Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Shame - Still untouchable, still oppressed

Ahmedabad, December 29: IN the land of Mahatma Gandhi, who fought to end untouchability, two events brought into focus the fact that segregation and oppression of Dalits is very much a part of life in some rural pockets. That the events were shocking drove home the point that otherwise people simply take such practices for granted.

The first was the suicide of the husband of a Dalit sarpanch of Kamrej village, in the Bhavnagar district. Gangaben Maru (see photo) alleges in her police complaint that continued harassment by Haresh Sanga, the Bhavnagar taluka panchayat president, who wields considerable clout in the region, had led to her husband Jetha's suicide.

Ironically, it was Sanga himself who had backed Gangaben's candidature and urged her to become the sarpanch. The problem began, according to Gangaben, when she refused to toe his line and pay him the five per cent cut from government grants that he demanded.

For five months she wasn't allowed to attend panchayat meeting. She and her husband would be threatened and abused when she moved out. When they did not give in, Sanga and his henchmen tried to have a no-confidence motion moved against her.

She says she had all along informed the authorities and sought police protection. But before she could obtain protection, Jetha was found dead in a field: he had apparently committed suicide. Sanga has since been arrested.

The other event was the coming to light of segregation of upper- and lower-caste students for the mid-day meal in village schools of the Surendranagar district. When Dalit teachers opposed the practice, they found themselves alone. What is worse, they found themselves transferred as the administration worked out local compromises. Education department officials claimed they were helpless: without segregation, upper-caste families were refusing to send children to school so attendance was falling.

Source: The Indian Express, December 30, 2003

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