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Gujarat Dalits: In 2006-13, 8,884 cases of violence; 18 killed every year. Minister says it's "not so bad"

By Darshan Desai*
These are no isolated cases in Gujarat…
>Gordhan Chauhan, 52, received a phone call at his Ahmedabad home in the afternoon of February 25 that his youngest brother Soma had fallen on the road and died of severe head injuries in their native village Kharad in Ahmedabad district’s Dhandhuka taluka (tehsil). On reaching there, along with relatives, he was aghast to find that Soma, somewhere in his mid-twenties, was murdered by an upper caste man and his goons.
Soma had fitted tiles at the residence of Jayubhai Chudasama, but he was not paid anything. He would not oblige despite several reminders and that day Soma Chauhan, who was a Dalit, again went to him demanding his remuneration. This enraged Chudasama, who spewed expletives at him with casteist insults and told him he has no right to ask for money from him.
As Soma answered back, Chudasama and his men roughed him up and dragged him on the street. When Soma fell down, Chudasama lifted a big stone and hit him. He fell unconscious and later died. Chudasama threatened his brother and relatives with the same fate if they reported the incident to the police.
>In September 2012, 27-year-old Lalji Sarvaiya of a Dalit family was burnt alive in Ankolali village of Junagadh district in Saurashtra region by village sarpanch and 11 others, accusing the youth of eloping with his upper caste daughter. Three Dalit families comprising 20 people ran away from the village following this incident, leaving all their belongings and vehicles behind. They have still not been able to return to their village and are living in Una town…
***
On an average, 18 Dalits were killed every year in Gujarat between 2006 and 2013 among 8,884 cases of violence against the community, and these are only those that are reported. What is more, according to a study by Navsarjan Trust that works among Dalits for over two decades, there are as many as 109 villages in the State where Dalits have to live under police protection after being attacked by members of the higher castes.
And here, too, the cops don’t stand guard near the colony of Dalits, which is usually at the end of the village, but among the houses of upper castes and enjoy their hospitality. They won’t touch a cup of tea or water offered by a Dalit.
“You might have heard these things to be common in States like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, but it is no different here in Gujarat though it may be called a progressive and developed State,” says Kantilal Parmar, who works for Navsarjan.
According to Parmar, violence against the community is only one aspect, there is rampant social and economic discrimination against Dalits in the State -- only a fraction of such instances are reported. There as many as 77 villages in 14 districts where Dalits are facing social boycott.
They are not allowed to enter temples, prevented from drawing water from the village wells, they are not hired in labour works, driven away from flour mills, their children are denied admissions to village schools -- these are only a few examples. Scores of people in many villages have had to migrate to other places because of persecution by the higher castes, he adds.
The situation is worse in the water-scarce parched regions of Saurashtra where Dalits are denied access to the already depleting water sources. Take Choki village in Surendranagar district where the water standposts providing Narmada waters at the Dalitvas (colony of Dalits) were destroyed by upper castes soon after they were installed in 2009. About 40 per cent of the 4,000 population of this village comprises the ‘lower castes.’ There is an old well in the Dalitvas but the water in it is contaminated.
“Just change the name of the place and the situation is the same in hundreds of villages in Saurashtra, especially in severely water-starved Surendranagar, Rajkot, Jamnagar and Amreli districts. It gets worse for Dalits since their houses are generally in low-lying areas where water supply is better than at places inhabited by upper caste members, who choke the pipelines leading to Dalitvas,” says a senior Dalit officer from the Gujarat Administrative Service cadre, pleading anonymity.
The stock reply of the Gujarat Water Supply and Sewerage Board officials to the villagers complaining about this is that while they would look into their grievances, the responsibility of water distribution lies with the village panchayats. “And the panchayats are controlled by the upper castes,” quips the official.

Minister's reaction

Despite rampant discrimination, the Gujarat Government’s official position is that the overall situation is not as bad as in other states. Says Social Justice and Welfare Minister Ramanlal Vora, the crimes against Scheduled Castes or Dalits are much less than the national average. “The number of crimes per one lakh population is 1.7 per cent in Gujarat as against the national rate of 2.8 per cent,” he says.
The State Government, according to him, is making all out effort to get justice for the Dalits besides their rehabilitation. His ministry says there is a vigilance and monitoring committee for Dalit issues right from the taluka level to the State level. While the taluka and district level committees meet every three months, the one at the State level chaired by the Chief Minister has its meetings twice a year.
The fact, however, is that the State-level vigilance committee has not met even once since September 2013.
---
*Senior journalist based in Ahmedabad

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