Alleging discrimination by upper caste members against Dalit sarpanches in various Gram Panchayats of Gujarat, Ahmedabad-based Dalit Adhikar Manch Friday demanded amendments to the Panchayats Act to protect the rights of Dalit sarpanches in the state. At a press conference here, the group presented around six Dalits who allegedly faced discrimination at the hands of upper-caste members of their gram panchayats during their tenure as sarpanches.
According to Kaushik Parmar of Dalit Adhikar Manch, “There are a number of cases in Gujarat where Dalit sarpanches are being harassed by upper-caste members of the panchayat by bringing no-confidence motion against them without any reason or by getting the elected body superseded by the state machinery by not allowing the sarpanch to pass the annual budget. The only reason for this is that these sarpanches are Dalits.”
Kaushik has also written a letter to Chief Minister Anandiben Patel to take urgent cognizance of the matter and take corrective measures. One of the six Dalit sarpanches who addressed the press conference was Sanjay Parmar, who comes from Heduva-Hanumant village of Mehsana district. Sanjay said that his village had total population of around 4,200 and he was elected as sarpanch on a reserved seat.
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“However, after I was elected as sarpanch, other upper-caste members of the panchayat started harassing me. Recently, they did not allow me to pass annual budget of the panchayat without giving any substantial reason. And under the statutory provisions, if a sarpanch does not pass budget within stipulated time, the panchayat gets superseded which eventually necessitates fresh elections within three months,” Sanjay said.
“My predecessor sarpanch of the village was also a Dalit and he was also removed in a similar fashion. The thing is that due to statutory provisions they (upper castes) cannot stop Dalits becoming sarpanch, but they make sure that only those Dalits who become their rubber stamps stay,” he added.
Sanjay demanded that there should be an amendment to the Panchayats Act, giving powers to dethrone a sarpanch only to Gram Sabha and not to the elected body.
Bhikhabhai Rathod, another such Dalit Sarpanch from Jalundara-Mota village of Gandhinagar district, faced a no-confidence motion and was removed from the post in June last year. Rathod said, “In our village, there is a common crematorium. Once, there were two deaths in the village. And Dalits reached first to complete the rituals of their dead and the upper castes had to wait. Keeping this episode in mind, they started conspiring against me and eventually got me removed by passing a no-confidence motion.”
Two Dalit women who allegedly faced similar discrimination by upper-caste members also presented their cases during the press conference.
Joseph Pateliya, an expert on Panchayati Raj system and an ex-sarpanch who works with Behavioural Science Centre, said that there were provisions under the Panchayats Act that no-confidence motion against a sarpanch could be moved only on the ground of financial irregularities. “But this provision is hardly being followed in Gujarat. There should be amendment to the Panchayats Act by giving powers to remove a sarpanch to the Gram Sabha,” Joseph said.
Social Justice & Empowerment Minister Ramanlal Vora said, “It is true that in many cases people intentionally move no-confidence motion against sarpanches. But that is not any community-specific. I don’t think that only Dalit sarpanches are facing such issues. And giving protection to sarpanches against such intentional harassment is a subject of the panchayat department. I feel that something should be done on this.”
Panchayat Minister Jayanti Kavadiya said, “I have not come across any case where Dalit sarpanches are being discriminated against due to their caste. There could be around one per cent such cases. Sarpanches face no-confidence motion under statutory provisions. Sarpanches of other communities also face similar situation.”
Kavadiya added that the government would not be able to bring any community-specific change to the law.