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Eerie quiet in North Gujarat village where Dalit groom was stopped from riding horse

The Dalit meet in Lhor village
By Rajiv Shah
As one reaches Lhor, one can sense an atmosphere of unease gripping one of the five villages where Dalit wedding processions was recently blocked by non-Dalits in this small medium-sized North Gujarat village, barely 30 kilometres off the seat of the state's political power centre, Gandhinagar. Despite punitive steps, the village remains as divided on caste lines, just it was before the incident which shot into prominence after May 6, when the bridegroom Mehul was not allowed to ride a horse in a wedding procession on the main village street.
Educated up to class 10th, the boy works in a high-profile Ahmedabad hospital, CIMS, as a helper. His father, Manubhai, told Counterview, “A social boycott call against Dalits was given from the village temple mike soon after the wedding procession. The open boycott continued for two days, and we were not allowed to buy goods from dominant caste people. The announcement for the social boycott was made on a temple mike.”
However, the Dalits of Lhor and neighbouring villages protested, and support came in from Dalit rights organizations like Navsarjan. On May 7 and 8, about 500 to 600 Dalits from neighbouring villages, including politicians such as deputy chief minister Nitin Patel, who belongs to the area, and his main Congress rival, Baldevji Thakore, visited the village to “support” the Dalits. The village sarpanch and the deputy sarpanch were arrested, and the open boycott stopped.
“Now at least we can buy goods at the local village without any problem”, said Manubhai. However, he indicated, an eerie quiet still prevails. Following the incident, there is still “no social interaction between Dalits and non-Dalits. None of them have visited our falia (locality).” Suggesting that there is no remorse for what the non-Dalits did, he added, “None of them have approached and told us that they are sorry for the incident.”
Martin Macwan addressing Dalit meet
This is echoed by other Dalit villagers, described as the type of untouchability prevailing in the vilage. One of them told said, “There is a barber’s shop in the village. We have to go Kadi if we have to get our hair cut. Dalits are not allowed to get their hair dressing done here. Nor are we allowed to enter into the two village temples. If we all try, we would be thrown out.”
With a population of 1,500, Lhor is in Mehsana district, situated between Kadi town and Thol bird sanctuary. Dominated by the other backward class (OBC) Thakore community, the other important communities in the village are of Brahmins and Muslims. Dalits form about 10% of the village population. Their houses are situated mainly at the other end of the village.
While the Thakores, to which community the sarpanch and the deputy sarpanch belong, took the lead in stopping the Dalit wedding procession, Brahmins and Muslims blacked them. Belonging to the Congress, both the elected office bearers of the village panchayat are finally out on bail after remaining behind the bars for a fortnight, and the court says, they are not allowed to enter into the village or even the village periphery.
“Police official Manjita Vanzara has done exemplary work by ensuring that these two persons do not disturb the village peace again”, said Navsarjan founder Marin Macwan, addressing a well-attended meeting called in Lhor to protest against the incident, which he termed as an example of untouchability prevailing in rural Gujarat.
Called besna or funeral ceremony of untouchability, the Dalit meet was attended by representatives from several Gujarat districts, including Banaskantha, Patan, Surendranagar, Bhavnagar, Gandhinagar, Ahmedabad, and Kheda. Held on an open plot belonging to a relatively well-off Dalit, who is also the owner of several buffaloes, the meeting ended with the announcement that similar “besnas” of untouchability would be held over the next 75 days in as many villages as possible.
“Seventy five days later, on August 15, the Independence Day, we would want Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani to announce Gujarat as untouchability free”, Macwan said, regretting, “Two years ago, we took out 60-km-long a rally from the Dalit Shakti Dendra in Sanand district to Gandhinagar, and sent across to him a one-line demand: To declare at least one village untouchability free. He has not replied so far.”
The meeting took place amidst heavy police presence. At least a dozen police vans and as many jeeps could be seen posted on narrow village streets. Every village corner, including the two temples, was guarded by a group of cops. State Reserve Police jawans with rifles in hand could be seen standing in ready condition at least at three different spots. None of the non-Dalits were seen roaming about on the village streets.

Comments

Madhu Menon said…
Gujarat villages practice untouchability is an open secret, people who highlight the development of the state by showing the good roads and canals filled water deliberately close their eyes towardsthe real developmental issues like atrocities committed against Dalits and lower caste communities, the condition of government schools and the growing practice of female foeticide. A long way to go to achieve the real goals of development
Uma said…
Yet the Dalit's voted for Modi.

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