A day after five persons were arrested for allegedly boycotting Dalits socially in Lhor, the village in Kadi tehsil of Mehsana district was swarming with policemen and politicians alike, amid deserted streets with shut shops on Friday.
The OBCs, mainly Thakors among them, had called for the boycott on Wednesday after Mehul Parmar, a Dalit bridegroom, took out his marriage procession in the village on May 7. Mehul’s father Manu had registered an FIR against five persons, including Sarpanch Vinu Thakor and his deputy Baldev, following which they were arrested late on Thursday and sent to judicial custody by a local court on Friday.
The residents of the village said things were not this bad, till the Dalits were lifting and clearing carcasses of animals owned by the OBCs.
Dalits said that untouchability manifested in several ways earlier too like the local barber refusing to cut their hair and ban on them at temple. Now, even the local grocer refuses to sell them provisions.
“Whenever there is a community dining in the village during religious festivals, Dalits have to sit separately. Not only that, food is served only by OBCs,” said Navin Parmar, a local Dalit.
“Due to all this, more than a year ago, we decided not to lift the carcasses of the animals in the village. And that displeased them immensely. And after that, for the first time, a marriage procession of a Dalit, riding a horse, passed through the main roads of the village. It hurt their (OBCs’) ego and they felt that if Dalits don’t do their ‘customary’ work (of lifting carcasses of animals), how can they carry out a procession,” said Navin.
‘They felt that if Dalits don’t do their work, how can they take out procession’
A relative of the one of the five accused vindicates what Navin said. “For the past one year, we have to lift dead animals or make arrangements to dispose them of. If they (Dalits) don’t do their work, what are we supposed to do,” the woman asked.
Earlier also, the Dalits riding a horse or keeping twirled moustaches had sparked off conflicts with the OBCs, leading to violent attacks and even murders. Last year, a man was killed in Bhavnagar’s Timbi village ostensibly for owning a horse.
The alleged decision of social boycott was taken by the OBCs in a meeting, a call for which was given through a public address system of a Ram Mandir in the village on May 8.
The marriage procession, Dalits in the village said, was the first from the community in the village.
Mehul’s father said Dalits have never taken out a marriage procession. “Now, our young generation is educated and aware about their rights. Neither me nor my father have ever fulfilled our wishes due to old traditions. But, when my son expressed his wish to have a marriage procession, I could not dishonor it.”
As per Manu’s FIR, after May 8, the Dalits are being denied any service in the village from grocery to flour mill to transportation as part of their social boycott.
Some people from the Thakor community in the village, however, are not at all in favour of boycotting the Dalits. They say they had to buckle under the pressure of “four or five” powerful persons from the community in the village. Without naming the persons, a grocer says, “I have maximum customers from the Dalit mohalla. Such call of boycott will severely affect my business. But, when they (four or five persons) make such an announcement, we have to follow it lest face their wrath.”
Lhor has a population of around 2,500. Thakor is the dominating community, followed by Rabari, Muslim, Barot and Dalits. Dalits have around 40 houses in the village.
On Friday, a number of politicians and activists also thronged the Lhor village to meet the Dalits and diffuse the tension between the communities.
Among the first politicians to visit Lhor was Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel who is also a native of Kadi. He was accompanied by BJP MLA from Kadi constituency, Karsan Solanki. Kadi Assembly constituency is reserved for Scheduled Castes. Patel first held a closed-door meeting with top police and administration officials of the district, along with the community leaders from the village. He then visited the Dalit mohalla and held a meeting with them as an attempt to restore social harmony.
Congress MLA from Dasada constituency, Naushad Solanki, and Independent MLA from Vadgam, Jignesh Mevani, also visited the village and met the Dalits.
Meanwhile, Mehsana district collector H K Patel said that the entire episode of boycott has come up owning to misunderstanding related to a Whatsapp message.
“The arrested have been sent to judicial custody. Action according to law has been taken. We were camping there yesterday (Thursday) and have sorted out their (Dalits’) apprehensions of not getting ration etc. Now, there is no boycott,” said H K Patel, adding in his two years’ tenure, he had never come across any such complaint earlier.