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Uttar Pradesh Dalit boys feel more empowered than those from "model state" Gujarat, rest of India

Mayawati
By Rajiv Shah
A recent interaction by Counterview with around 50 Dalit youths off Ahmedabad suggested that Dalits from Uttar Pradesh feel relatively more empowered to fight against untouchability and caste discrimination compared to other states. In fact, the interaction showed that blatant discrimination against the Dalits may have become a thing of the past in that state.
Asit Ranjan from a village in Allahabad district, told Counterview during the two-hour session at the Dalit Shakti Kendra (DSK), about 12 kilometres away from the famous Tata Nano small car factory, that After Mayawati became Uttar Pradesh chief minister, Dalits higher castes dare not practice untouchability in distribution of water, or providing tea at the tea stall, or entering temple."
Added his colleague, Arvind Chaudhary from yet another village in the same district, "Earlier, the barber wouldn't entertain Dalits. But now things have changed. They dare not say no to us any more. We feel empowered."
The 50-odd boys had come to DSK to be trained in technical skill, though they were simultaneously provided with "empowerment skills." Well-known Dalit rights activist Martin Macwan, who runs DSK, told Counterview, "The boys are now virtual timebombs. Returning to their states, they will no more tolerate any form of caste discrimination."
The two UP bo writ large on their face, whether it was distribution of water, entry into the temple, getting haircut from the local barber, or constructing toilets. Around 50 of them had come all the way from different parts of India to be “empowered” at the Dalit Shakti Kendra (DSK), a unique institute about 20 kilometres south of Ahmedabad, set up by Dalit rights activist Martin Macwan more than a decade ago.
The boys had come from Uttarkhand, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, and Gujarat – most of them Dalits or Adaivasis – to learn technical skills and interact with Dalit rights activists on the need to stand up against discrimination. The six-month-long programme ended last week.
In sharp contrast to UP, in "model" Gujarat, things are different. Mehul Rathod from Savda village in Patdi taluka in North Gujarat said, “I was involved in doing painting work at the local Ramji temple. They told us it's God’s work, hence we shouldn’t charge any wages, though I managed to get my share. Now, we are not allowed into the temple.”
“This has happened”, he says, “despite the fact that the village has a Dalit Sarpanch, who has been a campaigner against illegal sand mining from the protected forest area of the Rann of Kutch, situated in the neighbourhood. He took out a rally against illegal mining. About 10 of us were beaten up. One of us was hospitalized. Later, there was a wider protest. Today, there is permanent police company posted in the village to maintain peace.”
Quite in line with this Gujarat boy, Babloo, from a small village in Dehradun district of Uttarakhand, said he faced "attacks" from dominant castes when they tried entering into the local temple. “We tried doing it by forming a group of 150. We were attacked. Police refused to take complaint. Even today, they threaten me”, he added.
Yet another youth hailing from a nearby village in the same district, Dinesh Jonsara, said, entry into the temple, situated in Lakshiyar town, is banned for Dalits even those who helped construct it. “My father was a mason. I helped him build the temple in 2009. The temple management was reluctant to even pay us, saying it was religious work. And after we built the temple, our entry is banned.”
In a quick survey, of the 50 boys who had gathered for interaction with Counterview, 20 said there were separate cups from “untouchables” at village tea stalls; 14 said temple entry was banned; 12 said, Dalits had separate cremation grounds in their villages; and 10 said they witnessed “violent attacks” on Dalits when they protested against an untouchability practice.
Ramsingh Sanehi from a rural area next to Pamgarh town in Chhattisgarh, said, the Dalits in the village from where he hails are not allowed to take water from the common water source, a well, when persons from the dominant castes are there. “We cannot touch their buckets. There have been police complaints, but things have not changed”, he said.
Making a similar complaint, Lalu Ravidas, who hails from Jharkhand’s Navadi village, about 26 km away from Bokaro Steel Plant, said, “Our children are made to sit separately in schools.” He added, as for toilets, “90 per cent of the households in the Dalit basti do not have them, with the government not providing the funds it had promised in order to build them.”
Jaiprakash Kol and Jitendra Kol, who is from separate villages in Riva district of Madhya Pradesh, complained that access to water, even from the handpump, was a problem, especially when an upper caste person was around. “There discrimination in disbursement of funds for building toilets, for getting work under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, in providing midday meal to children”, both of them said.

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