Representative pic

Representative pic

can’t draw water from well here

Bhecharaji (Mehsana): On a sweltering afternoon, a dozen-odd women of Bechar village in Mehsana sit a few steps away from the well with their pots. They plead with youths passing by to fetch them water, but to no avail. It is over an hour and half when finally, an old woman takes pity and starts filling up their pots, drawing water from the well.

So close, yet so far – for the thirsty dalit women. Caste keeps them away from quenching their thirst. In the village of 20,000, there are 200 dalit families here whose women are made to wait on a daily basis. A constant reminder that they are ‘untouchables’, they cannot touch the well from which higher caste community members draw water.

Prevalence of this practise – nine decades after Dr B R Ambedkar in 1927 launched ‘Mahad Satyagraha’, wherein he led dalits to fetch water from a public water-tank in a bid to break caste barriers and give out the message that no one is untouchable – bears testimony to the fact that Babasaheb’s work remains unfinished.

It does not matter that the village falls in the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and CM Anandiben Patel. “We are from Valmiki community. We are not allowed to touch the village well,” says Chandrika Sisodiya, 25. Shardaben Solanki, 45, says her community members remain dependent on some kind-hearted Bharwad women to help them draw water from the well. “We have water supply from tube-well, but it can’t be consumed. It is laden with saline and dirt. It makes you fall sick.”

Geeta Bharwad, who belongs to dominant OBC community, says “This rule was made by our forefathers that lower caste people should not be allowed to touch the well as the water would get polluted.”

Village sarpanch Kanubhai Bharwad’s father Popatbhai says, “We don’t allow dalits to fetch water from the village well. This is our tradition and we follow it.”

He says if the government takes Narmada waters to the taps of villagers, the practise will be rendered obsolete.

Similar situation prevails in Goda and Kumarkhan villages of Viramgam Taluka. Jagdish Chavda, villager of Goda, says, “We have two wells – one for dalits and second for higher castes. If there is problem with well for dalits, we have to buy water. We are not given water from the other well.”

Dalit rights activist Kaushik Parmar says that the government has to focus on breaking the caste barrier by allowing dalits into main stream rather than holding a show biz in the name of Babasaheb.