Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Eight per cent of all right to information complaints in Gujarat relate to caste-based discrimination

By Our Representative
“Akkha gamna kaam thaay pan amara falia na koi kaam thata nathi”, Chitharbhai from one of the coastal villages in Gujarat complained over phone, pointing out that the authorities in the village, to which he belongs, have been discriminating against the Dalit colony while taking up public works. Bringing this to light, senior right to information activist, Pankti Jog has said, “This is one of the most common Dalit complaints I have received on my right to information (RTI) helpline, 9924085000.”
Jog, who runs Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel (MAGP), has said in a statement, “I usually guide those to make such complaints to seek copies of the budget whenever I get them, and expenses done by the village panchayat for different developmental works”, but the matter does not end here.
For instance, when she further told Chitharbhai, who is also a panchayat member, to approach the village panchayat chief and the chairman of social justice committee, he told her, “We are not allowed to sit in the panchayat body meeting. We only have to sign.” Jog added, “I helped him in drafting an RTI application. I guided him to draft application to seek copy of accounts, budgets, proceeding of panchayat body meeting. Yet he kept asking me, why this discrimination against them?”
Jog further said, “I finished my conversation with Chitharbhai but his questions were still echoing in my ears. Chitharbhai wanted to seek answers and accountability for social, economic and political injustice that he and his fellow residents from ‘Dalit Vas’ are facing for years.”
Jog pointed out that this forced her to look into her statistics of calls on RTI helpline. “There were in all 2.46 lakh calls and around 11,345 cases, which directly came to the Saturday Legal Clinic during the last eight years. Of these, 7.6 per cent or 19,558 cases related to discrimination on the basis of caste”, Jog says in a statement.
“Some of the issues related to discrimination raised through RTI are ration distribution, public distribution shops, getting water from the village pond or well, separate line for mid-day meals, separate pot in the staff room for water, derogatory anti-Dalit remarks, refusal to get a house in a good locality, refusal to be allowed to sit on chair in the village panchayat meeting, or refusal to attend ceremony to establish a village temple”, Jog says.
“I am not claiming that these issues were resolved once questioned under RTI. Sometimes there are counter-arguments that there is discrimination towards upper caste communities, too. But more important is, Dalits have begun to bravely use the RTI tool to raise these issues, demanding accountability”, she concludes.

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