There was tension in Gujarat’s Sodhana village Friday as the family of a Dalit man, allegedly beaten to death on Wednesday by 46 members of the upper caste Mer community, refused to claim his body.
Mer community members sat along the Porbandar-Jamnagar road, which runs through the village, as a group of Dalit men congregated around a paan shop nearby. Police were deployed to monitor the situation, Bagvadar sub-inspector K A Vala said.
According to an FIR registered by Bagvadar police, Rama Singrahiya, 42, was allegedly beaten to death using clubs and axes when he was sowing castor seeds on a plot in the village, located 30 km away from Porbandar. He died at PDU General Hospital in Rajkot a day later.
Three people — Parbat Karavadra, Lakhu Mer and Nilesh Babar — were Friday arrested in connection with the case. The mob was allegedly led by village sarpanch Harbham Karavadra, who is on the run, police said. According to the police, the Mer community members claim the plot where Rama was farming is gauchar (pastoral) land, meant for cattle grazing.
As per the FIR, two men hired by Rama to help him sow the seeds were also beaten up.
Rama’s family, sitting on a dharna near the Porbandar SP’s office, said he had been cultivating the land for the last 15 years, and his body should be buried there. They said they will not claim his body until action is taken against the accused.
“Our parents and brother Kanu have already died for this land. Now Rama has laid down his life. They cut him into pieces, nobody came to his rescue because they fear the sarpanch. We want him to be buried there,” Rama’s elder sister Veji Pandavadra said.
But Ramde Modhwadiya, a farmer from the Mer community, said, “Today, they are demanding land for his burial. Tomorrow, they will build a temple and develop a garden and encroach the land. The village already has a burial ground for Dalits. We have no problem if they bury him there.”
Vipul Purohit, mamlatdar of the Porbandar taluka, said Sodhana has 2,400 bigha of gauchar land, out of which 190 bigha belongs to the government and the rest to the village panchayat.
The village has a population of 8,000. This includes 300 Dalit families, most of whom work as labourers on agricultural fields owned by Mer community members.
Rama’s family alleged villagers had set fire to the standing crop on his farm eight months ago as well. “We asked him not to cultivate that land. But he said he knew some laws and continued farming despite protests from villagers. Now he has paid the price,” said Kanu’s wife Manju.
Porbandar district collector Dinesh Patel said Rama had submitted an application to regularise the 19 bigha of land he had been cultivating. “His application was rejected twice as allotting land for agriculture falls under the state government policy. Plus, the village panchayat controls gauchar land and it has the power to remove encroachment,” Patel said.
However, Rama’s friend Suman Chavda claimed 96 people from the upper caste have also encroached gauchar land.
When contacted, deputy sarpanch Ranjit Karavadra said, “Nobody has encroached the land the way Rama did. It is possible that farmers whose plots border the gauchar land may have created some enclosure for their cattle.”