backdrop of the three cases of social boycott, a demand has been put forward before the NHRC chairman that:
- The Government of Gujarat should declare those who have been forced to migrate out of their village as internally displace
- The accused should be immediately arrested
- Temporary shelter and food should be provided by the state government
- Interim relief should be provided to those who have suffered
- Compensation and rehabilitation should take place under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (PoA) Act, 1989, amended in 2015, and its 1995 rules
- A special prosecutor should be appointed to look into these cases
- Police protection should be provided to the victims
*Dallit rights activist