Rights activists step in to solve crematorium row
It was a rare scene. The village sarpanch, along with villagers and human rights activists, was reading the preamble of the Constitution at a public crematorium in the presence of a retired High Court judge.
This is how the Goa People's Front (GPF) resolved caste discrimination in a public crematorium in Verla-Kanka village in north Goa - persuading those same people who had denied entry to Dalits for cremation.
"Remember you have resolved to establish equality in the village by pronouncing the preamble in the presence of a retired High Court judge", Justice Chandrashekhar Dharmadhikari cautioned Mohan Sawant, the village sarpanch, at a public rally held in Mapusa thereafter.
"I am feeling ashamed that such an act of discrimination among human beings took place in our village", said Mr Sawant, while assuring the public amidst victorious applause that no such mistake would be committed in the future.
The GPF, along with Dalit and human rights activists, compelled the State Government to issue a circular to all village panchayats that no discrimination on the ground of caste or religion would be tolerated at public crematoria.
The State authorities also restrained the village panchayats from constructing separate cremation sheds for Dalits while the police registered a case based on a complaint filed by the villagers belonging to Dalit community.
With the active support of the local media, the GPF had taken up the issue when non-Dalit Hindus performed a "purification" ceremony after a Dalit was cremated in the newly constructed cremation shed in August. Last month, they refused cremation of another Dalit in the crematorium.
"It was not a purification ceremony but a simple religious ritual", clarified crematorium committee president Shantaram Redkar, while publicly assuring that no caste discrimination will take place in the future.
"How can you claim of having achieved freedom when a human being is being denied entry even after death to a public place on the basis of caste or religion", asked Justice Dharmadhikari, while addressing the massive rally.
According to advocate Satish Sonak, the struggle will be on, though he feels relieved that the crematorium issue was resolved amicably.
With the help of NSS students of all colleges in the State, the GPF now plans to conduct a thorough survey of the actual situation before moving ahead on the issue.
Surprisingly, while several NGOs and the media were trying hard to resolve the issue amicably, the Government did very little. "If the issue is not settled amicably, we will take action," was all the Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar had to say.
"It was primary responsibility of the Government to intervene and make the people realise about their constitutional rights and privileges", said Justice Dharmadhikari. But the existing political system does not allow that to happen, he added while lauding the efforts of youth and NGOs.