Water shortage re-ignites caste clashes

By Manas Dasgupta

AMRELI (Gujarat), APRIL 27. As the mercury soars and water resources dry up, clashes over collecting water in the drought- hit areas of rural Gujarat are becoming common. And with that has returned with a bang the caste consciousness, which was slowly getting blurred.

The people of Gujarat are generally considered peace- loving, but not so when it comes to water, the most precious possession under the circumstances.

In Khambhala village in Babra taluk of Amreli district in the Saurashtra region, a group of caste Hindus beat up some dalit youths and women when they came to collect water in a well from where only the upper caste people draw water. The caste barrier was not followed strictly during the last few years, but water shortage has re-ignited the caste feelings.

At least four youths and women were injured in the clash. The dalits not only filed police complaints, but also retaliated later, attacking the caste Hindu girls when they came to the well to draw water causing injury to at least two of them inviting a counter-complaint by the caste Hindus.

A similar incident was reported from Rajula where a dalit was beaten up and denied the right to collect water from a public hand-pump. Complaints had been filed with the police against two upper caste people. The water and fodder shortage seems to have created divisions even among the members of the Keshubhai Patel Cabinet.

During a Cabinet meeting Wednesday, the Minister of State for Youth and Cultural Affairs, Mr. Mahendra Trivedi, is reported to have clashed with the Revenue Minister, Mr. Vajubhai Vala, over supply of fodder and water to Bhavnagar, Mr. Trivedi's home town, in the Saurashtra region.

Mr. Trivedi reportedly complained of short supply of fodder in Bhavnagar and told the meeting that the people in his constituency were very unhappy over the Government's performance in handling the situation.

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