Fear of backlash drives Dalits to government office in Dhada

Ahmedabad As Dalit families continue to take refuge at Deesa Mamlatdar’s office in Banaskantha district fearing upper caste reprisal, District Collector R J Patel visited the affected Dhada village on Wednesday and took stock of the situation.

The trouble started on July 31 when a 21-year-old Dalit youth was run over by a tractor belonging to an upper caste villager near Dhada. The police had registered a case of “accidental death”, but the Dalits in the area protested, claiming it was a murder.

Patel said they were trying to convince the Dalit families — who are demanding protection by the State Reserve Police (SRP) — to return home.

He admitted it is “difficult to offer protection”, but was confident that the Dalits would return to their villages “soon, maybe tomorrow or the day after that”. He said the matter “will be investigated”, adding that the main issue now is that “the children have not been attending school”.

A protest rally by the Dalits had turned violent on Monday, after which 37 of them were arrested. Since the protests gained momentum, about 28 Dalit families (154 people, including pregnant women and children) had evacuated their villages, as they feared persecution by upper caste Thakors. They took refuge at Mamlatdar M R Parmar’s office.

Parmar said on Tuesday that he

had appealed to those camping outside his office to return home and that necessary action would be taken against the offenders, but they refused to budge.

Banaskantha Superintendent of

Police H G Patel, meanwhile, blamed NGOs from outside of inciting violence on Monday. He said the rally turned violent because “outside NGOs had instigated the Dalit groups”.

The SP also claimed that the victim’s father had lodged a complaint with the police, following which the accused was arrested and a case of “culpable homicide” registered against him. Then, “four or five NGOs from

outside, whose sole motive is to create unrest, instigated the people, saying

it was murder and not an accident”, Patel added. He further said they were ready to provide SRP protection to the villagers, but no such request was placed before them yet.

Activists, meanwhile, claimed that the police was late in registering the case. According to Varsha Ganguly, director of Behavioral Science Centre, Ahmedabad, which works for Dalits in the district, the tractor had run 10 metres off-road, chasing the youth and mowing him down when bushes blocked his path.

She said there were two eyewitnesses to the crime.