Around six months ago, a buffalo belonging to Vikram Thakor died. He dragged the carcass to an uninhabited place on the outskirts of Lhor village in Mehsana with a tractor.
“We have to do it on our own,” Vikram said, “Dalits in the village stopped picking up carcasses two years ago. Some months back, a dog died near my house, and I had to dispose it in a similar manner.”
Accusing the upper castes in the village of discrimination, Dalits in Lhor decided to stop disposing animal carcasses as part of their “customary” service saying it was a “filthy and unpaid for” job that was thrust upon them.
And this refusal is among the main reasons, they alleged, that the upper castes in the village called for a social boycott of Dalits on May 8, after a Dalit groom took out the first wedding procession in Lhor on a horse. Based on a complaint, police have registered an FIR against five upper caste men, including the sarpanch and deputy sarpanch of the village, for ordering the social boycott.
Thakors form the majority in Lhor, which has a population of over 1,600. Vikram and several other Thakors in Lhor indicate that though they do not like the Dalits’ assertion in not disposing of carcasses, they cannot force them. Thakors denied the accusation that the issue is connected to the alleged boycott.
But most Dalits believe otherwise. “Our old generation used to lift the carcasses of animals and the tradition has continued for hundreds of years. We (the Dalits) were not getting any remuneration for it and the service was imposed on us as a custom for long. They think Dalits have to do it,” said Mukesh Shrimali.
“Nobody wants to do this job compulsorily, it is that filthy. At least 4-5 of us are doctors now; we have a professor, there is one head constable and a lawyer from the community in the village… our young generation is not ready to do this job. So, our leaders decided not to lift the carcasses of animals.”
The talati-cum-mantri (revenue clerk) of Lhor, Varsha Thakor said, “During one meeting to strike a compromise (after five men were arrested for the social boycott), one of the major grudges of the non-Dalits was that the Dalits do not lift carcasses of their animals.”
Bhikhabhai Parmar (81) —the grandfather of Mehul, after whose wedding procession Dalits allegedly faced a social boycott —is among the older generation. “We used to do it (dispose carcasses) out of social compulsion and to avoid friction. I have lifted dead animals. When we did the work, the non-Dalits treated us with disgust,” he said.
Vishnu Senva, another Dalit from Lhor, said Dalits were always asked to sit separately and in dark place during religious functions and community events. “We have been demanding that all should eat together. However, they flatly refuse that. Also, the village barber does not cut the hair of Dalits under pressure from the non-Dalits,” he said.
Meanwhile, Thakors in the village deny any link between the alleged social boycott and disposing carcasses. Prahlad Thakor said, “Their (Dalits) refusal to lift dead animals is their choice. Nobody can force them to do it. And as far as the matter of social boycott is concerned, it is not true.”
However, at least two Thakor community women indicated that the community does hold a grudge . “They say that we should sit with them and dine together. How can we allow that?” said one woman requesting anonymity. Another woman said, “…we have to lift dead animals or make arrangements to dispose of it. If they (Dalits) don’t do their work, what are we suppose to do?”
Social activist Martin Macwan said Lhor was not the only village in Gujarat where the Dalits have stopped lifting carcasses. “After Una (public flogging of Dalits by self-styled cow vigilantes in 2016), I did a study and discovered that there were around 30 villages in Gujarat where Dalits had stopped lifting the dead animals. It also indicates that the relationship is going to change further. The Dalit youths are clear that they will not compromise in any circumstance.”