Blurred caste lines redrawn after earthquake

Rathin Das
(Bhuj, April 9)

'CHOOSE YOUR neighbour', reads the promo of an NGO which is building houses for quake victims in Kutch district's Dudhai village. According to the housing scheme, 16 families of the same caste will be allotted a block of newly built quake resistant houses.

After more then 70 days since the quake, the Delhi-based NGO has given up. They realised that caste lines in Gujarat run so deep that even a calamity fails to bring people together.

The initial oneness and brotherhood soon blurred and things are soon getting back to normal - at least caste intolerance is. And this caste divide is not making the rehabilitation work any easier for the NGOs at work in the State.

In Adhoi of Rapar taluk, an NGO runs separate 'langars' (community kitchens) for different caste groups. The 6,000 survivors of this village have caste-based camps. The village has 18 separate castes and sub-castes and people are particular about staying in their community clusters.

These rehabilitation camps even have toilets for different communities. When a Koli, a backward Patel, used a toilet 'reserved' for the upper caste, they decided to shun it forever. The upper caste refuses to clean their toilets and want the lower caste Bhangis to do the job. About 30 Koli and Dalit families had to leave the village. They left after being threatened for having got the relief materials before the upper caste Durbars and Patels did.

If the NGOs find the going tough, politicians have not made it any easier for them. "We cannot ignore its reality, but cannot encourage it officially," said Industries Minister Suresh Mehta.

Referred by:Balram Sampla
Published on: April 16, 2001
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