Two Dalit families from Khambhisar village in Gujarat’s Aravalli district converted to Buddhism in the neighbouring Sabarkantha district on Tuesday, allegedly after the Patidar-dominated village cancelled garba celebrations as the Dalits had expressed wish to participate in the event.
On May 12, an incident was reported from Khambisar in which stones were thrown at a wedding procession in which a Dalit groom was riding a horse. The two families are relatives of the Dalit groom, Jayesh Rathod. The heads of both families — Pankaj Rathod (30) and Mahendra Rathod (29) — are government employees. While Pankaj is a constable with the State Reserve Police Force, Mahendra is a revenue clerk.
“Dalits have not been allowed into Navratri celebrations in the village for generations. This year, some people informally asked us to join the garba to promote harmony. We feared mischief and gave a formal letter to the sarpanch stating that we will participate in the festival and requested him to ensure that no untoward incident happens,” said Pankaj.
The sarpanch, he said, held a meeting of villages and it was decided that Navratri festival will celebrated together. “On the first day of Navratri, we realised that the celebration had been cancelled. When we asked the sarpanch, he said some people were opposing the celebration (with Dalits). We were disappointed and didn’t know what to do. Later, our women did garba in our locality,” he said.
“If Gods and Goddesses existed, we would not have faced such discrimination. Hence my wife Urmila and I decided to embrace Buddhism, following into the footsteps of Babasaheb Ambedkar,” he said. He also got ‘diksha’ for his one-year-old son and four-year-old daughter, said Pankaj.
Mahendra converted along with his wife Jagruti and two-year-old daughter. “My wife and I concluded that this discrimination was because of the caste-based hierarchy in Hindu religion. Hence, we decided to shun Hinduism and embrace Buddhism.”
Khambhisar Sarpanch Baldev Patel refuted the charge that the Navratri celebration was cancelled because Dalits wanted to participate. “They had given me an application. And I held a meeting of all the communities. We made all efforts to organise the celebration. But it was cancelled due to rain. Also, villagers were busy in the farming of groundnut,” the sarpanch said.
Khambisar has a population of about 2,700 people, out of which about 2,000 are from Patidar community. Dalits have a population of nearly 150.
Before May 12, no Dalit in the village rode a horse in his wedding procession. Jayesh Rathod’s procession was taken out after informing the police in advance. Stones were thrown at the procession and several people, including Pankaj’s daughter, were injured.
About 45 people, including the sarpanch, are accused in the case.