Skip to main content

Banaskantha floods: Gujarat's rural rich used JCB machines to remove sludge, Dalits waited to hire tractors

By Martin Macwan*
As one drove down from village Baspa, about 15 km from Sami, to Radhanpur in North Gujarat, memories of the 2001 earthquake of Gujarat came alive. One could see that once again the human disaster was greater than the natural in the wake of the floods. Banas waters had washed away one side of the national highway. At a distance, minor Narmada-linked canals had swept like paper trash.
The maldharis had taken over one side of the road with their buffaloes as self-possessed shelter. A relief truck was flinging bundles of used clothes at the local people that eagerly waited for it. A pillion rider on a motorbike managed to fetch one such bundle of clothes and shoved it in an empty travel bag.
The highway from Radhanpur to Byavar had a great deal of police presence, as there were numerous politicians visiting the area. Village Runi in Kankrej area has a Jain temple, whose property spread is spread over 20 bighas of land, surrounded by a compound wall. Part of the wall had collapsed.
Across the road, opposite the temple, is the Dalit area, with living quarters of leather workers and scavengers. Most homes have one living room, barely eight feet by eight feet, with an open extension with an overhead roof serving as veranda.
Some people had managed to empty their homes of the sludge and sand that had filled the living room up to the ceiling. The water levels had risen in this area to about 13 feet from the ground. People had taken shelter on the top floor of the village co-operative society, or over the small terraces, braving the rains and winds for about 30 hours before the army reached them with some biscuits.
In a one room house with terrace, a young Dalit had lost all his post-graduate degree certificates. Two primary school children were found drying their books on the terrace, tarred with dirt and water.
The rich in the village had access to the JCB machines, as Dalits waited to hire tractors to dump away rotten grain, beddings and other soiled material from their quarters. The government did not pay them the rent for hiring the tractors.
The scavenger families were still stuck with their quarters filled with sludge, as many of the old people were unable to clear it themselves in the absence of their young children away as migrant labor force. An old woman had the assistance of her two son-in-laws, who had come specially to help their mother-in-law to clear her one-room home, as there was no other place for her today.
An old man was sitting in one corner. He had lost his buffalo. He earned his living by playing drum and making supda, the caste-based occupations.
Each Dalit family had lost an average of 800 kg of grain that they had stored, part of the community system of storing one year of ration for the family.
At the centre of the village under a tree lay a heap of used garments dumped by relief workers, as there were no takers. Some families of the Majirana community sat in the midst of an open land around the mud homes with bamboo roofs, which had tumbled on the ground. People in the village had never ever in the history of their life met with such tragedy. They said they were battered by the main Narmada canal.
At a distance, the canal was visible, it was unable to withstand the pressure of rising water levels. As per the people, wild weed gando baval trees have deep roots which have penetrated the base of the canal, weakening its lining.
A pucca cement-brick boundary wall, which Dalits had bargain from the village panchayat around their dwellings, constructed barely six months back, had collapsed, as it did not have deep foundations required and mandated by law.
In village Khariya, where at least 22 bodies were found from beneath the sand, the road had washed away at the end of the village. Several villages could be seen at a far distance, submerged in flood waters, accessible only by boat. The police and local volunteers were guarding the queue of people, whose homes were on the other side, waiting their turn to the two boats that were meant to ferry them.
Although their homes were flooded, all that the relief teams were focusing was on relief distribution. Large stack of mattresses were locked away in a room awaiting distribution. Relief teams had their flags on vehicles. The Khastriya-Thakor Sena and RSS were more visible.
Caste distinctions and prejudices seemed intact; they had refused to be washed away with flood waters. It wasn’t uncommon for those who were distributing relief asking for the caste of those seeking it.
During an animated conversation, Dalit rights activists Narendabhai, Mohanbhai and Kalpeshbhai of the village said, one class of people who have smile on their faces is the sand mafia. The Banas had brought along with it flood water multi-million tonnes of sand, which is already finding its way even to Ahmedabad construction sites.

*Founder, Navsarjan Trust, Ahmedabad. Pix: Tathya Macwan

Comments

TRENDING

'Flawed' argument: Gandhi had minimal role, naval mutinies alone led to Independence

Counterview Desk Reacting to a Counterview  story , "Rewiring history? Bose, not Gandhi, was real Father of Nation: British PM Attlee 'cited'" (January 26, 2016), an avid reader has forwarded  reaction  in the form of a  link , which carries the article "Did Atlee say Gandhi had minimal role in Independence? #FactCheck", published in the site satyagrahis.in. The satyagraha.in article seeks to debunk the view, reported in the Counterview story, taken by retired army officer GD Bakshi in his book, “Bose: An Indian Samurai”, which claims that Gandhiji had a minimal role to play in India's freedom struggle, and that it was Netaji who played the crucial role. We reproduce the satyagraha.in article here. Text: Nowadays it is said by many MK Gandhi critics that Clement Atlee made a statement in which he said Gandhi has ‘minimal’ role in India's independence and gave credit to naval mutinies and with this statement, they concluded the whole freedom struggle.

BSF should take full responsibility for death of 4 kids in West Bengal: Rights defender

By Kirity Roy*  One is deeply disturbed and appalled by the callous trench-digging by BSF in Chetnagachh village under Daspara Gram Panchayat, Chopra, North Dinajpur District, West Bengal that has claimed the lives of four children. Along the entire stretch of Indo-Bangladesh border of West Bengal instead of guarding the actual border delineated by the international border pillars, BSF builds fences and digs trenches well inside the Indian territory, passing through villages and encroaching on private lands, often without due clearance or consent. 

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

Don't agree on domestic subsidies, ensure food security at WTO meet: Farmer leaders

Counterview Desk  The Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers Movements (ICCFM), a top network of farmers’ organizations in India, in a letter to Piyush Goyal, Minister of Commerce and Industry, has asked him to “safeguard food security and sovereignty, even as ensuring peasants' rights" at the 13th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO MC 13), to take place from 26 to 29 February 2024 in Abu Dhabi.

Students, lawyers, professors detained in Delhi for demonstrating in support of farmers

By Our Representative  About 25 protestors, belonging to the civil rights network, Campaign Against State Repression (CASR), a coalition of over 40 organisations, were detained at Jantar Mantar for holding a demonstration in support of the farmers' stir on Friday. Those detained included students, lawyers and professors, including Prof Nandita Narain and Prof N Sachin. 

Social justice day amidst 'official neglect' of salt pan workers in Little Rann of Kutch

By Prerana Pamkar*  In India’s struggle for Independence, the Salt Satyagraha stands as a landmark movement and a powerful symbol of nonviolent resistance. Led by Mahatma Gandhi, countless determined citizens walked from Sabarmati Ashram to Dandi in Gujarat. However, the Gujarat which witnessed the power of the common Indian during the freedom struggle is now in the throes of another significant movement: this time it is seeking to free salt pan workers from untenable working conditions in the Little Rann of Kutch (LRK).

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Interpreting UAPA bail provisions: Is Supreme Court setting the clock back?

By Kavita Srivastava*, Dr V Suresh** The Supreme Court in its ruling on 7th February, 2024 in   `Gurvinder Singh v State of Punjab’ held that its own well-developed jurisprudence that "Bail is the rule and jail the exception" will not apply to those charged under the UAPA.

Jallianwala massacre: Why Indian govt hasn't ever officially sought apology from UK

By Manjari Chatterjee Miller*  The king of the Netherlands, Willem-Alexander, apologized in July 2023 for his ancestors’ role in the colonial slave trade. He is not alone in expressing remorse for past wrongs. In 2021, France returned 26 works of art seized by French colonial soldiers in Africa – the largest restitution France has ever made to a former colony. In the same year, Germany officially apologized for its 1904-08 genocide of the Herero and Nama people of Namibia and agreed to fund reconstruction and development projects in Namibia. .

Will Budget 2024 help empower city govts, make them India's growth engines?

By Soumyadip Chattopadhyay, Arjun Kumar* Cities in India are envisioned as engines of growth. Any meaningful long-term vision for India would be incomplete without planning for the cities and quite rightly, urbanization is considered as one of the country’s top developmental challenges. Realization of full potential of cities depends crucially on their ability to provide ‘enabling’ environment especially in terms of sustained provision of a wide range of urban infrastructure and services.