Thursday, August 15, 2013

In a resurvey, Navsarjan counters Gujarat govt study claim that untouchability in state is a matter of perception

By Our Representative
In a scathing reply to the Gujarat government-sponsored study, “Impact of Caste Discrimination and Distinctions on Equal Opportunities: A Study of Gujarat”, carried out in five of Gujarat’s villages to “prove” that there is no wide-scale practice of untouchability in the state, a “resurvey” in the same five villages has found it prevails in all its manifestations.  Carried out by Navsarjan Trust, a state human rights organization, the “resurvey” says that in every walk of life – whether it is temple entry, social or cultural festivals, or access to basic necessities – untouchability is widely prevalent, something the government-supported study has sought to "undermine".
The government study was prepared by the prestigious CEPT University, Ahmedabad, under a team headed by Prof R Parthasarathy, in response to Navsarjan’s “untouchability census” in about 1,600 villages across the state, whose results were put out in 2010 in a report titled “Understanding Untouchability”. Alarmed by conclusions in “Understanding Untouchability”, the Gujarat government decided to “counter” it first by sending government officials to take “affidavits” from Dalits in a few villages to “prove” that Navsarjan report findings were “baseless”, and then sponsored a study by the CEPT University to “review” the realities of untouchability.
Interestingly, CEPT scholars preferred not to touch any of the 1,600 villages which were surveyed by Navsarjan; instead, in consultation with government officials, they just chose five villages. These were Khavda village in Kutch district, Kherva village in Surendranagar district, Nana Nesda village in Banaskantha district, Trasad village in Ahmedabad district, and Menpura in Kheda district. The CEPT study sought to undermine untouchability, saying caste discrimination as they found it prevailing in these villages was more a “matter of perception”, and if Dalits do not mix up with members of other communities during social functions, it was more a matter of choice.
Finding the argument atrocious, Navsarjan decided to send its team to each of the five villages, whose results have now been compiled in a fresh report. The “resurvey” report shows that in each of these villages, while Rohits, a Dalit sub-caste, alone are made to lift and dispose of when a cow or a buffalo dies, another sub-caste, Valimikis, are made to “remove” rest of the dead animals, including dogs and cats. A village-wise resurvey reveals there were variations, but untouchability prevailed in one form or the other in each of them, and the CEPT conclusions were biased.
 In Nava Nesda, the Dalits are asked to sit as a separate group  in village panchayat meetings and are served tea in a separate cup; Dalits are not allowed to enter the biggest temple of the village, Dudheshwar Mahadev; untouchability is practiced in several of the village shops, where if a Dalit touches some goods by mistake, the “touched” item is “purified” by sprinkling water; hair cutting saloons and a beauty parlour do not provide any service to Dalits; the local dairy does not provide milk to the Dalits; and there is discrimination against Valmikis in providing water in the village panchayat.
In Khavda, during social functions, the Dalits are made to sit separately for meal; in the village’s Swaminarayan Nagar, Dalits are not offered house on rent; the Dalits here too are not allowed to enter into any of the temples; and during such festivals like Navratri, Dalit youth are not allowed to play Garba with non-Dalits; they can at best see Garba being played, sitting in a distance.  In Menpura, which was declared by the Gujarat government as “Gokul gam” because of its excellent record in developmental activities, the Dalits are not allowed to fetch water from the common village well; they are not allowed to enter into the main Ramji temple;  they must sit separately and see Garba during Navratri, but not participate; during marriages the Dalits are not allowed to take out the ceremonial procession through the village streets; and the Dalit children in the primary school are not allowed to sit in the front rows, nor are they allowed to take part in cultural festivals.

In Trasad, a village not very away from Ahmedabad, the Dalits told the Navsarjan team that they were not aware of any CEPT scholars having visited their village to carry out a survey. The Navsarjan team was told that in 2009, the Dalits lodged a police complaint under the atrocities Act against the upper castes, who discriminated against them in the sitting arrangement during the Yagna ceremony in the Shiv temple. Despite the complaint, even today, things have not changed. Other forms of discrimination include provision of a separate cremation for the Dalits and not allowing participation in Garba during Navratri.  In the fifth village, Kherva, again, a similar type of discrimination was noticed.

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