Three year-long struggle of a Dalit family from Lakshmipura-Bhandu, an upper-caste dominated hamlet of Mehsana district, to construct a toilet for itself has come to end. The district administration has ordered the construction of three toilets for the family of three houses with financial assistance of Rs 12,000 each. Construction work for the toilets has already begun and is likely to get over soon.
The action has come following a report “Dalit family can’t build toilet due to upper-caste ‘opposition’ in Mehsana” by The Indian Express on February 5 depicting the family’s difficulty in building the toilet owing to alleged harassment by some local upper-caste families.
Lakhsmipura-Bhandu is a small village in Visnagar taluka of Mehsana district, home district of Chief Minister Anandiben Patel. With total population of around 500 people, the village is dominated by financially and politically influential Chaudhary community. The village has only one Dalit family that of Bhikhabhai Senma, 65, a landless farmer who lives along with two of his brothers. They have three houses adjacent to each other.
Alleging harassment by some local Chaudhary families, Senma had been approaching various authorities for the past three years. Also because of this alleged harassment, the Senmas were not being able to construct toilet for themselves and were forced to defecate in the open.
One of the Chaudhary community members from the village had also moved a public interest litigation (PIL) before Gujarat High Court (HC) alleging that many people (including Senmas) from the village had encroached upon the 42 bigha village Gauchar land.
Senma had alleged that the PIL was only a pretext under which some local Chaudharys were trying to prevent them from building a toilet. He also alleged that his family was at the receiving end because he had objected to the plans of a local Chaudhary community man to open a road from the backside of the latter’s house passing through a piece of village wasteland adjoining one of the former’s houses.
“Following The Indian Express report, top district officials like District Development Officer (DDO) and Superintendent of Police (SP) had visited us. And after looking at the situation, they passed the order to let us construct three toilets, one for each house, and also provided financial assistance of Rs 12,000 per toilet. They also assured us of security,” says Bhikhabhai Senma. “We have started the construction work and it should be over shortly,” he adds.
Mehsana DDO, S K Langa, says, “I visited the family along with the Superintendent of Police and gave them assurance of security. And there was some issue of where to construct the toilet. The family agreed to the place where we proposed them to construct the toilets. So accordingly, the district rural development agency (DRDA) has granted them permission along with financial assistance.”
“As far as encroachment of Gauchar land is concerned, the entire Lakshmipura hamlet is situated on Gauchar land for years. The three houses of Senmas are built under government schemes. And as per various government rules and resolutions, once the nature of Gauchar land changes, it ceases to be a Gauchar land. So, this case cannot come under the purview of litigation on encroachment on village Gauchar land,” Langa adds.
Meanwhile, the PIL moved by one of the Chaudharys has been rejected by HC — on February 15 — on the ground that the petitioner had not joined concerned District, Taluka, Gram Panchayats and affected persons of the village as respondents. The court ‘expected’ that the DDO and TDO would take action on alleged encroachment on Gauchar land under the provisions of the Gujarat Panchayats Act after giving hearing to affected persons.