Thursday, May 29, 2014

Vibrant Gujarat: It took five years for Dalits to be finally allowed to enter village temple on public land

The temple priest with Dalit activists
By Our Representative
Under the “Gujarat model” of development, there is reason why Dalits being allowed entry into a public temple in a village dominated by high caste persons makes news. This is what happened in Kherpur village, barely 30 kiometres from the Gujarat capital, Gandhinagar. A few days ago, in May second week, Dalits, with 20 households in Kherpur in Kadi taluka of Mehsana district of North Gujarat, were finally allowed to enter into the local temple and pray, without any hindrance. It is the same village which saw high caste persons fatally attacking Dalit men, women and children as a “punishment” for forcing their way into the temple in 2008.
Led by Dalit rights NGO Navsarjan Trust chief Manjula Pradeep, the Dalits were not just welcomed in the village but even “offered” water personally by the temple priest, who had once opposed their entry. It took full five years for them to enter the temple without fear. In fact, not only were they allowed in, the priests of private temples belonging to non-Dalit communities – Patels, Rabaris, Prajapatis, Thakores and Devipujaks – sent a message Dalits were welcome in their temples, too. “A long and arduous struggle tells the saga of how this happened”, said Bharat S Parmar, a Navsarjan activist who was the chief campaigner for temple entry.
A village, many of whose Patel community members are non-resident Indians (NRIs) settled in the US, in 2008 a garba festival took place next to the temple, on the public land. Dalits youths participated in the song-and-dance function. A section of non-Dalits objected, and the festival was called off. The argument was, if Dalits participated in the function, NRIs wouldn’t agree to get their boys married with the “village daughters.” The next day, as a mark of protest, the Dalits decided to enter the temple, but they were refused entry.
Dalits prepare to enter into the temple
“A case under the anti-atrocities law was registered. The matter went to the court. Seven persons were sentenced to 100 months’ imprisonment by the Mehsana sessions court in a ruling in 2009. This inflamed the non-Dalits”, Parmar told Counterview. “Around the Diwali time, five members of a Dalit family, including two children, were going to their farm to till land in a bullock cart. They were fatally attacked. While one person’s one leg and one hand were broken, another person suffered head injury. One child fell unconscious.”
“One of the children, who ran away, reached the Dalit locality of the village and made hue and cry, the Dalits rushed to the spot. Ambulance was called. First the injured were shifted to the Civil Hospital in Kadi, but as the injury was very serious, they were shifted to Ahmedabad’s Civil Hospital. Later in the day, a Dalit elder was similarly fatally attacked. While Patels did not participate in the attack, we suspect a mischievous person among them instigated members of other castes”, Parmar said, adding, “Even the police refused to take complaint under section 307 (attempt to murder). Its FIR was registered under section 324 (voluntarily causing hurt).”
“Navsarjan took up the matter, taking things to not just to the court, but also held a well-attended rally of rural Dalits of the area on the public land of the village in solidarity with those who had been fatally attacked. Around 1,500 participated. Eight culprits were held and put behind bars. Even then, fear remained among Dalits, and they wouldn’t enter the temple. After constant consultations with village elders, especially Dalits, it was decided that on May 11 they would force their way into the temple. To our utter surprise, there was no resistance. Cops were called to ensure that there was untoward incident”, Parmar said.

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