By Rajiv Shah
His name is Dhaval Chopada. A smiling young face, whom I used to meet at the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), Ahmedabad. I believe it was several months ago, after he got married, and he “disappeared”. Never bothered to find out whether he had gone to some other NGO, or got an assignment elsewhere, I saw him suddenly rushing to me the other day with, smiling as always, “How are you, Rajivbhai?”
Oh! Where did you disappear?, I asked him, and he replied, he is with Arvind Khuman, a lawyer and social worker with CSJ in Amreli, Saurashtra, and is currently stationed in Rajula – “just 40 km from Una, where five Dalits of a family were lynched, an incident which shot into national fame”, he recalled. Who doesn’t know the incident? The Una movement that followed threw up Jignesh Mevani, a major Dalit leader from Gujarat. Currently, Mevani is an independent MLA, won with Congress support.
So what’s going on? I asked Chopada, a lean, thin, tall guy, who wore a trendy jean. Prompt came the answer: “Currently, we are looking into atrocities against Dalits. You know, it takes atrocity cases to come up in local courts about a year later after a first information report (FIR) is filed.” Why so? I queried. And his reply was straight: “The cops up there, especially the senior ones, are riddled with a strange bias: That atrocity cases are filed in order to blackmail upper caste people, to elicit money. I heard them as saying.”
But did he meet them? “Yes, we have tried to interact, yet they are adamant. They don’t want to change their bias. I have often found, they first try not to register the case at all, and after registering it, they take a lot of time to investigate. It takes considerable effort to list the case to the board.” Nothing unusual, I thought: The bias exists across the board among upper castes. The cops belonging to the upper castes are surely part of a society, where such a bias exists.
What else? I got curious. Chopada said: “We have been taking up widows’ cases as well. We ensured that a Koli (an Other Backward Class) widow gets her pension. We had helped her fill up the form, which was accepted way back in 2016. Yet, we found to our surprise, the pension payable to her under the Gujarat government scheme had still not begun being disbursed, even three years later.”
“So”, said he, “We filed a Right to Information (RTI) to find out what went wrong. We were told, in the reply, that the mamlatdar (the taluka level revenue official) had cleared this woman’s case. The papers were all intact. With the papers in hand, we approached the mamlatdar to ensure that the pension began being paid.”
According to Chopada, even after this, the pension wasn’t disbursed. “We approached the post master at the Rajula post office, which distributes the pension. He called for papers. He told us, they had already written to the widow that the mamlatdar had sent a wrong order for payment. We argued, the woman was illiterate, how could she know what was written in the order?”
I asked him: What went wrong in the order? Chopada said, “The post master was right. It was mamlatdar who was wrong. The order had sought to pay pension in accordance with an old government resolution (GR), which gave Rs 900, while the order should have been based on the new GR, which provides Rs 1,200 pension per month.”
He went on, pointing towards how the administration is so indifferent towards the underprivileged and deprived sections: “So, we decided to send a legal notice to one to mamlatdar and other to the post master, seeking answer as to was such a delay in the payment of pension. Things immediately moved. The widow received the pension of the last three years – Rs 36,000.”
I further wondered if there were more such widows, who had not received the pension, and he said, “We have identified five others, we are working them.”
This blog first appeared here