Call it irony, but Porbandar in Saurashtra, the birthplace of Mahtama Gandhi, has recorded the maximum cases of forced Dalit displacement and migration in Gujarat. What’s further ironical is that the displaced also includes an elected sarpanch too.
Suman Chavda, 44, was elated when he got elected as the sarpanch of Vinzrana village of Porbandar in 2012. Out of the 1,500 people living in this village, over 500 are Dalits. However, soon afterwards, according to Sumanbhai, 44, his problems began.
“Not just the upper castes but even OBCs ganged up. I was constantly reminded by the panchayat members that I was a Dalit and hence my presence was only for cosmetic value. My being a sarpanch was immaterial.” “I had faced discrimination in the past, too. Unfortunately, of late, intolerance and bigotry towards Dalits has only intensified’, he says. The population in Vinzrana comprises Dalits, Mers, Brahmins, Muslims and Rabaris (shepherd).
Sumanbhai has not been allowed to enter the village since over a year. “I thought I had a chance at a better life after being elected the sarpanch. But when I refused to skin a dead cow, the non-Dalit community ganged up against me”.
Discrimination towards him, he says, aggravated after he filed an RTI to blow off the lid of financial discrepancies in the local school project. ‘How can a non- Dalit question us?’ was what got them furious.
Sumanbhai was beaten up by nine people on September 4, 2012. He does not know how many fractures he suffered but claims, “I am 60 per cent disabled.” Even today, he can barely walk without help.
After Sumanbhai registered a police complaint under the IPC and Prevention of Atrocity Act (PoA), he received many threats. He was also provided police protection, but it was “suddenly withdrawn” in 2015.
Since then, he has not entered his village except on days when there are panchayat meetings. Today, all the accused are on bail.
During panchayat meetings, he is provided a constable for his security. He attends the meetings and comes back to his tarpaulin tent in Sitaramnagar on Airport road where he lives with his aged parents.
“I was hoping to live a life of dignity after becoming the sarpanch. Over 50 per cent population in my village are Dalits. Forget dignity, now I am a handicapped. All because I refused to skin a dead cow,” he says. A few months ago, Sumanbhai converted to Islam after applying to the Collectorate, seeking to change his religion.
He told Mirror, “I have approached all top officials, right from the mamlatdar to the governor, begging of them to provide my family safety and security back in Vinzrana. I go to the village only during the panchayat meeting as they would need me to sign on documents to initiate development work.”
Tarun Duggal, Superintendent of Police, Porbandar, said that Suman Chavda’s case was being investigated and that he was being provided police protection. Rebutting his claims, Chavda said, “If I enter my village, they would kill me. The SP’s claims are absolutely false. It is a crime to be a Dalit.”
Porbandar collector Dinesh Patel said, “I am not aware of these cases as many of them are old. I am posted here for only over a year now and will have to go through case papers before commenting.”
Porbandar has registered nine cases of forced migration involving 600 Dalits in the past 26 years, the highest in Gujarat.