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Gujarat Model

Claiming Caste Equality-II

Subhash Gatade

Arecent meeting organised in Ahmedabad where Dalits from different parts of the city came together to speak out against the "much-touted development model of the Gujarat government" tried to break the conspiracy of silence around this issue. A memorandum, bearing thumb impressions in blood of more than 1,000 dalits, was sent to the state's chief secretary. The memorandum titled 'Ek Awaz, Ek Morcha' highlights the dalit community's anguish against the state government's policies. Accusing the state's development model of being discriminatory in nature, especially against marginalized communities like dalits, it claimed that the Gujarat government has failed to provide a proper model for transformation of dalit lives.

Jignesh Mewani, a social activist, speaking on the occasion lambasted the government for propagating a lopsided development model which largely ignores dalit rights. Exposing the government which has given land to industries at throwaway prices instead of dalits who deserve it more, the memorandum has demanded land for dalits, tribals and OBCs under the Land Cealing Act and an official ban on manual scavenging and an end to the policy of giving jobs on contract.

Definitely one cannot expect that Narendra Modi or his fellow Sangh Pracharaks who are effectively, handling the campaign would sit up and take notice of this memorandum when they want the world to believe that 'Better Days Lie Ahead'. Hence it would be opportune here to look into newsclippings here and there and see for oneself how this model is unfolding itself in the lives of Dalits themselves.

Perhaps a tour of dalit locality of Padra in Vadodara—the same place from where Narendra Modi is contesting the elections for the Parliament—could be a good entry point.

A statue of Ambedkar stands relegated to Dalit quarters here.

It was 17 years ago, that the civic body had allowed its erection at a prominent place in the city but dominant caste groups scuttled the move by installing a statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in its place. The prevailing situation speaks a lot about the continued discrimination faced by the community in Gujarat. And it is not at all concealed. In every lane in Padra, one finds a footpath but there is none in the dalit area. Experience of untouchability in private homes and anganwadis is common. Socially, signs of discrimination are visible in skewed development activity.

On another plane, dalits of Padra could be considered 'lucky' ones from their community, as they can at least lay claim on Ambedkar's statue. Official reply to a RTI query states that since 2001, Gujarat government didn't allocate a single rupee to build statue in Dr Ambedkar's memory.

Kirit Rathod, a senior activist of the Navsarjan Trust, Ahmedabad—which has done a pioneering study on the widespread prevalence of Untouchability in Gujarat villages—had filed an RTI application to find out what exactly has the Gujarat government done to build Ambedkar Bhawans in each of the 225 talukas of Gujarat, as also all the 26 districts. In fact Gujarat government had made a big announcement to that effect way back in 2007, with an eye of the then state assembly polls in order to woo Dalit votes. The information sought by Kirit Rathod included how many of the Ambedkar Bhawans were constructed between 2001 and 2014, as also the amount spent for constructing the Bhawans. And the reply received by Rathod on April 9, 2014, was shocking to say the least. Forget 225 talukas and 26 districts, till date only 12 such Bhawans have been constructed so far. As for constructing statues in the memory of Dr Ambedkar, the Gujarat government told Rathod in the RTI reply, "No provision was made in the budget for the construction of statues."

This piece of information is significant, as the reply has come at a time when the Gujarat government has decided to build the world's highest statue, 182 metres high, in the memory of Sardar Patel at the cost of Rs 3,000 crore.

As far as denigration of Ambedkar in 'Modirashtra' is concerned, there is nothing surprising about it. It would not be an exaggeration to say that it is the essence of the weltanshauung (world view of RSS). In truth it had consistently opposed the very idea of a new Constitution for a newly independent India and had instead proposed that Manusmriti the same edict which has denied any human right to a majority of people—dalits, women and OBC—be accepted as independent India's very own Constitution. One can refer to the debates that took place then when Dr Ambedkar was made Chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Constitution and the way Hindutva right reacted at various levels. As an aside it may be added here that when attempts were made under the stewardship of Ambekdar and Nehru to grant limited rights to Hindu women in matters of inheritance and monogamy in the form of'Hindu Code Bill' all these self proclaimed champions of Hindu interests had opposed it with vehemence.

It is rightly said that the constitution drafted by Dr Ambedkar—with due help and support and consultations with other members of the drafting committee—had formally ended a few thousand-year-old 'rule' by Manu. As it is clearly left to themselves the Sanghis would have resurrected Manusmriti to a higher pedestal.

When Uma Bharati became Chief Minister of MP for a brief while she extolled Manusmriti on the floor of the house while enacting a law banning slaughter of cow. According to analysts it was the first time in independent India that Manusmriti was valorised while making law. It is now history how around twenty years back when another Pracharak-cum BJP leader named Bhairon Singh Shekhawat was holding reins of power in Rajasthan,, a statue of Manu in the Jaipur High Court premises was installed without any semblance of opposition from the people in power. As a side-story it may be added here that a statue of Ambekdar which was sitting there earlier was quietly shifted to a non-descript place.Dalit groups and other democratic rights organisations have organised movements to protest this valorisation of Manu but to no avail.

Denial of dalit rights or their stigmatisation is not limited at the level of statues or symbols. It rather overwhelms the material world.

Justice Balakrishnan, retired Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India, and at present Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) found himself out of his wits, when in a "open hearing" session on issues related to dalit atrocities in the state held in the city of Ahmedabad, capital of Gujarat, he heard stories of ongoing discrimination, deprivation and exclusion faced by the dalits. (14-15 May 2012) Contrary to his initial remarks while inaugurating the programme—wherein he had lauded the state government for its innovative schemes for the upliftment of dalits—the lifeworlds of the dalits presented a completely different picture. It also appeared that in its hurry to hold this open hearing, the Commission had not done its homework properly. A cursory glance at its own 2009 report would have made it clear to it that it had declared that Gujarat accounted for 3,813 coraplaints of human rights violation of the total of 94,559 cases from across the country, which was less than only Uttar Pradesh and Delhi. (Indian Express, 20th March 2009).

Complaints of non-cooperation of police in filing complaints, apathy of the government officials, lack of rehabilitation, poured in from dalits who had converged from different parts of Gujarat. A village official, Suresh Jadav, resident of Kundla village near Sanand, a dalit himself, narrated how he faced social boycott after a temple was built in his village in 2009. According to him like everyone else from the village they had contributed for the temple which was built on common land, but when the temple started functioning he was not allowed to offer puja and when he protested, his family faced social boycott.

In April a dalit family of Tajpur village of Sabarkantha district, 100 km from Ahmedabad, was targeted by other communities when it tried to take out a marriage procession. Despite police protection, the procession was attacked and stoned. "When it came to filing complaints, the local police sided with the upper castes," said dalit activist Sanjay Parmar.

A representative of Navsarjan, a voluntary organisation shared their survey of 1,589 villages wherein they found that of these 98 percent of the villages still practise untouchability. While the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, mandates a special court and a special public prosecutor to deal with atrocity cases, but the state government says that it does not have any money for this.

A suspended deputy superintendent of police, SK Makwan, told the judges how he was hounded by his seniors when he conducted inquiries into more than 1,000 cases of atrocities against dalits when he was posted as Deputy Superintendent of Police (atrocity) in Banaskantha district in 2006 and he was prevented from doing his duty or catch the accused.

The fact that the commission received more than 100 complaints on alleged police atrocities, particularly the police refusing to register their complaints, or showing total inaction in pursuing the cases after registering the complaints was definitely not good news for the powers that be although on its part it promptly refuted few of the complaints, but the damage to its well built image was already done. It was revealed that at least 77 villages in Gujarat have been forced to migrate due to social boycotts and the state has a very—low conviction rate—in atrocity cases in the state.

Close watchers of the situation would vouch that it was not for the first time that the plight of dalits and the seconday status 'enjoyed' by them in the model 'Hindu Rashtra' had come out in the open.

The Gujarat Earthquake in the year 2001 and the consequent relief and rehabilitation programme was an eyeopener to the outside world regarding the deep seated caste bias in the Gujarati community apart from the much talked about bias against the minorities.The organised genocide of Muslims in the year 2002 at the behest of the Sangh Parivar organisations which was aided and abetted by the people in power was another occasion when the travails and tribulations of the dalits came under further scrutiny.

One of the chief arenas where denial of justice to dalits is overtly visible is the legal arena. One finds that the rate of  conviction of cases under the Prevention of Atrocity Act against SC/ST in Gujarat is mere 2.5 percent while rate of acquittal is 97.5 percent. A 23-page confidential report submitted by the state Social Justice Department to the State Chief Secretary and legal departments provides glaring examples of'mishandling of cases registered under Prevention of Atrocities Act against SC/ST. (Express, Sep 15, 2006).

The report provides details of how cases are not investigated properly by the police and the hostile role played by public prosecutors during time of trials.

Schools of Discrimination
Some teachers force children from lower castes and minority religions to clean toilets and sit separately from their classmates as part of "persistent" discrimination in classrooms, a rights group said the other day.

Human Rights Watch said pupils from marginalised communities often dropped out of school and started working as labourers rather than face continued humiliation at the hands of teachers and principals.

The 77-page study on schools was compiled through interviews with more than 160 teachers, principals, parents and students in four states which have large populations of low-caste poor, indigenous tribals and Muslims.

What is common between all the non-granted schools in Gujarat whose number hovers around 3255 according to the website of the Gujarat State Secondary and Higher Secondary Education Board. A close study of these schools may reveal many similarities but the foremost thing over which they seem to be united is to violate the statutroy provisions of the Education act 1972. None of them follow these provisions of the Education act while it is mandatory for such schools to adhere to norm. End result, only handful of teachers from the scheduled communities in all these schools!

Under the provisions of the education act-1972, it is mandatory for all the granted and non-granted schools to abide by the reservation policy while making recruitments. And the rule says that if any school is found to be violating its provisions then its registration can be cancelled. Experience shows that the rule is openly flouted by the non-granted schools. Interestingly the state government has no qualms in accepting that they can't compel the schools to do it as they are not given any aid.

A report in Indian Express (Vadodara, May 26, 2008) shared a big expose about this ongoing scam where 'Government looks the other way as schools flout recruitment norms for teachers.' According to the social justice and empowerment department, which is supposed to supervise the implementation of the reservation policy, the simple reason for the statutory provisions of the act being not implemented is the absence of a roster reservation act.

Ghettos nontheless
The 'apartheid of a different kind' practised against the dalits is very much visible in the urban life at various levels. For a dalit finding a house in mixed localities is nearly impossible.

The general experience is that if a Dalit approaches a upper caste builder for accommodation, s/he is either directly discouraged or tacitly denied.It is immaterial even if the Dalit belongs to a sound economic background. For the builders and real estate agents, selling property to even one Dalit family in a society becomes detrimental to sales.

Perhaps it is a marker of the deeply entrenched Varna/caste mindset, which has supposedly received new lease of life after the 2002 carnage, one witnesses a unique trend in Ahmedabad where "only Dalit residential societies—around 300 of them" have come up in recent years. In a study done by the Express reporter he emphasised that it ".. not a matter of choice, but of compulsion." (A Dalit ? Go find a Dalit society, D P Bhattacharya Ahmedabad, June 17, 2007)"

"Even if a Dalit can afford a flat in areas dominated by the upper castes, they are often denied by the builders or the seller," retired IAS officer P K Valera, who lives in one such Dalit society in Ramdevnagar, says. Some social scientists say the alienation started since 1982, after the anti-reservation agitation, but agree that the caste and class distinctions have become more serious in recent years. This trend can be seen not only in the walled city but also in the posh areas of west Ahmedabad like Satellite, Vastrapur, Bodakdev, Ambavadi. Socio-political scientist Achyut Yagnik says,

"There are more than 300 Dalit societies in the city. In Chandkheda alone, there are 200 societies, most of which have come up after the 2002 riots when people moved out from Gomtipur, Bapunagar and Dani limda area. You will find construction contractors who only build Dalit societies."

If the live dalits have no place of dignity in 'Hindu Rashtra', one can just imagine the status of the dead.
It was the year 2001 when Naresh Solanki's two and half year old nephew died. The aggrieved family from Hooda village Palanpur block of Banaskantha district went and buried him in the community burial grounds. No sooner they reached home came the news that a Patel community member from the village had literally exhumed the body of the child with a tractor. For the powerful patels who had encroached on some part of land next to the burial ground had felt offended with the burial.

It needs to be emphasised here that all over Gujarat one finds thousands and thousands of boards put at prominent places by one of the affiliates of the Sangh Parivar that 'you are entering this or that locality of Hindu Rashtra' which is completely illegal and an open proclamation of 'secession' from the rest of the society.

Frontier
Vol. 46, No. 45, May 18 -24, 2014