Gujarat milk co-operatives hostile to Dalits
Harsha Kumari Singh
Friday, September 7, 2001 (Jambudi):
While milk co-operatives in Gujarat have brought prosperity to most villages, in Jambudi village Dalits have been kept out the village co-operative for years. The village sells milk worth Rs 35 lakh a year and makes a profit of over Rs 2 lakh.
The upper castes in village have traditionally maintained a monopoly over the region's economy. "For 25 years we did not realise an injustice was being done to us because we were uneducated," said Harkhabhai Parmar, local Dalit.
Co-operative rules make it compulsory to have representation from all castes. Of the 350 milk sellers in Jambudi half are Dalits, yet not a single Dalit is allowed a say in the running of the milk society. As a result, none of the Dalits get a share in the profits either.
"We have demanded from them time and again to let us into the co-operative administration but they have always wanted to keep us out. They have always been richer than us and we are poor and downtrodden, so they want to keep it that way," said Mahendra Kumar Somabhai, Dalit activist.
After repeated complaints the government finally took over the Jambudi milk co-operative two months ago. "We are trying to sort this problem out with people's co-operation. After two years we will have an election according to the co-operative laws and hand the milk co-operative back to the people," maintained Kiran Patel, government administrator, Jambudi Dhoodh Utpadan Sahkari Mandali.
The government will administer the co-operative for two years and has promised a share in the profits for all. But whether it will be possible to change caste equations in this Patel dominated belt of North Gujarat remains to be seen.