HYDRABAD: Sunday was Dr B R Ambedkar’s death anniversary, ‘Nirwan Diwas’ as Dalits call it. And we hate to be doing this. But the bubble of a Vibrant Gujarat needs a prick in the bottom. At the lowest level of the society, Gujarat is not happy. Untouchability still exists in various forms in Gujarat.
In a first-of-its-kind study on a large scale, representing 98,000 Dalits across 1,655 villages in Gujarat. it comes out that 97 % respondents feel they have ‘no entry’ at certain places in their own villages, including a temple or where a religious ceremony is taking place.
Mahatma Gandhi himself wrote about the problem of untouchability in Gujarat when he set about establishing a base in Ahmedabad. He said in his writings that when he insisted on keeping a Dalit (‘Harijan’ as he insisted on calling them) in his ashram here, people started shying away. Even sponsors developed cold feet and funds started drying up. Bapu put his foot down and had his way.
Almost 95 years later, Gujarat is still not listening to the Mahatma even as the world tuned in. The bar for Dalits is felt at not only temples but also ‘satsangs’ and ‘kathas’. At these religious events, not being able to sit on a cot/chair with other upper castes, has been clearly established as a sign of untouchability.
The study has been carried out by Ahmedabad-based Navsarjan Trust with three US-based organisations — the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, Dartmouth College at the University of Michigan and Robert F. Kennedy Centre for Social Justice and Human Rights, Washington, DC.
“This is the first study on such a large sample size and we covered 99 forms of untouchability that are still practised in villages. There are 12,500 villages in Gujarat where Dalits live. We have covered 1,655 of these villages and around 11 per cent of the total Dalit population,’’ says Manjula Pradeep, director of Navsarjan Trust.
During the study, the researchers did not find a single village where no form of untouchability is practised, giving an unnerving idea about the extent of the problem in a state which is home to Mahatma Gandhi. Ahmedabad-based social scientist Prof Ghanshyam Shah, a retired professor from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, who has studied the problem of untouchability in detail, also assisted in the research.
Prof Shah says, “Dalits face untouchability at religious places the most because the concept of untouchability has been centered around religion and ‘purity’. It may seem for urban middle classes that many things have changed, but the ground reality is harsh till today.’’