FOUR YEARS after they fled their homes following conflict with another group, more than 400 members of the herdsmen community returned to their villages in Thangadh taluka of Surendranagar district amid heavy police presence Monday.
The Gujarat High Court on October 25 directed the Surendrangar district administration to facilitate the process after one of the displaced members petitioned the court. By Monday evening, 425 members of the community returned home in Navagam and Sarsana villages of Thangadh taluka, police said.
Mahendra Bagria, Surendranagar district Police Superintendent, Chotila sub-divisional magistrate R B Angari and Thangadh mamlatdar Amita Pargi were present when the community members came back to their villages.
“In all, 677 individuals have been allowed to return to their homes which is around 220 families in Navagam and 180 in Sarsana. Of them, 425 have returned today. To maintain law and order, we have barred more than 200 people, who were involved in criminal activities, from entering the villages. They include around 100 members from the herder community and 125 from the farming community. The situation is peaceful and the people who returned today also cooked their evening meal,” Bagria told The Indian Express over the phone.
Hostilities had been growing between the two caste groups for almost two decades. “As many as 43 criminal cases have been reported from these two villages between 2013 and 2019. They include cases of murder, attempt to murder, rioting etc,” said Bagria, adding in all, three persons had been murdered in the last 15 years.
“The situation is peaceful and no untoward incident has been reported from anywhere so far. Besides local police, four platoons of State Reserve Police (SRP) have been deployed in the two villages to maintain law and order,” Dipal Dhol, police inspector of Thangadh, told The Indian Express.
Police said that members of the herders caste group in the two villages fled their homes between 2014 and 2016 after violent clashes with the members of the farming community. Tension between the two groups had been brewing since 2009 when a man from the farming community was killed in Navagam. In 2014, two groups clashed again after the herdsmen allegedly let their cattle loose on standing crops of the farmers. In that clash, 10 persons were injured and eight houses of herdsmen were set on fire.
In October 2015, one more member of the agrarian community was killed in Navagam. Subsequently, police arrested 11 members of the herders community from Navagam.
In June 2016, two members of the agrarian community from Navagam were allegedly beaten up by the herdsmen group near Wankaner town in the neighbouring Morbi district.
The farming community is economically weak. On the other hand, the group mainly doing cattle, sheep and goat rearing are economically powerful and better organised. Following the sustained hostilities, the herders were forced to flee their homes and settle in other talukas of Surendranagar, Morbi and Rajkot districts.
“From November 4, the original residents of Navagam and Sarsana villages shall start staying in their respective houses in their respective villages which they had left in the past…,” the bench of Justice Bhargav Karia directed while passing the order on a plea moved by Vela Goltar, one of the displaced. Goltar had moved a special civil application in December last year, pleading intervention of the state government in rehabilitating in their own homes. In May this year, the HC ordered the state home department to constitute a committee to consult the two parties. On October 23, the two parties had agreed that those not involved in any criminal cases would be facilitated to return to their homes.
The matter is expected to be heard next on November 11.