Thursday, August 14, 2003

Dalits deprived of burial ground

Thursday, August 14, 2003 (Kheda):

When 60-year-old Becharbhai died a few weeks ago, his family was unable to bury him for over 27 hours.

For this Dalit sub-caste, the Rohits, who bury their dead, their traditional burial ground is no longer open to them. It has been bought over by an ashram, creating a huge problem for this Dalit community, which lives around the small town of Matar in Gujarat's Kheda district.

They say they have been using this graveyard for the last 200 years. Finally, Becharbhai's family buried him in a makeshift grave by the river.

"We wanted to go to the place where our ancestors have buried bodies. But we weren't allowed to go there. Even the body wasn't handled properly," said Shantibhai Rathod, Becharbhai's niece.

Controversy rages

This has been an ongoing controversy for the last three years and the two Dalit deaths this year has only deepened it.

The ashram officials claim there was never any burial ground here to begin with. They say they bought this land from the state government and have gone to court to settle the dispute.

After the court issued a stay order, only ashram inmates are allowed to enter the premises.

"This land never belonged to Dalits. It was never a burial ground, there is no mention of a burial ground in the documents," said Vishnu Sharma, Rang Avadhoot Ashram.

Court verdict awaited

However, many residents of Matar insist this is where the Dalits have always buried their dead.

"If a bulldozer were to be used to dig up the place, human skeletons will be found," said Govindbhai Bhoye, a resident.

While the court will now decide whether or not this site was in fact a burial ground used by this community, in the meantime, the onus is on the state government to provide an alternative site.

Source: NDTV, August 14, 2003


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