Skip to main content

Banaskantha floods: Gujarat's rural rich used JCB machines to remove sludge, as 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, HC

Comments

TRENDING

India under Modi among top 10 autocratizing nations, on verge of 'losing' democracy status

By Rajiv Shah
A new report, prepared by a top Swedish institute studying liberal democracy, has observed that there has been a sharp “dive in press freedom along with increasing repression of civil society in India associated with the current Hindu-nationalist regime of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.” The report places India among the top 10 countries that “have autocratized the most”. Other countries that have been identified for rolling towards autocracy are -- Hungary, Turkey, Poland, Serbia, Brazil, Mali, Thailand, Nicaragua and Zambia.

Savarkar 'criminally betrayed' Netaji and his INA by siding with the British rulers

By Shamsul Islam*
RSS-BJP rulers of India have been trying to show off as great fans of Netaji. But Indians must know what role ideological parents of today's RSS/BJP played against Netaji and Indian National Army (INA). The Hindu Mahasabha and RSS which always had prominent lawyers on their rolls made no attempt to defend the INA accused at Red Fort trials.

Border conflict? RBI nod India's 'brotherly' help to China internationalise its currency

By Bhabani Shankar Nayak*
In the middle of a global pandemic, China started an unprovoked border conflict with India. It unraveled trust deficit and ties between the two neighbours. As thousands of Chinese troops tried occupying Indian territory, the Narendra Modi-led BJP government directs the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to allow the Bank of China to start regular banking services in India. The Bank of China will now operate in India like any other commercial banks.

RSS supremo Deoras 'supported' Emergency, but Indira, Sanjay Gandhi 'didn't respond'

By Shamsul Islam*
National Emergency was imposed on the country by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on June 25-26, 1975, and it lasted for 19 months. This period is considered as ''dark times' for Indian democratic polity. Indira Gandhi claimed that due to Jaiprakash Narayan's call to the armed forces to disobey the 'illegal' orders of Congress rulers had created a situation of anarchy and there was danger to the existence of Indian Republic so there was no alternative but to impose Emergency under article 352 of the Constitution.

Letter to friends, mentors: Coming together of class, communal, corona viruses 'scary'

By Prof (Dr) Mansee Bal Bhargava*
COVID greetings from Ahmedabad to dear mentors and friends from around the world…
I hope you are keeping well and taking care of yourself besides caring for the people around you. I’m writing to learn how is the science and the society coping with the prevention and cure of the pandemic. I’m also writing to share the state of the corona virus that is further complicated with the long-standing class and communal viruses.

Clean chit to British rulers, Muslim League? Karnataka to have Veer Savarkar flyovers

By Shamsul Islam*
The BJP government of Karnataka led by BS Yediyurappa is going to honour Hindutva icon VD Savarkar by naming two of the newly built major flyovers in Bangalore and Mangalore after him. There was a huge uproar against this decision of the RSS-BJP government as many pro-Kannada organisations with opposition parties and liberal-secular organizations questioned the logic to ignore so many freedom fighters, social reformers and others from within the state.

Hurried nod to Western Ghat projects: 16 lakh Goans' water security 'jeopardised'

Counterview Desk
Taking strong exception to "virtual clearances" to eco-sensitive projects in the Western Ghats, the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) in a statement has said urged for a review of the four-lane highway, 400 KV transmission line and double tracking of the railway line through the Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary and Mollem National Park in Goa.

Disturbing signal? Reliance 'shifting focus' away from Indian petrochemical sector

By NS Venkataraman*
Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), a large Indian company, has expanded and grown in a spectacular manner during the last few decades, like of which no industrial group in India has performed before. RIL is now involved in multi various activities relating to petroleum refineries, petrochemicals, oil and gas exploration, coal bed methane, life sciences, retail business, communication network, (Jio platform) media/entertainment etc.

Case for nationalising India's healthcare system amidst 'strong' private control

Counterview Desk
A draft discussion note, prepared by Dr Maya Valecha, a Gujarat-based gynecologist and activist, sent to the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) as also a large number of activists, academics and professionals as an email alert, is all set to create a flutter among policy experts for its strong insistence on nationalizing India’s healthcare system.