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Forcibly displaced from their village due of upper caste attacks, Gujarat agariyas face government wrath

One of the agariya houses destroyed by authorities
By Our Representative
The Agariya Hit Rakshak Manch (AHRM), an NGO working among the saltpan workers of the Little of Kutch in Gujarat, has strongly protested against a demolition drive carried out by the local administration against a settlement of 78 houses of agariyas bordering the Rann. In a statement, AHRM has said, “On December 27, 2013, the block revenue officer of Patadi taluka, district Surendrangar, got bulldozer and police to a demolish settlement of 78 agariyas. When people started lying down in front of the bulldozer, police forcefully made them sit in vehicles, and then started demolition.”
The statement said, the authorities cared little for women and children, even though they were screaming. “People called Bharatbhai, an AHRM activist, who immediately ran to the site, and intervened. Till that time, around 10 houses had already been demolished. Household items, ration, clothes, everything were turned into debris”, it added. The makeshift settlement of agariyas, which the authorities sought to demolish, had cropped up because they were forcibly displaced four years ago from their original place of living in Zinzuwada village, where they faced unprecedented atrocities at the hand an upper caste community.
“These 78 agariya families were residing in Zinzuwada village, dominated by the upper caste Darbar community. They were engaged in producing salt in the Little Rann of Kutch, a huge saline desert, for years. They used to face unprecedented atrocities at the hands of the Darbar community. Young girls and women were sexually abused. There were cases when some young boys from among the agariyas raised voice, and they were simply eliminated. Eight young boys were murdered over a span of five years before the agariyas were forcibly displaced. No cases have been registered”, the statement alleged.
This forced the agariya community to decide to leave the village. “They came at the block place, at Patadi town, and started residing in government wasteland. They have already communicated to the government about the situation. For the past three years, the Gujarat government, from time to time, has been giving false promises that the agariyas would be given housing plots. Nothing has happened. Their ration cards have not been transferred. They are being depriving them from getting ration for last four years”, the statement reads.
The “purpose” of the demolition of the agariya settlement, given by government officials, was that they were “encroachers on a land which has been allotted for some other purpose”, and which they must return”. Officials also want the agariyas to go back to their village, the statement points out, adding, “The agariyas are so terrified by the atrocities committed against them that they told the authorities that returning to their original place in the native village would mean unprecedented suffering. Hence, they would not go back, even if their new settlement was destroyed.”
The statement said, “Till date more than 50 representations have been done at various levels, including before the local MLA, the district collector, and the state and national human rights commission, yet nothing has happened. With no electricity, water facility, without proper housing, these families are staying in the wasteland. Last year two young boys died because of snake bite. There is government resolution (GR), dated June 6, 2003, for allotment of housing plots to nomadic and denotified tribes. However, government authorities could not complete formalities for providing houses to these agariyas for the four years.”
The statement concludes, “Women and children are terrified by the inhuman, insensitive act of government authorities, of demolishing houses without allotting any alternative site to them. The state government is obliged to provide shelter to every homeless family. However, here is a case where the government is taking pride in demolishing houses of agariyas.” It demanded the state government to immediate stop the demolition process, initiate the process of allotment of housing plots to agariyas families, who were forced to leave their native village, provide ration and voters ID card and water facilities.”

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