Caste dissensions 'Rann' deep in Kutch
The Times of India News Service
AHMEDABAD: In all likelihood, there will be attempts to dismiss the caste violence near Rapar on Wednesday, in which nine persons were killed, as an isolated incident over a piece of land which led to tension between two clans.
But grass-root organisations and various agencies of the government now engaged in earthquake relief in the district have encountered caste-based dissensions in the society which perhaps run deeper than what the government would like to admit.
Relief workers and rehabilitation workers have in fact grappled with caste-related problems in almost all towns and villages of the district where people belonging to different castes refused to stay in temporary shelters, like tents and tin sheds.
Said an activist of the St. Xaviers Social Welfare Society "we found that most of the relief material and resources were being cornered by the upper castes, the caste structure is quite stratified in Kutch".
Agencies working among the poorer sections of the society have in fact given a term 'DMK' to the underprivileged class - comprising Dalit, Mulsim and Koli.
Incidently, the latest incident of violence took place between two sections of OBCs - Gadhvis and Kolis - with the former having a slightly elevated position than the latter in the caste-ridden society. Several NGOs , which did not have prior experience of having worked in Kutch , were caught quite off guard because of the complexities of the caste structure.
Says Sushma Iyengar of Kutch Navnirman Abhiyan , a conglomeration of several NGOs which is rooted to the Kutch countryside, "often the gram sabha decisions in favour or against an NGO were dictated by the upper caste and affluent class even though the vast majority of people , who were really the genuinely affected earthquake victims, may not have been in favour of the decision". She said "the poor definitely needed NGO support while the rich thought they could handle rehabilitation on their own".
One of the main problems that planners who worked out the relocation sites and the lay-out for new villages faced was that the existing villages had clusters of houses belonging to a single caste while the relocation plans had no such physical divisions . Even the World Bank and Asian Development Bank , which have together pooled in about $ 1 billion for earthquake rehabilitation , had extensively probed the state government officials on how they propose to overcome these social and psychological barriers.
In the case of Dudhai , the village which has been built in record time by the NGO headed by former Delhi chief minister Sahib Singh Verma and which was inaugurated by the Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on June 3 , the caste divisions have become quite apparent. While the families belonging to the Koli, Bawa and Meghwar castes have already occupied the new houses and are quite happy with the deal they have got. But some 200 Patel families are refusing to move in saying that the new site is too far from their agricultural lands. The real reason , feel officials, is something entirely different - that they don't want to share their habitat with the other castes.
Kutch district collectgor H N Chibber , on being asked whether the gram sabhas are dominated by the upper castes , said "it happens everywhere , the strongest group prevails and the village goes along with the decision" . He , however , said it would be wrong to generalise the caste problem in Kutch. "I have come across many examples where people are living in complete harmony in one village near Abdasa which has 80 per cent Muslim population , they have elected a Hindu sarpanch".