Quake Flattens Homes, Not Wall Of Caste
FROM BASANT RAWAT
Atal Bihari Vajpayee was impressed. He liked the houses, 500 of them built to rehabilitate Dudhai’s families, all quake-resistant, built in a record 120 days here by an organisation run by former Delhi chief minister Sahib Singh Verma.
Vajpayee handed over the first key to a Dalit. Like Vajpayee, Verma, too, was impressed. But it didn’t take long to lose heart and feel bitter.
It was the Patels. They said no, thank you, we can’t move because the new village — that Verma had named Indraprastha — is too far. That was their official reason, though, “too far” was only 3 km away from where they lived.
But in private, the powerful Patel community of Dudhai conveyed to Verma that they would not accept a Dalit as neighbour.
Verma’s press secretary Jyotironoy Roy said the Patels did not want to move because they felt that if they lived in the same locality in similar houses with Dalit neighbours, there would be nothing to set them apart in the social hierarchy. Their social status would be hurt.
The Patel community’s refusal left Verma and his two-year-old NGO, Rashtriya Swabhiman, with egg on their faces. Especially after Vajpayee lavished praise.
“I would not have believed it had I not come here to see it,” Vajpayee had said. “It is an excellent example of human determination, sincerity and commitment to do what may appear as impossible. If new Dudhai (or Indraprastha, as Verma calls it) can be built in such a short time, then why not Kutch?”
For some, though, it was the pangs of relocation more than the caste divide that led to the refusal. “My forefathers lived there (Dudhai). We would like to remain there,” said Govindbhai Patel.
R.S. Nirama, the resident deputy collector, is aware of the problem on hand. “Though they have refused to move in, we will allot the houses to the Patels. We will see later what to do,” he says.
In February, when the whole nation was grappling with the sordid statistics — Gujarat more than anyone else — Rashtriya Swabhiman got down to the business of building these 500 houses to rehabilitate the 800-odd families of devastated Dudhai. The dream was fulfilled in record time. Then it backfired.
Verma, however, appears undeterred. “Five hundred houses have been built and the remaining 300 houses will be completed by August 15,” he says.
This dream village cost Rs 16 crore. It was a big dream — Verma wanted it to be a place where there would be no unemployment, no uneducated person.
It was to be — Verma believes it will be — a one-of-its-kind place. The only village in the world with all the facilities: schools, college, technical education centre, community centre, handicraft park, agriculture centre, old-age home, orphanage.
There is more on the list: facilities for water harvesting, solar energy... But there’s the one problem that Verma can’t solve or cast away: caste: Patels, Dalits.
The other problem is NGOs. Vajpayee might have showered praise, but some NGOs here have taken on the role of Doubting Thomases.
Indraprastha has 500 pucca houses. Some of these NGOs are wondering aloud if that was a right move and if it wouldn’t have been better to go in for “interim shelters” instead. They are “critical” of the “model village”, which they see as a “cultural imposition”.
“Why did he rename the village in the first place?” is a question that keeps cropping up.
This makes Verma angry. “What’s wrong with that?” he shoots back. “I like the name. I am from Indraprastha. What’s wrong if we rename it Indraprastha?”
This doesn’t impress a Kutch-based NGO. “That is not how a village should be built,” says the NGO’s representative. “We are monitoring the village. We are sure nobody will move in.”
Then comes the denouement: “We doubt if the structures are actually quake-resistant.”