Forced out of homes by their upper caste tormentors,over a thousand Maldharis of Zinzuwada village in Surendranagar on Thursday fled to a nearby village and are living in makeshift tents on a stretch of wasteland there.
The Maldharis,a pastoral community,say they had no option but to flee in the face of unbearable harassment by the local Darbar (Kshatriyas) community people. Nearly 187 Maldhari families left their village with their belongings and even cattle crammed into tractor trailers. The Darbars,allege the Maldharis,have been seizing their livestock if they let them graze on the village wasteland. They then collect hafta to release the impounded cattle,physically assault those daring to protest,and even sexually harassing their women,villagers said.
Prabhat Aal,one of the dispossessed Maldhari from the village,said: In Zinzuwada,Darbars still rule. The harassment is often unbearable. The village wasteland belongs to everybody,but here you have to pay Darbars for letting your cattle graze or face consequences like seizure of the cattle.
Aals 18-year-old niece,Suraj said: A visit to the village well has become an ordeal for us. We would be subjected to everything from eve teasing to physical assault to breaking of our earthen pots.
Prabhat said they decided to leave everything and move after incidents of physical and sexual harassment of their women increased enormously.
Village sarpanch Udubhai Zala,a Darbar,however,rubbished the allegations. There is no such issue in the village. These people are making a prestige issue of a fight between some people of the two communities,which is common in any village. Zala added,Ask people of other communities in the village if they face any harassment by our community. However,only a few in the village agree with Zala. No one would leave his home just like that. There is definitely harassment,especially on women, said a woman from the village on a condition of anonymity,bidding a tearful adieu to the departing Maldharis.
District Collector Anupam Kumar and District Superintendent of Police Ashok Yadav visited Zinzuwada and Nagwada village. At Nagwada village,the Maldharis made a representation to him.
The seriousness of the situation can be gauged from the fact that not just Maldharis,but 51 more from the Dalit community in Zinzuwada village also met the district collector and stated in writing that they too wanted to migrate from the village out of fear of the Darbars, said Lalji Desai from an NGO,Marag,which is helping the Rabaris.
The district collector said the administration has mobilised its machinery to provide primary facilities to the fleeing Rabaris and initiated steps to redress their grievances. It is a case of loss of faith between two communities with some grievances. We are trying to build confidence of the migrants by getting their complaints registered and bring normalcy to the area, he said.
Admitting that he has received complaints of harassment of women,the collector said the police will register complaints and initiate the required investigation.