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Gujarat Dalits' long wait for alternative land site for continuing hereditary occupation of tanning

By Our Representative
Six families belonging to the Rohit community, a Dalit sub-caste, making their living by removing dead animals and tanning leather retrieved from them, have been forced to approach Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel following official indifference to provide them with alternative piece of land, despite official nod, in order to continue with their hereditary occupation. Living in Wadhwan, a town 94 km west of Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s business capital, these families do their current tanning job on 300 sq metres plot under tremendous stress.
Subject to harassment and threats by the local, here they must not only “clean up” dead animals, but also extract bones and leathers, selling them cheap to the state’s big tanning factories and ceramic units. Worse, the land has already been officially “taken away” from them on influential persons’ insistence, which is what makes their demand for an alternative site even more legitimate, a representation to Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel said.
Representing the families, Hirabhai Ramabhai Chavda has complained that, originally, they were allocated 166.4 hectares of land by the Thakore Saheb of Wadhwan in 1943 at the place where the town’s state transport bus stand is now situated. Accusing them of causing nuisance, in 1976, they were allocated 300 sq metres of land, next to river Bhogavo. “However, pressure from the local people, who complained of nuisance from dead animals, led the district collector cancelled the order in 2012, and instead decided to give us two acres of land outside the township”, Chavda said.
“Ever since the order to return the 300 sq metres of land – 50 sq metres each to the six families – we have been constantly under stress”, Chavda said, adding, “Despite repeated representations at different levels, including in Sachivalaya, Gandhinagar, we have not been able to get a viable location to continue with our occupation. Every time a plot of land is allocated, the local people oppose it, and say that our occupation requires using dead animals, leading to bad smell and filth littered around all around, hence the land should not be allocated in their neighbourhood.”
At least thrice the allocation of land to the Rohit families has been cancelled. “In one case, the mahant of the local Swaminarayan temple in the town opposed the allocation, citing filth in the neighbourhood as the reason, even though the land was allocated outside the town, on a fallow land”, Chavda said, adding, “The allocation was cancelled after we set up infrastructure, a wall was built, and a few sheds were set up. All this caused us immense hardship and loss. We have approached Sachivalaya officials in Gandhinagar thrice to bring about a solution to our problem, but to no avail.”
“The latest argument we hear from the officialdom”, said Chavda, “is that common grazing land cannot be allocated for our work. One can come and examine the spot where the land was allocated last. It is of no use for cattle grazing. It is wasteland. We fail to understand what is coming in the way in physically handing over the land to us. Recently, grazing land was allocated in Deesa in Banskantha district, to Dalits from Dhada village They were allocated from common land in Sodapur village. How can there be two different standards for allocation of land?”
“The spot where the Rohits currently do their work, on the 300 sq metres land next to the river, a Kanti Cotton Mills used to operate in the neighbourhood”, Chavda said, adding, “Currently, the mill compound has been occupied by influential persons, who harass us, do not allow us to continue with our occupation, often stop us on road and tell us not to use the plot for tanning and making powder out of the bones of dead animals as raw material for bigger units. We are threatened. We request you to allocate the two acres land set aside for us, so that we could shift there and continue our occupation peacefully, without causing trouble to anyone.”

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