Monday, June 27, 2016

Victim of feudal oppression in Gujarat, displaced Dalit saltpan workers neglected by government machinery

Kamiben tells her woe
By Pankti Jog*
“Pankhi eno malo mukine ave to eney vasamu lage chhe…ame to amara ghar-bar chhodine aavyahiie.. amne vasamu nahi lagtu hoy?” (Birds too miss their nests when they fly off… We had to leave our houses, our village... Imagine how much we must be missing it.)
An expression of pain and anger, these are the words of Kamiben, one of those belonging to the unfortunate 78 families, who were forcibly diplaced nine years ago from their native residence in Zinzuwada village, bordering the Little Rann of Kutch in Gujarat.
Even today, these families – which number 150 nine years later – live on a fallow government land in Patadi town, about 40 km from Zinzuwada. Waiting for justice, they are all Dalit salt farmers, who spend about eight months in the Little Rann, produce salt, and return to their irregular colony in Patadi for another four months.
Closed Dalit houses in Zinzuwada
A just-completed documentary film by Kamlesh Udasi narrates the struggle of these families, exposing the oppressive feudal face of “developed” Gujarat. An expert in development communications, Udasi earlier worked as a documentation professional at the Development and Communition Unit (DECU) of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), Ahmedabad.
The 47-minute documentary, titled “Shifting Shelters”, graphically shows how Zinzuwada village, dominated by the high caste Darbar community, with huge land holdings both in the village and the Little Rann, oppressed Dalits and other communities as salt farmers and agriculture labourers.
Oppressed and exploited by Darbars, Dalit communities staying here were forced to work in salt farms and agricultural fields free of cost. Women were sexually exploited, with no one dare open her or his mouth.
Following the demolition in 2013
The film captures the Dalits' struggle for resettlement in the open fallow land in Patadi belonging to the government. It shows how the local government reveue official, mamlatdar, with no written order, demolished their kaccha houses and huts in 2013.
They were told to shift their make-shift huts to another open plot of fallow land, saying later it would regularized. Reason? The mamlatdar is seen telling those who went to represent them that the government wants to make a stadium and a gymnasium at this spot.
“Stadium and gymnasium are also very important for people, isn’t it?”, the mamlatdar says.
The documentary seeks to question the government's agenda of development through short but important quotes and interviews, revealing the pinching truth that the poor are nowhere in the priority of the state officialdom. 
It brings out the local Darbar community's stronghold, how it enjoys unchallenged power in the area, with officials and police acting like puppets in its hands.
Working at a salt farm in Little Rann
“They exploited us for years, made us work free of cost. Women were also exploited. Eight year old children were killed. We dared not utter a word, or lodge complaint”, says one of the displaced persons.
Insists another, “When this became unbearable we were left with no option but to leave our native village. We don't want to return or look back. If the government does not want to give us alternative place, we would prefer to die rather than to go back again to Zinzuwada.”
The documentary depicts the status of their left over homes in native villages. The silence echoing surrounding the closed houses shows the terror that the higher caste feudal landlords have created on the Dalits.
It also shows how Bharat Somera, a fellow with the Agariya Heet Rakshak Manch, which works for the empowerment of traditional salt farmers, has played a crucial role in bringing confidence back to the displaced Dalits, motivating them to fight.
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*Senior activist, Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel, Ahmedabad

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