Skip to main content

Gujarat's 10,000 Rann of Kutch saltpan families' voting right hangs fire as state assembly polls approach

The Rann of Kutch, Gujarat: A community gathering
By Pankti Jog*
Would Gujarat’s Rann of Kutch agariyas, or saltpan workers, who migrate, live and work on what has now come to be popularly known as Survey No Zero for six months starting with September, exercise their voting rights this December, when the state goes to polls?
While agariyas, a denotified tribe, have become more conscious and aware of the power of their vote, their livelihood option of working deep inside the Rann of Kutch forces them not to return to their villages, which are tens of kilometres way, to actually exercise the voting right. Not without reason, very few percentage of agariya population actually vote.
Two well-known NGOs, Agariya Heet Rakshak Manch (AHRM) and Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel (MAGP) recently made written representation to the chief electoral officer (CEO), Election Commission of India, Gujarat, requesting him to make some arrangements for the agariyas so that they could vote this time.
The CEO, however, has sent letter to the district electoral officer (DEO) of only one district, Surendranagar, asking the mapping of agariyas in the Rann, though they belong to three other districts – Patan, Morbi and Kutch. Yet, this was for the first time that electoral rolls were read out to mark agariyas in the Rann.
A virtual desert, from September onwards till April, over 50,000 people (8,000 to 10,000 families) reside in the Rann. They are involved in their traditional occupation – of farming crystal salt by extracting water from 40 to 110 ft depth, and spreading it in different pans. Salt pans are known as “agars”. On an average there are three voters per family.
The issue is: With the polls approaching, would similar circulars be expected for Patan, Morbi and Kutch districts? Agariya community leaders, associated with AHRM, have requested the election machinery to provide either transport facility or mobile polling booth in the Rann, especially for agariya women voters, to vote in a fair manner. Will it oblige?
Pankti Jog examining electoral list with agariya women
The families who migrate to the Survey No Zero (which is an un-surveyed triangular mud desert bearing 4992.53 sq km area lying between Surendrangar, Patan, Morbi and Kutch districts) are residents of over 107 villages of six blocks of the four districts. They migrate into the Rann of Kutch and reside at a distance that ranges from 20 to 70 km. 
Following efforts by the two NGOs and local activists, the government has started Rann-shalas, began supplying drinking water through tankers, and sending mobile health vans to this population. Male member of the family return to their villages once a month to buy grocery, but female members hardly get to visit their villages unless in case of health emergency. Bicycle is the only means of transport here.
Saltpan workers identify their names in electoral roll
Life in Survey No Zero is hard. The Rann, which is also Wild Ass Sanctuary, gets flooded during monsoon with waters from rivers like Banas, Rupenand Saraswati. On the other hand, saline water from the sea enters from the Maliya area, which is called as mouth of the Rann, turning this into a brackish water body, famous for prawn fishing. During this period, fishing activity is carried out by a denotified tribe called Miyana.
The planning of polling booths has begun for all the villages, towns and cities, yet most of the Survey No Zero remains out of reach. Should one expect that the agariyas would travel from up to 70 km distance to their respective villages on the polling day on their own, or allow some political party take advantage of the situation to send vehicles?
---
*With Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel

Comments

TRENDING

Political consensus? Celebrations, with over 5,000 plus post-vaccine deaths in India

By Rosamma Thomas*  As India fully vaccinated nearly 20% of its population and celebrated the “milestone” of administering one billion (100 crore) Covid-19 vaccine doses, it was time to remember those who died shortly after vaccination . By October 20, 2021 Twitter handle C400T, tracking deaths reported to have occurred after receiving the Covid-19 shot in India, updated the 5,134th death.

Is sacrilege charge against Punjab Dalits any different from Pak blasphemy cases?

Lakhbir Singh, his wife By Vidya Bhushan Rawat*  There is no doubt that Sikhism actually was a revolt against the Brahmanical system and superstition. Guru Granth Saheb is perhaps the only Holy Book which contains matters from different religions as well as those of various Sufi saints, including Kabir, Ravidas, Baba Farid and others. The aim of Sikhism was to create an egalitarian society, and, definitely, Punjab that way is far better than many other States in India, where violence against Dalits is rampant.

Billion vaccine doses? Devil is in details: 70% haven't got 2nd jab; numbers jacked up

By Prof Ujjwal K Chowdhury*  India has reached the one billion Covid-19 vaccinations milestone. It is indeed a great news and a big salute to the less paid ordinary health-workers in interiors of India for this feat. The government wants all of India's 944 million adults to get vaccinated this year. Around three-quarters of adults in the country of 1.3 billion people have had one shot and around 30 percent are fully vaccinated, the government says.

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.

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

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".

Uttarakhand, Kerala disaster due to policies favouring India's developmental mafia

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat*  Two of India’s most beautiful regions where thousands of people go to watch and feel the wonders of nature are suffering because of the extremely disastrous rains and floods. The pain that the rains brought to Kerala and Uttarakhand is a warning to all of us. It's nature’s warning to us to mend our ways.

Religious mobs replicate blasphemy laws, 'threatening' liberty in a free country

Nihangs, Lakhbir Singh By Ajit Singh*   A Dalit man, Lakhbir Singh, was mercilessly beaten up and lynched to death near farmers’ protest site in the State of Haryana allegedly by Nihang Sikhs. It was alleged that he committed blasphemy by desecrating the Holy Book Guru Granth Sahib.

How are Tripura Muslims responsible for attacks in Bangladesh?: 'Concerned' citizens

Counterview Desk  Calling it a “retaliation” of Bangladesh violence, several “concerned citizens”*, including Magsaysay award winning social activist and academic Sandeep Pandey and PV Rajagopal of the Sarvodaya Samaj, have said that the recent attacks on Muslim community in different areas of Tripura is a the reflection of “growing trend of using violence against another community.”

Shabana Azmi joins Pak physicist Hoodbhoy to condemn B'desh anti-minority violence

By Our Representative  Several well-known South Asian activists and public figures of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Maldives have expressed “deep distress” by the spate of violence and killings in Bangladesh on the occasion of Durga Puja and Vijayadashami. “Attacks on minorities are a sign of injustice and a matter of shame for any society and bring a bad name to the Government”, they said in a joint statement.