Thursday, August 08, 2013

In a somersault, Gujarat govt says it never wanted CEPT University to "review" NGO study on untouchability

Navsarjan report
By Rajiv Shah
In a complete about-turn, the Gujarat government has asserted that it never asked the CEPT University to review or refute an NGO study by Navsarjan Trust on wide prevalence of untouchability in Gujarat's rural areas. The NGO study titled "Understanding Untouchability", carried out in 2010, was based on a survey of about 1,600 villages. The statement is in total contrast to what the introduction to the CEPT report says -- that the state government had sponsored it in order to "review" the NGO study and find out if there was such wide prevalence of untouchability as the study claims. It is not known what has prompted the state government to make a change in its stance.
The statement -- issued to refute media reports that the CEPT report was meant to prove that the NGO study's findings on untouchability were unfounded -- also states that the CEPT University was merely asked "to suggest ways on how to remove caste discrimination in Gujarat". It says this despite the fact that several earlier government statements, including a government resolution (GR) issued two years ago, had all along been saying that the state government had asked the CEPT University to find out if the allegations of untouchability in the NGO study were correct.
The statement does not stop here. It simultaneously declares that allegations of untouchability in the NGO study -- which was carried out by a couple of world-class scholars hired by John F Kennedy Centre for Justice and Human Rights for Navsarjan Trust --are "misplaced", claiming, "The social justice and employment department sent its officials to several of the 1,589 villages where the NGO survey was carried out, and they found that the allegations of wide prevalence of untouchability are totally wrong."
While the statement does not say when did it send officials to 75 of these villages to find out the "truth" about untouchability, a top knowledgeable source has told www.counterview.net that "Dalits in several of the villages were forced to declare, on affidavit, that they did not face issues of untouchability in their village." The source said, "It did this taking advantage of the Gujarati version of the NGO report, 'Understanding Untouchability' -- Abhadcched ni Bhal -- which gives a profile of 75 villages to cite examples of untouchability in rural areas."
Interestingly, the CEPT University report -- running into 300 pages -- says that it report's findings are based on survey of five villages of Gujarat to "review" the NGO's untouchability study in 1,589 villages. Prepared by a team headed by Prof R Parthasarathy, a scholar known for his expertise on water resources, critics have wondered why was a senior sociologist not chosen for a "review" on untouchability in Gujarat. Notably, Parthasarathy's report sets aside issues of "discrimination" in villages (it does not even use the word untouchability) as a matter of "perceptions", continuing for generations.
No doubt, the CEPT report does give certain examples of caste discrimination in villages, as found visible during cultural functions, but believes that such differences exist even within families. It also finds such examples like refusal of Dalits entering into temples as something normal, born out of Dalits' own desire. And if Dalit youths do not participate in such functions as Navratri by mixing up with youths of other castes, this is because -- the report seeks to declare -- the Dalit elders wisely advise them not to do so to avoid any quarrel! In fact, the report even states that the Dalits are happy with their own festivals like Ambedkar Jayanti in the same way as upper caste people are happy with their own festivals!

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