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Is watching garba a crime, ask kin of lynched Gujarat Dalit man

He was back from guard duty in Vadodara and went to the village temple to watch the local garba with his cousin, where a man slapped him for watching the performance.

india Updated: Oct 03, 2017 21:17 IST
Hiral Dave
Hiral Dave
Ahmedabad, Hindustan Times
Gujarat Dalit murder,Dalit killed,Garba
Jayesh’s father Bhailal and mother Madhu Solanki.(HT Photo)

He was good to guard a festival venue as people twirled and danced to the electronic beats of garba in Vadodara, 45km from his village.

But Jayesh Solanki, a 20-year-old Dalit labourer hired for a part-time security job in the city during the nine-day Navratri festivities, wasn’t considered socially fit to watch a garba gig in his own village.

A group of upper-caste men and a boy punched and kicked Solanki, and dealt a death blow by banging his head against a brick wall, apparently upset over his watching the annual event at a temple with his brother and confronting them when warned.

The murder happened around 4am on Sunday, the last day of the festival, in Bhandariya village of Gujarat’s Anand district. Police arrested eight suspects, all from an upper-caste community.

They allegedly believed Dalits have no right over garba, a traditional Gujarati folk dance and song, originally performed as a fertility ritual.

“Is watching garba a crime?” asked Prakash Solanki, the cousin who was with the slain young man. “He died protecting me,” he said, choking as he recalled the fateful event.

According to Prakash, his cousin was back from guard duty in Vadodara and both went to the village temple to watch the local garba, where a man, identified as Sanjay Patel, slapped him for watching the performance.

Solanki tried to stop Patel and said they were there “just like them to watch garba”.

“Sanjay probably did not like Jayesh’s firm reply. He hurled abuses and left … and returned with seven people, who thrashed Jayesh and banged his head against a wall,” Prakash said.

The teenager said they regularly went to garbas in the village, where girls from all communities sang and danced.

The suspects were charged with assault and murder, and cases were filed under the stringent anti-atrocity law for safeguarding scheduled tribes and castes. The adults were sent to jail, while the juvenile was remanded in a home for underage offenders.

Solanki’s grieving parents are cursing themselves for letting their son go to the village festival.

“If I had stopped Jayesh from going out after he returned home from his temporary job in Vadodara, he would have been with me today,” mother Madhuben said.

His 50-year-old father, Bhailal, is an agricultural labourer and the family depended on the son’s income to make ends meet.

Solanki’s murder brought back memories of last year’s Dalit flogging in Una, where self-appointed cattle protectors assaulted lower-caste people who make a living out of skinning dead cows.

The age-old caste divide and discrimination runs so deep that last week two young men were assaulted in Gandhinagar district for their moustaches, considered an upper-caste privilege.

The 20 Dalit families of Solanki’s village are determined to get justice to the family.

“We organised a meeting on Monday. The Anand collector visited us and handed a cheque of Rs 4 lakh as compensation,” Prakash said.

The administration had announced an ex gratia of Rs 8 lakh.

The village has around 100 Patel households and the Dalits rarely faced any discrimination, let alone fatal atrocities.

“Not all in the village treat us badly. There are Patels and Rajputs who are friendly. But we never interacted with the group that attacked us on Sunday,” Prakash said.

First Published: Oct 03, 2017 19:15 IST