Tuesday, February 06, 2001

Caste tension in Gujarat over distribution of relief aid

There are reports from some villages in Kutch that aid is being organized on caste and community lines. The Kutch administration has denied this but there are clear signs of people mobilizing themselves on narrow caste and community lines.

A number of Islamic organisations have set up relief camps in Bhuj as they claim their community is being ignored by the administration. "The first help that we got was from Muslims from Godara and then it was Jamaat-e-Islam. So far, nothing has come from the government. Our families continue to sleep in the open in the cold without tents," maintained a quake victim. Kutch has a large Muslim population and several backward caste communities like the Kolis, many of whom have also alleged that relief material is monopolized by the more powerful communities.

In Nagor, a village barely 10 kms out of Bhuj, the first signs are beginning to appear. The 4,000 villagers have split into separate communities and set up independent kitchens. "We have separate camps for separate communities. The Nagarias, the Kolis and the Harijans all live in separate camps," said a villager.

If certain communities aren't getting enough aid because of caste and religion, there are those who are being prevented from helping the relief mission. Ronnie D'Souza, Coordinator of Kutch Village Trust, said, "In Bachau, when missionary sisters went, certain organisations group stopped them and said why are you here."

The administration however has denied that relief is being handed out on community lines. Suresh Mehta, Industries Minister, Gujarat said, "There is no question of community aspect. The question is that of humanity and the planning of the government is totally on the ground of humanity. All are justified and all are under one ruling system with the same framework."

The quake may have been a great leveller in many ways, but now as the shock is wearing off, religious and caste differences have resurfaced yet again, giving an ugly tone to the relief operation in Kutch.

Source: NDTV, February 6, 2001

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