Scared tribals move out of Bithali

BITHALI (VADODARA): Fear IS rampant in Bithali. The tribals of this village in Vadodara district are running scared ever since a Patel was killed in a group clash on Wednesday. Fearing a police crackdown and reprisal by the powerful Patels, the tribals are fleeing the village. Only the women and children now remain in the village _ to look after their homes and cattle, the only assets these tribals possess.

Such is the terror among the tribals that even village sarpanch Lalji Vasava disappeared following Wednesday night's incident. This is despite the presence of a strong police force in the village. The sarpanch's two sons _ Laxman and Haribhai _ have been arrested by the police. Wednesday's incident appears to be a cumulative effect of the economic exploitation of poor tribals at the hands of wealthy Patels, who own more than 90 per cent of the agricultural land though they account for less than half of the village population. The clash that claimed the life of a Patel and caused injuries to six others, including a policeman, was not at all a sudden development.

The Vasavas, who account for half of the village population, have been denied the right over the common grazing land of the village. This is despite the village having a tribal sarpanch. According to Ansuiya Jassuben Vasava, more than three dozen cattle, including cows and buffaloes, belonging to tribals have died in the last few months following restrictions on grazing in village pasture land. Patels are allowed to graze their cattle in this land.

``Not only that. Patels have also hired a guard to ensure that Vasavas' cattle do not enter the common grazing land,'' said Soma Gordhan Vasava whose buffalo starved to death a month ago. Another tribal, Kapilaben Vasava, said she also lost a buffalo following ``sanctions'' by Patels.

Complaining about the high-handedness, young Sanjay Vasava said Patels paid only Rs 22 for 12-hour work against minimum wages of Rs 35 for eight hours. The Sarpanch's wife, Raiben Vasava, also has something to say. She says Patels employed only those tribals on their farms who sent their wives to do household chores at their homes. ``Women were paid a paltry Rs 30 per month for washing utensils and clothes,'' she says. ``Tribal women were also made to milk their cows and buffaloes without being paid,'' said Champaben Vasava.

The tribals allege that they are discriminated against in other matters too. The Patel-owned flour mill charges Rs. 1.50 for grinding a kg as against the Re 1 per kg charged from others.

Tribals, according to Sanjay Vasava, boycotted Patels after an incident on July 4 this year when a tribal woman was assaulted by Patels. ``We began working in Mota Karara and other nearby non-Patel. That is why they grew more annoyed and restricted the movement of our cattle,'' he said. Visit the area and discrimination is obvious _ the Patel localities have pucca roads while the Vasavas' phalias have slush.

However, the Patels deny all these allegations and hold tribals responsible for all the ills in the village. Vadodara Zilla panchayat member Narendra Patel and vice-president of Dabhoi unit of BJP justified the payment of Rs 22 as wages, saying they gave ``interest-free loans'' to tribals for weddings in their family. Whatever may be the reason, the fissures are apparent. How can the problem be solved? ``There can be no long-term police solution to an issue which has an economic dimension,'' says Superintendent of Police (Vadodara Rural) Keshav Kumar.

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Referred by: Mukundan C.M.
Published on:August 5, 2001
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