Forced out of home and hearth by their upper caste tormentors,over a thousand Maldharis of Zinzuwada village in Gujarats Surendranagar district have fled to a nearby village and are living in makeshift tents on a stretch of wasteland there.
The Maldharis,a pastoral community,say they had no option but to flee in the face of unbearable harassment by the local Darbar community men upper caste Kshatriyas who were landlords during the feudal days.
Nearly 187 Maldhari families left their village on Thursday,many weeping,their belongings and even cattle crammed into tractor trailers,leaving a long trail of dust as they moved away in a caravan of despair.
The Darbaris,allege the Maldharis,have been seizing their livestock if they let them graze on the village wasteland,then collecting hafta to release the impounded cattle. They were physically assaulting those daring to protest,and even sexually harassing their women.
Prabhat Aal,one of the Maldharis who left the village,said,In Zinzuwada,it is the Darbaris who still rule. The harassment is often unbearable. The village wasteland belongs to everybody,but here you have to pay the Darbaris for letting your cattle graze or face consequences like seizure of the cattle. They think they are still the landlords of the village.
Aals 18-year-old niece,Suraj,said,A visit to village well became an ordeal for us. We would be subjected to everything from eve-teasing to physical assault to breaking of our earthern pots.
Prabhat said they decided to leave everything and move out after incidents of sexual harassment of their women increased.
Village Sarpanch Udubhai Zala,who is a Darbar himself,however rubbished all the claims of the Maldharis. There is no such issue in the village. These people are just making a prestige issue of a fight between some people of the two communities,which is common in any village.
Ask people of other communities in the village if they face any harassment by our community, said Zala.
But few agree with Zala in the village. No one would leave his home just like that. There is definitely harassment by them,especially on the females, said a woman from the village on the condition of anonymity,bidding a tearful adieu to the departing Maldharis.
District Collector Anupam Kumar and Superintendent of Police Ashok Yadav visited Zinzuwada and Nagwada village. At Nagwada village,the Maldharis made a representation to him.
The seriousness of the situation can be gauged from the fact that not just the Maldharis,but 51 more people from the dalit community in Zinzuwada village also appeared before the District Collector and stated in writing that they too want to migrate from the village,out of sheer fear of the Darbaris, said Lalji Desai from Marag,an NGO.
The District Collector said the administration has mobilised its machinery to provide primary facilities to the fleeing families and initiated steps to redress their grievances.
It is primarily a case of loss of faith between two communities with some grievances. We are trying to build confidence of the migrants by getting their complaints registered and bring normalcy to the area, the Collector said.
Admitting that he has received complaints of harassment of women,the Collector said the police would register the complaints and investigate the matter.