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The 'untouchable' growth model

Last Updated : 30 July 2016, 18:34 IST
Last Updated : 30 July 2016, 18:34 IST

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Gujarat has about 36 lakh Dalits, 7% of the state’s population. With regard to the national population, the Schedule Castes (SC) of Gujarat account for 2.33%, ranking 14th. Ironically, 11 districts of Gujarat having the highest SC concentration have been declared “Dalit atrocity-sensitive”.

If you visit Gujarat, when you ask for water, don’t be surprised if you encounter the question “keva chho?” (What’s your caste?). On accepting a Dalit couple as inmates, water and milk, all donations were stopped to the Gandhi Ashram in the state, bringing it to near closure. Earlier, the Gandhi family was excommunicated for Mohandas Gandhi’s sin of travelling by sea to England for his studies. Gandhi could manage re-induction into his caste only on presentation of purification certificate from a Nasik temple.

B R Ambedkar, appointed military attaché to the State of Gaikwad after completing his studies from Columbia Grey’s Inn, was unable to rent a house as he was an “untouchable”. Humiliated by the derogatory treatment from fellow officers, he was forced to return home, shattered and humiliated. Even Maharaja Sayajirao Gaikwad was unable to help him.

The largest census on mapping prevalence of untouchability covering 1,569 villages and 98,000 respondents was conducted by Navsarjan in Gujarat (2006-10). The study examined 98 forms of caste discrimination. The key findings suggest: about 90% of villages barred Dalits from entering temples, 54% villages segregated Dalit children during midday meal and 64% villages discriminated against Dalit panchayat members and sarpanchs, often maintaining separate tea cups or not allowing them to occupy a chair.

In 2010, over 1,500 Dalit children were identified in Saurashtra to clean school urinals and toilets. I have seen a Dalit bank manager in Surendranagar being forced to drag his scooter from his home to the main road outside the village, en route to his office before he could mount it. I have witnessed rampant sexual exploitation of Dalit women in broad daylight in villages in 1980. History has witnessed the fight against caste discrimination and untouchability during the freedom movement, but not after independence. Unfortunately, the Dalit struggle for equality has been confined to mere atrocity and reservation.

How caste plays an important role in development is visible from the history of the Gujarat’s Patels, who are fighting for reservation at present. About 150 years ago, they were considered “shudras” and some communities did not accept water from them. Post-independence, the best implementation of land reforms was recorded, like in Kerala, in the state of Saurashtra, where under the chief ministership of U N Dhebar, Patels received 3.75 million acres of agricultural land, changing their status from tenants to landed farmers. Later, they monopolised the diesel engine industry, since tube-well irrigation was the sole source of irrigating farms. Many Patels migrated to Africa, England and the US and set up their business, becoming an important NRI community. Today, they control land, industry and political power, though they number less than 15% of Gujarat’s population.

The remaining parts of present day Gujarat, then part of Greater Bombay state, witnessed a reversal, the non-implementation of the land reforms where beneficiaries were Dalits and tribals. In 1960, after the formation of Gujarat, it was estimated that 3.75 million acres of agricultural land was made available for distribution to landless Dalit and tribal families, but the records show barely one-third of such land being distributed in 55 years. Further, whether such land has actually reached the beneficiaries is a big question.

Dalit beneficiaries

In 1995, Navsarjan identified 250 villages in Surendranagar district where Dalits did not have actual possession of about 6,000 acres of land, even when records noted their legal possession. It was only through the Gujarat High Court’s intervention and a struggle of eight years that Dalits finally became the beneficiaries of the land. At present, another PIL is pending before the high court demanding distribution of over 15,000 acres of land to the Dalits. During the BJP rule, the amendments came quickly in land policy, making it easier for the industry and the non-farmers to acquire agricultural land.

The land revenue code ensured that the land owned by the SCs and tribals was legally “inalienable”. Unfortunately, the development theory forced the amendments and most people who lost their small pieces of agricultural land to industry and non-farmers were Dalits and tribals. The Congress needs to take the blame for non-implementation, whereas the BJP should be held responsible for implementation of land reforms in favour of industry and non-farmers.

(The writer is a Dalit human rights activist of Gujarat)
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Published 30 July 2016, 18:34 IST

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