Five days after six Dalit youngsters from Samadhaliya in Gujarat’s Una tehsil were flogged by members of a cow vigilante group, the victims’ relatives expressed fears that they will be evicted from the village by upper class “musclemen” once the spotlight moves away from them.
“Dalits have been forced to vacate their homes in the nearby villages. We don’t know what will happen once the police security is lifted and the TV crews go away,” said 20-year-old Jitubhai Sarowya, a final-year engineering student from the Bhavnagar-based Shantilal Shah Engineering College.
Sarowya’s concerns are echoed by NGOs working for Dalit rights too. “Over the last few years, many Dalit families have been forced to shift from villages to nearby shanty towns. Internal migration (of Dalits) is the highest in Gujarat when compared to other states,” said Manjula Pradeep of the Ahmedabad-based Nav Sarjan Trust.
According to a 2014 report published by the organisation, such migrations have occurred in 15 of the state’s 33 districts – including Ahmedabad and Banaskantha. It recorded 22 such cases between 2005 and 2014.
“The upward mobility of the new generation of Dalits and the corresponding reduction in the political/economic dominance of the upper castes are a major provocation for the recent rise in caste atrocities. The struggle for government jobs and land occupation has intensified due to the privatisation policy,” said sociologist Gaurang Jani.
“Upper caste leaders and villagers have been intensifying pressure on Dalits to vacate such land,” said Chandra Sinh Mahida of the Una-based Dalit Haq Raksha Ekta Mahasangha. “The Hindu vigilante groups here aren’t concerned about cows. They just want to grab land from Dalits.”
However, activists say it would be wrong to assume that only Dalits in rural areas suffer at the hands of the upper caste community. Even Dalit academicians and government officials in Gujarat’s urban areas have horror stories to relate.
In 2008, professor Pankaj Shrimali – a senate member of Gujarat University – was told by then vice chancellor Parimal Trivedi that he cannot continue as exam coordinator because of his caste. A shocked Shrimali filed a police complaint, and the case is still pending in court.
The professor told HT that though the law requires police action to be taken within a month, it got delayed by 1,370 days. “When something like this could happen to me, a gold-medallist in post-graduation with a PhD degree, imagine what somebody who does not know his rights has to face,” Shrimali said.
In another incident, the family of Amratbhai Makwana – a Dalit – was rendered homeless after one of his sons was pushed to his death from the second floor of their multi-storey residence in Vatva Jasodanagar allegedly by upper-caste men.
Although police registered a complaint and took action against the accused, Amratbhai and his family fear returning to their residence. “I still have a younger brother and a sister, but Mitesh – an IIT student – was the brightest among us. A lot has been lost already, and returning is a risk,” said Piyush, the deceased’s sibling.