Casteism in Mehul’s village wrecks his hopes of making a living as an auto driver

His father is a sweeper just like his forefathers.

For Mehul Kabira, a Dalit youth in Ahmedabad district, life could have taken a different turn. An auto-rickshaw rented by his father could have freed him from his traditional caste occupation. However caste Hindu interests in the village ensured against it.

Residing in Bhayla village in Bavla block, about 40 km from Ahmedabad city, Mehul belongs to the Valmiki community — historically restricted to cleaning, sweeping and scavenging jobs.

In 2012, Vinubhai Kabira, Mehul’s father, rented an auto with the hope that his son would earn a living as an auto driver. In a matter of a few days, Mehul was attacked by a group of youths from the Darbar community, who beat him up so badly that he had to be hospitalised and the family had to flee the village.

“They objected to my riding the auto. They forbade people from sitting in it. Their harassment continued for five days after which they vandalised my auto and beat me up. Out of fear, we fled the village,” said Mehul, whose family mustered the courage to return four months ago.

“They said ‘Bhangdas’ should not ride an auto. They did not even allow us to park it at the auto stand. They said we were fit only to clean gobar [cattle faeces] and work in their fields,” his father Vinubhai said.

After the incident, Mehul filed a case under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. But with no strong police action, his fears remained.

White elephant

The auto, covered with a tarpaulin, stands outside his house. But the means of livelihood has become a white elephant for the Kabira family. Mehul briefly got a cleaning job in a private company. However, all of his monthly earnings of Rs. 4,000 went towards paying the monthly rent of Rs. 4,400 for the auto.

“About nine payments to the tune of Rs. 45,000 are still pending,” he said, having no clue about what he should do about the abandoned vehicle.

To make matters worse, the family’s return to the village has been frowned upon by the numerically large Darbar community, according to the residents of the Valmiki colony of 20 houses. Early this month, an incident of stone pelting and assault left several people injured, resulting in another case of atrocity. Mehul has been named as one of the accused in a counter-FIR filed by the Darbar youth.

Inquiries at the houses of the Darbar youth were met with a stony silence and evasive replies by several residents of the caste Hindu locality.

“They behave that way with the police too,” remarked J.D. Zala, sub-inspector, in charge of the Bavla police station. In the last five years, three atrocity cases have been filed from Bhayla village alone.

http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/dalits-attempt-to-ply-auto-invites-wrath-of-caste-hindus/article6517150.ece