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Delayed rains in Gujarat: Official intervention sought to end anti-Dalit bias in sourcing drinking water

Exclusive well for Dalits in Panva
By Our Representative
While the officialdom seems worried about failure of rains in Gujarat, fresh information from the state’s rural areas suggest it is starting to affect the marginalized communities the most. A case in point is the plea to the Surendranagar district collector by a local women’s organization of Panva village, Patdi taluka of the district, seeking the top officialdom’s direct intervention to ensure that the Dalits get equal share of water supply. The Panva Mahila Adhikar Panch in its plea has alleged prevalence of untouchability practice against Dalit women in accessing water from the public well of the village.
Handed over to the district collector by a group of women under the leadership of Hansaben Rameshbhai Makwana, the representation said, the problem has become particularly “acute” as the Narmada canal-based water supply from the neighbouring Vanod village is available to Panva just once a fortnight. “There is an overhead tank”, the letter said, adding, “However, water is filled up in the tank once in 15 to 17 days. While water is available till the tank is emptied, it trickles down to the Dalit area just once in 15 days, that too for just 15-20 minutes, because it is situated in the remote corner of the village.”
Common well not allowed to Dalits to fetch
Pointing out that it forces villagers to heavily depend on the common village well, the letter said, “There are two wells in the village. One of them, from where the Dalits previously lifted water, has become unusable. In fact, the spot near it is being used to wash clothes, all the dirty water flows into it. The village panchayat has not cared to keep the well clean. Notorious elements have thrown dirt in into. It’s so dirty that it cannot be used for drinking purposes at all.” There are 52 Dalit households in the village with a population of 2,000.
As for the other public well, the representation said, it was traditionally used by the non-Dalits, and even today the Dalit women are not allowed to uplift water from it. “The Dalit women must wait for hours till the higher caste women lift water for them and pour it into their buckets. It is a clear case of untouchability practice and against the law. The dominant caste does not allow the Dalit women to fetch water from the public well because they believe that it would pollute the well. This kind of practice of discrimination is unacceptable.”
Hansaben Makwana handing over plea to end discrimination
“Even after 67 years of India’s independence, such untouchability practice continues, which is against the law. We demand that police make an on-the-spot inquiry about it, because our repeated requests to end the practice to the local officials has fallen on deaf ears. We also demand that those responsible for continuing untouchability in fetching water from the well should be punished under the anti-atrocities Act and other laws. As an immediate step, we should be allowed to use the public well”, the representation insisted.
Giving details, the letter said that the the Panva Mahila Adhikar Panch had earlier represented to Patdi taluka mamlatdar, taluka development officer, deputy collector, executive engineer, district health officer, Surendranagar, and others, “but none of these officials intervened in the matter. This is the reason that we want direct intervention by the district collector and the development officer. We believe that the local panchayat is directly responsible for encouraging the untouchability practice”, it insisted, adding, “The panchayat must immediately put up huge boards that the local well is available to all caste people.”

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