Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2014 > Know Your NaMo: Dalits in Search of ‘Gujarat Model

Mainstream, VOL52, No. 22, May 24, 2014

Know Your NaMo: Dalits in Search of ‘Gujarat Model

Friday 23 May 2014, by Subhash Gatade

This article came to us a month ago but could not be used earlier due to space constraints.

Narendra Modi, the Pracharak who wants to become the PM, is a man of many contradictions. He promises to end corruption but does not appoint a Lokyukta for more than a decade, retains Ministers in his Cabinet convicted by the courts for their acts of commission and ommission.

He lectures the world about women’s rights glossing over the fact that he has quietly abandoned his wife, even refused to acknowledge his marital status.

He tells people that he has also been a ‘victim of untouchability’ but does not stop glorifying ‘manual scavenging’ and presents it as ‘spiritual experience’ in his book ‘Karmyog’.

He prophesises that ’21 st century would a Dalit century’ in a public meeting but immediately dashes to Tamilnadu to forge an electoral lliance with a party which draws strength from organised violence against
Dalits.

It is true that for a layperson the great hiatus between what Modi claims and what he does is not clear. Thanks to the corporate controlled media which has consistently avoided any scrutiny of his ideas and actions and his long association with RSS—the Hindu supremacist organisation—a very sanitised image of him is slowly being normalised.
It is high time that the real Modi is made to ‘stand up’.
In the following pages our attempt is not to undertake this task which is being taken up by more and more capable people with renewed energy and vigour, rather our aim is modest. We intend to look at the State of Gujarat itself and see for oneself the situation of Dalits in a ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ led by him since the last 13 years, a question which has largely remained unanswered all these years.
1.
Not a Single Rupee since 2001 to Build Ambedkar’s Statue

A recent 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 1000 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 marginalised 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 Sealing Act, 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 us to believe that ‘Better Days Lie Ahead’. Hence it would be opportune 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 the Dalit locality of Padra in Vadodara—the same place from where Narendra Modi is contesting the elections for Parliament—could be a good entry point.

A statue of Ambedkar stands relegated to the 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 develop-ment activity.

On another plane, Dalits of Padra could be considered the ‘lucky’ ones from their community, as they can at least lay claim on Ambedkar’s statue. Official reply to a RTI query tells us that since 2001, the 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 the Gujarat Government has done to build Ambedkar Bhawans in each of the 225 talukas of Gujarat, as also all the 26 districts. In fact the 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 the 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. 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 3000 crores.

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 (worldview) of the RSS. A trip down memory lane tells us how 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 OBCs—be accepted as independent India’s very own Constitution. One can refer to the debates that took place then when Dr Ambedkar was made the Chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Constitution and the way the 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 the ‘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 from and consultations with other members of the Drafting Committee—had formally ended a few thousand year old ‘rule’ by Manu. As it is clear left to themselves the Sanghis would have resurrected Manusmriti and elevated it to a higher pedestal.

When Uma Bharati became the Chief Minister of MP for a brief while, she extolled Manusmriti on the floor of the House while enacting a law banning slaughter of cows. According to analysts, it was the first time in independent India that Manusmriti was valorised while making a law. It is now history how around twenty years back when another Pracharak-cum-BJP leader, named Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, was holding the 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 sidestory 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.

2. Public Hearing of Private Grief

…27 of the 30 complaints that were addressed to the Commission spoke of indifference of police officials towards Dalits. These issues were raised immediately after NHRC Chairman K.G. Balakrishnan praised the status of Scheduled Castes (SC) in Gujarat. He said the State’s schemes for development of the marginalised are working well and penetration of education among Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes has reached 70 per cent. Almost all Dalits and their leaders present in the audience were not in agreement with this statement. [DNA, http://www.dnaindia.com/ahmedabad/report-dalits-demur-complain-against-gujarat-police-1688975]

Justice Balakrishnan, the retired Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India, and at present the Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), found himself out of his wits, when in an “open hearing” session on issues related to Dalit atrocities in the State held in the city of Ahmedabad, the capital of Gujarat, he heard stories of ongoing discrimination, deprivation and exclusion faced by the Dalits. (May 14-15, 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 3813 complaints of human rights violation of the total of 94,559 cases from across the country, which was less than only Uttar Pradesh and Delhi. (The Indian Express, March 20, 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 1589 villages wherein they found that of these 98 per cent 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 cases of atrocity, the State Government says that it does not have any money for this.

A suspended Deputy Superintendent of Police, S.K. Makwan, told the judges how he was hounded by his seniors when he conducted inquiries into more that 1000 cases of atrocities against Dalits when he was posted as the Deputy Superintendent of Police (Atrocity) in Banas-kantha district in 2006 and he was prevented from doing his duty or catch the accused.

A mere perusal of the newspaper reports focussing on the open hearing made it clear that the NHRC had to bite its words to really convey what it heard from victims and also do a lot of explaining over its claims that ‘..[f]uture of the SC community seems to be fairly good in Gujarat as compared to many other States.”

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 a few of the complaints, but the damage to its well-built image was already done. It was revealed that residents of 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.

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.

3. Atrocious Ignorance of a Chief Minister

ON April 16, 2004, a question was asked to Chief Minister Modi in the Gujarat Legislative Assembly: “Honorable Chief Minister [Home] may oblige us to tell: is it true that the DSP is responsible for the appointment of an officer not below the rank of DySP as investigating officer in the offences under the Atrocities Act? The answer of our Chief Minister was shocking. He said: “No, but there is a provision under rule 7 (1) of SC/ST act, 1995 to appoint officers not above the rank of DySP to inquire into all cases booked under Atrocities Act. It is not the responsibility of DSP.”
“The officer not above the rank of DySP” means he may be a PSI or PI and in most of the atrocities cases courts acquit the accused because the investigation officer is either PSI or PI. (http://dalitrightsgujarat.blogspot.in/2012/11/atrocious-ignorance-of-chief-minister.html)

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 the Dalits is overtly visible is the legal arena. One finds that the rate of of conviction of cases under the Prevention of Atrocity Act against SCs/STs in Gujarat is mere 2.5 per cent while the rate of acquittal is 97.5 per cent. 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’s/ST’s. (The Indian Express, September 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 the time of trials.
• The Act clearly stipulates that offences which are registered under this Act cannot be investigated by an officer below the rank of DySP but more than 4000 such cases have been investigated by Police Inspector or Police Sub-Inspector.
• Acquittal of the perpetrator because victim not identified as a member of the SC or ST community. Reason: not attaching caste certificate of the victim with the case papers.

• Public prosecutors’ false claims before the courts that the Act has been modified by the State Government altough it is known that it is a Central Act.
• Granting of anticipatory bails although there is no such provision in the Act. Interestingly, the Parliamentary Committee on SC and ST Affairs had also expressed concern over such antici-patory bails granted ‘in atrocity cases in the State of Gujarat’.

In fact a detailed and systematic study of 400 judgements done by Vajibhai Patel, Secretary of Council for Social Justice (March 2005, Year 11, No.106, www.sabrang.com), compelled the government to work on this 23-page report. This report tells us that utterly negligent police investigation at both the higher and lower levels coupled with a distinctly hostile role played by the public prosecutors is the main reason for the collapse of cases filed under the Atrocities Act. It is worth noting that Patel has meticulously documented these judgements delivered under this Act since April 1, 1995 in the Special Atrocity Courts set up in 16 districts of the State. The study also blasts the common perception that the inefficacy of this law is due to false complaints being lodged or compromises between the parties, because in actuality it is a complicit State that has rendered the Act toothless.

The National Crime Records Bureau had made an observation a few years back; this went unnoticed then. Coming to atrocities against Dalits, Gujarat ranks third in the country after UP and Bihar. (The Asian Age, April 11, 2003) Its earlier record also revealed a distrubing picture of ‘Vibrant Gujarat’. According to its 1998 report, the total number of atrocities against Dalits in the country was 25,617. Of these, 8894 cases were registered in Gujarat alone.

But when it came to taking steps to check offences against the SCs and STs-the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party)-led government in the State did nothing. The special Dalit Courts envisaged in all districts under the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989 were still not a reality. Out of 26 districts of Gujarat, only 10 have been provided with special courts, although none of these 10 courts accord special status to Dalit issues, according to Dalit activists. (same ref.)

The ‘Report on Prevention of Atrocities against SCs’, prepared by NHRC (2004), had presented details of the way in which the ‘civil society’ presents itself vis-a-vis Dalits:

• Civil society becomes a distinct beneficiary of the caste-based order and it helps perpetuate the existing unequal social reactions and frustrates attempts to democratise the society because through the customary arrangements the dominant classes are assured of social control over people who can continue to abide by their commands without any protest.
• In fact it represents the deep divide in social values, where people themselves wish to enjoy all rigths and privileges which a democratic liberal society offers them but are vehemently opposed to their being granted to the Scheduled Castes.

• Civil society effectively undermines the authority of the state by obstructing the effectuation of rights and entitlements to all citizens and attempting to perpetuate caste-based inequalities, indignities and violence against SCs.

• Civil society reflects a deep seated ambivalence between obscurantism and modernity.

The absence of justice despite the longwinding legal machinery and plethora of laws reflects how the society at large views the Dalits and has scant regard for its rights, namely. It is evident in the way in which Dalits are denied burial places, or compelled to live in modern ghettos or denied benefits of affirmative action programmes.

5. 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 recently.

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. (http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/children-suffer-discrimination-in-classroom-report/article1-1210953.aspx)

What is common between all the non-granted schools in Gujarat whose numbers hover around 3255, according to the website of the Gujarat State Secondary and Higher Secondary Education Board. A close study of these schools reveal many similarities but the foremost issue 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 norms. End results: only a 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 The 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 Empower-ment 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.

A question naturally arises: why has the state still not deemed it necessary to take effective steps to stop such malpractice?

In fact, a Right to Information (RTI) application filed by a leading social worker of Gujarat enquiring about the number of teachers who have been recruited by the non-granted schools under the reservation policy, led to this expose of details.Expressing concern over the state of affairs, the social worker raised two demands:

• Cancelling the registration of errant schools and
• Punishing the officers who have been responsible for getting the policy implemented.

It needs no underlining that his demand was pushed under the carpet.
It is common knowledge that while the seats reserved for class IV employees are duly filled with eligible candidates, once you move up the hierarchy one finds non-fulfilment of the quota meant for them.

6. Ghettos Nonetheless

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 an 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 a 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 is “..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 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-a-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 had they reached their 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 has been more than eleven years that the incident took place, the Dalits of Hooda village are still waiting for allotment of some land for burial from the Collector and the village panchayat since then, but to no avail. It was only last year that when one community elder died, the Dalits had to carry his body to another village, where fortunately Dalits had a separate graveyard.

But can it be said that the problem of no land even for burials is limited to Hooda or is it a Statewide phenomenon? A report carried by ‘Mail Today’ in the first week of February 2009 had thrown light on the issue. It tells us that Dalits are not allowed to use common burial grounds and are often forced to use a part of wasteland near the villages as burial grounds. Absence of any legal entitlement forces them to be pushed out of such lands by the dominant upper castes.

A survey conducted by the Gujarat Rajya Grampanchayat Samajik Nyay Samiti Manch found out that

[o]ut of 657 villages in Gujarat, 397 villages do not have any designated land alloted for burial for Dalits. Out of the 260 villages where land has been formally allotted, 94 have seen encroachments by the dominant castes and in 26 villages it is a lowlying area and therefore the ground gets waterlogged.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that when the question of burying the deads comes up, Dalits share a strange commonality with the Muslims. Muslims share similar predicament when they find their graveyards getting encroached by the dominant classes.

7. Ambedkar’s Prognosis

ONE can go on belching out statistics about the Dalits’ situation as it exists in the first ‘Hindu Rashtra’ in secular-democratic India. Definitely our aim here is not to present a data bank on this theme.
Our main concern is to bring forth the situation of the Dalits in Gujarat as it exists today and bring forth their continued marginalisation.

We also want to raise the question as to why the near secondary status granted to the Dalits has not become an important issue in the anti-communal movement.

Thirdly, we want to understand why a section of Dalits still feels enamoured about Hindutva, can it be said to be sign of its upward mobility within the Hindu religion or is it a marker of the hatred it had accumulated vis-a-vis the minority communities and is getting ready to play out the Hindutva agenda on its own also.

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.

At this juncture one thinks of Ambedkar’s prognosis vis-a-vis Hindu Rajya. In his book ‘Pakistan or Partition of India; written before the partition of India, he clearly prophesises:

If Hindu Raj becomes a reality then it would be the greatest menace to this country. Whatever Hindus may say, actually it does not make a difference that Hinduism is a danger to Independence, Equality and Brotherhood. Thus it is an enemy of democracy. We should make all out efforts to stop Hindu Raj from becoming a reality. (Pakistan or Partition of India, page 358)
Is anybody listening?

Subhash Gatade is a writer and Left activist who is associated with the New Socialist Initiative.