Social boycott a powerful tool to oppress Dalits in Gujarat

Kalu Bhai

Kalu Bhai-Jetha Bhai Sarvaiya does not speak much though he can understand Hindi a bit but can’t speak that fluently. Perhaps, the brutal murder of his son Lalji Sarviaya by the Koli community villagers in Ankolali, Una Taluka of the Gir Somnath district in Gujarat, on September 13th, 2012 and the subsequent inaction of the state and society has silenced him. Kalu Bhai, a resident of village Ankolali saw a huge crowd of the villagers surrounding their home and putting fire on it resulting in the death of his son Lalji. A session court in Rajkot pronounced Life Sentence to all the 11 accused in this case in November 2018 but the troubles of Kalu Bhai remains the same. His face narrates the story. Even when justice ‘seems’ be done and all the culprit have been sentenced life imprisonment, Kalu Bhai still feel defeated. He lost his son so brutally to the casteist mob and yet he continues to face the social boycott which is so powerful that all the ‘constitutional’ provisions fail to this.  Kalu Bhai Jetha Bhai Sarvaiya met me in Ahmedabad with his elder brother and his son on February 2nd, 2020 where he had come to participate in workshop.

Background of the case

Kalu Bhai belong to Sarvaiya i.e. Dalit community and owned about 15 bighas of land in village Ankolali in the Gir Somnath district.  His family was the only one belonging to Dalit community in otherwise OBC dominated village of the Kolis. Kalu Bhai was well off in a sense that his son Lal ji was a specialized worker of stone cutting. His house was situated on the stone area which was precious and all the powerful people including the MLA who belong to Koli community were eying to that area to be leased from the government. The market value of the said area was in crores. Now, the Kalu Bhai’s family was the only one and that too belonging to Dalit community hence it was important to throw them away from the village and then claim the entire area on lease.  A conspiracy was hatched. Though Lal Ji was married man of 27 years of age, he had no children. The Kolis led by the village Sarpanch accused him to have eloped with a Koli girl and kept her in hiding. Now, this was vehemently denied by Lalji and his father but then the villagers were not ready to listen to them.

A crowd the Kolis surrounded the house of Kalu bhai where the entire family was living. Lalji was sleeping when the crowd started pelting stones. It was morning hours around 8 am. Nobody could reason with a mad blood thirsty lynch mob. Other members were locked one side and Lalji in the other room. The criminals started breaking the tiles and poured petrol in the room Lalji was sleeping. He was burnt beyond recognition. The brutality was so powerful that the police took its two to three hours after the incident happened and by that time Lalji had died.

It is ironical that the girl who the Kolis accused Lalji of eloping with, finally appeared a few days later, informing the villagers that she had gone out on her own with her boyfriend.  Kalu Bhai informs me that frankly they had already made the plan as his family was the only Dalit family in the village and completely isolated. We were living with our head high. Lalji was also known to be a good stone cutter and wanted to take the adjacent land for stone mining. Some of the top Koli leaders were eyeing at that place.

I ask Kalu Bhai as how did they come to know about that Lalji had eloped with their daughter? Lal ji was married and would never do so said his father. The fact is that when the girl from Koli community disappeared, the villagers went to a local ‘tantrik’ who ‘told’ them that the girl has eloped with the Dalit family boy and that is why the entire community of Kolis surrounded his house and burnt Lalji.

The Verdict

On November 30th, 2018, a Session Judge sentenced life imprisonment to 11 accused who were charged under sections 302 (murder), 324 (causing hurt), 463 forgery, 449 Houses trespass, 342, wrongful confinement, 143 unlawful assembly, 147 for rioting, 120B Criminal Conspiracy. The judge also asked all the 11 accused to pay Rs 54000/- each to be deposited in the account of Kalu Bhai. The family was happy with the verdict but is uncertain about the future.

Now, we have received information that the convicts have filed case in the Ahmedabad High Court against the Session Court verdict. The petition will come for hearing next week. While convicts have a right to approach the courts as part of their legal remedies, the issue of Social boycott is the most atrocious and need to be handled legally now.

Kalu Bhai acknowledged that Gujarat based Dalit rights activists, as well as various social movements stood with them in their hour of crisis. Of course, the caste forces too are active and intimidating the Dalits with their social boycott. The irony is that in the Gir Somnath district it is the OBCs who are the most violent on the Dalits. The bigger question of Dalit Bahujan unity needs to respond to such questions and it is only possible when powerful communities whether physically, financially or numerically introspect and their leader look into the issue seriously and alliance is not meant during the election time but social and cultural sphere too.

Social Boycott:

After the brutal death of his son, Kalu Bhai decided to leave the village Akolali and resettled in another village which was about 30 kilometers away from. They had 15 Bigha of land and the houses there. The family felt that it was time to move out as there was no interaction with any other community and most of the Kolis were just not ready to accept that they could live life with dignity.  The authorities helped them and gave them 15 bigha of land in lieu of their land at Akolali but the supreme irony is that the new village too has shown no sympathy with Kalu Bhai and his family. They remain unwanted and hated as the villagers ask them as why have they come to their village and they have been given land outside the village.

Kalu Bhai does not speak much but it seems that the hurt feeling is and a sense of injustice has dominated his personality.  What kind of a society we live in where the feeling of sadness and empathy does not exist and only point of your sensitivity is your caste identity?

Gujarat has been the laboratory of Hindutva for long. Dalits have been at the receiving end and the violence and social boycott has been a very powerful tool to control their voices for dignity and freedom.

Now the question is this social boycott is not merely an upper caste domain but the OBC castes too engage in it to oppress the Dalits.  All castes are basically learning the techniques of social boycott to pressurize Dalits and while each one of them might have their grievances against Brahmins or Savaranas but the fact is that each one of them enjoy oppressing the other. Baba Saheb Ambedkar defined this as graded inequality.

It is essential for the political parties, social movements and judiciary to look into the Social Boycott issue as this is the most brutal form of oppression and legitimacy of the caste hierarchy and caste hatred against Dalits. The caste ostricisation and social boycott tools must be legally outlawed and socially rejected in the greater interest of the nation. No nation can be called civilized as long as communities hate other and looked down upon them in deep contempt. No innocent life can be allowed to die just on the basis of heresy. Lal ji died because of the false accusations and his family has to leave the village but the justice cannot be said to have been done as long as family live in fear, uncertainty and ostracisation.

You can watch conversation with Kalu Bhai in these links. He is a native Gujarati speaker so his nephew was translating for us. He had come along with his elder brother and his son.

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat