Homeless truths: Caste prejudices haunt Ahmedabad’s hostels and colonies
Tuesday, April 10, 2001 (Ahmedabad):
Not far from Gujarat Vidyapith, the university set up by Mahatma Gandhi in Ahmedabad, is a hostel for college students. To get admission here, you don't have to give a donation or get a minister's recommendation, you have to be a Brahmin as no “lower” caste boy can past its gates.
Pradeep Dave, Manager, Audichya Bhrama Samaj Chatralaya, maintains, “We don't keep Scheduled Castes (SCs) because in Brahminism, they have to be kept away. We keep Brahmins and other high castes like Shahs. There is a lot of casteism in Gujarat. Since the Brahmins have spent money on the hostel, we can only keep those boys.”
Dalit students coming from far-flung villages and small towns to attend university find that the social discrimination they face at home has only assumed other forms in this city. They continue to be marginalized since most hostels have been set up by private upper caste organizations strictly for the benefit of children from their extended clans.
Mayaram Joshi, Manager, Satavis Dasapurvah Vidya Mandir, says, “This hostel belongs to a particular Jain sub-caste. Students who belong to it stay free of charge and are also provided other facilities. For the rest, we charge a nominal fee.” Over the years this sub-caste of Jains has migrated to big towns and their children don't need hostel rooms anymore. The doors of the institution opened to other castes only after that.
At Dalits are definitely not allowed inside Shri Saurashtra Patel Kelauni Mandal, a flashy high-rise which accommodates more than 500 children of the politically powerful and wealthy Patel community mainly from Amreli, Junagadh and Jamnagar districts in Saurashtra (also known as the Leva Patels). “Every community has their own hostel. Ours is for Leva Patels. In Saurashtra there are no good colleges for higher education so we have opened this place only for them,” says the Manager of the hostel. But here the ban extends to every other community including the Patels from north Gujarat and the Kadva Patels who belong to a different sub-caste considered lower in the Patel hierarchy.
“When I came to Ahmedabad, I must have gone to at least 40 hostels before I got admission here. All the wardens refused because I was from a different caste. They allow only Patels from Saurashtra to stay in the hostel. The others are not allowed there,” relates Ankur Maheshwari who ventured into Ahmedabad from his village in north Gujarat.
Ankur now lives in a hostel opened by the Gujarat Valand Seva Sangh, an organization of the SC barber community. Here caste is no bar to entry. “Other hostels are running on communal basis. They do not the have the inner space to admit students from other communities. We have enough space to accommodate everyone,” says HK Bhatia, Manager, Gujarat Valand Sewa Sangh.
But in this city education does not always change the rules of upward mobility or social acceptance, especially when it comes to finding a house. Bhaljibhai Parmar, a retired Income Tax officer, rues, “They specifically say we are not giving (accommodation) to a SC person at present also. My son-in-law intended to take a readymade house in Advesh society. They said you are a Vankar and we will not let a Vankar stay here. We will not pass the resolution in the society. My son-in-law is a doctor, an MD in Gynaecology, highly qualified, well educated, well behaved and well versed in Indian culture. But he can't get a house there.”
Layouts of mixed housing colonies reveal that very often the village model of distancing is transplanted here, both physically and in spirit. Dr Mahesh Chandra Pandya, a historian, informs, “Even here SCs are given plots in a housing society which are far from the highway from where bus stops and other facilities are not easily accessible. The better plots always go to the upper castes.”
Reservations and the sheer determination to succeed has certainly changed their class status but the social experience of Dalits and