Making the best of the worst situation

Making the best of the worst situation

When the upper castes, angry over the “untouchables” entering the village temple for the first time in their lives, ordered boycott of the 15 families recently, little did they realise that the dalits would fight back unitedly.

Now these villagers of Muli block in Surendranagar have created their own, independent economy and are marching on in their journey towards self- reliance. The village, 220 km from Ahmedabad and 65 km from Surendranagar district headquarters, is home to 750 people belonging to 75 families of the Chualia Koli community, three of the Bharvad community and 14 of the Devipujak community, all OBCs. Besides, 15 families of Kadva Patels also live in the village. “Caste discrimination and untouchability have been dominant issues here,” social worker Romila Parmar said. “The upper caste grocers would hand us things from a distance and sprinkle water on our cash before accepting it," Ratan Chavda said. “They never treated us like humans,” she added.

But things changed when Navsarjan, a pan-Gujarat NGO working for dalits, organised a rally in Rampar village. “That day when the boycott was announced we symbolically burnt untouchability outside the village and entered the temple for the first time in our lives.

Earlier, even the thought was taboo,” Parshottam Chavda said.

The 15 families were faced with a hard time. But rather than capitulating, they decided to make redundant the existing system and put into its place an alternative supply mechanism. “So we sat down together and decided to have our own shops and a flour mill,” Parshottam said. “We approached the State Bank of India and got two loans worth Rs 50,000 each,” he added.

And now Parshottam sits in his grocery shop, his friend Kala Chavda operates a flour mill and Narayan Chavda has bought a rural tempo. “We don’t need the upper castes anymore,” says Parshottam.

But Gujarat Social Welfare Board Director P K Gadvi and Surendranagar District Collector Anupam Kumar denied reports of the boycott. The village elders also feigned their ignorance on the boycott issue.