Video Editor: Mohd Irshad Alam
Loudspeakers blared outside Lhor Gam in Mehsana, Gujarat under the harsh mid-day sun, as another Dalit baraat made its way into the village on Thursday, 16 May. Men and women of all ages were dancing with gusto to Arvind Vegda’s ever-green Gujarati hit song Bhai-Bhai, under the watchful of eye of the police.
On the surface, things looked quite jovial; however, the Dalits of Lhor village can’t thank Mehsana’s DySP Manjita Vanzara enough for providing ample police protection. Less than a fortnight ago, the village was edging towards a major clash between the Thakors (upper caste majority in Lhor village) and the minority Dalits.
The village sarpanch called for a boycott of the Dalit community in the village, after 23-year-old Mehul Parmar rode a horse on his wedding day through Lhor on 7 May. The sarpanch Vinuji Thakor, who has been arrested along with four other persons, is still behind bars.
As a result, tensions are visibly high in the village, where the upper caste members remained inside their homes while the festivities raged outside.
No Horsing Around for Dalits
As the baraat reached its destination in Lhor, The Quint caught up with Mukesh Shrimali, Mehul Parmar’s uncle, who said that Mehul was the first Dalit man in the village to ride a horse on his wedding day.
"“We visited the Mamlatdar’s office to gain permission for the horse, as we knew that the Thakors could ruin our wedding celebrations. We also approached the local police station, where we also met the village sarpanch Vinuji Thakor, who assured us that we can take the horse and the baraat through the village. However, by evening he changed his mind and called us to inform that we can only take the horse out in the Dalit mohalla of the village, not anywhere else.”" - Mukesh Shrimali, Lhor Village
Without wasting a second, Mukesh contacted the police and ensured that enough force is sent to the village for safe passage of the baraat.
On 8 May, the sarpanch made an announcement on the temple speakers, calling only the non-Dalit villagers to the village square for a meeting. There he declared that the villagers will neither speak nor transact with the Dalits and called for their total boycott.
If any villager breaches the sarpanch’s orders he or she will be fined Rs 5,000 and asked to leave the village.
Total Boycott of Dalits Fail
Shantaben Senma works for NGO Navsarjan Trust which handles Dalit atrocity cases in Gujarat and empowers the community to become self-reliant. She was in Lhor when the sarpanch made the announcement in the village square.
"“On 8 May, some Dalit families went to buy groceries and the shopkeepers told them to stock up as they were ordered to not sell anything to Dalit households from the next day onwards. This prompted us to act. We sent our community members in teams of two to shopkeepers, grocers, barbers, autorickshaw drivers and covertly recorded the conversation they had with the upper caste villagers.” " - Shantaben Senma, Navsarjan Trust
Shantaben took the recordings and met with DySP Manjita Vanzara at Bavlu police station; Vanzara immediately called for the arrest of the sarpanch and deployed additional force in the village to ensure no untoward incident happens.
According to Shantaben, over 300 upper-caste women and over 200 men surrounded the police station demanding the release of the sarpanch. She said, “Manjitaben immediately called additional forces from nearby police stations and ensured that we returned to the village safely.”
Mukesh Shrimali said, “The police force has been here since 9 May and we feel much safer under their protection now. We worry because we are a minority in the village and the upper caste Thakors can wreak havoc on us just because we want to live our lives with dignity.”
No More Carcass Cleaning
There are around 40-50 Dalit households in Lhor while the upper caste Thakors and Rabaris are spread across over 200 homes. For the last two years, the Dalit community in Lhor has stopped carrying cattle carcass outside the villages from upper caste homes.
Traditionally, the role was relegated to the Dalits of the village; however, the younger generation of Dalits in Lhor are educated and work in Ahmedabad. For them, the job is dirty and abusive.
Mehul Parmar, the groom who raised a storm by riding a horse on his wedding day, told The Quint that he works in CIMS Hospital in Ahmedabad and doesn’t want to touch any dead animals.
"“The Thakors of the village abuse us when we drag the animals out of the village. They don’t want the carcass scraping through the village streets and use the choicest abuses for us. Who wants to live such an existence? We aren’t paid for this job. They (Thakors) assume that as per the caste hierarchy such dirty work is meant only for our community. We on the other hand are working in the cities and intend to make a better life for ourselves.”" - Mehul Parmar, Lhor Village
According to Mukesh Shrimali, riding the horse was just an excuse for the upper caste Thakors of the village as they wanted to vent their frustrations on the Dalits, especially over not picking up dead carcass.
"“They can drink the milk from the cattle but can’t move a dead cow outside their homes because it is beneath them. They kept us (Dalits) in the village to remove the carcass claiming that this work is meant for Dalits and no one else. I have not done the job for almost 5 years now. They ostracised us for not picking up the cattle and even our youths remained tight lipped despite being on the receiving end of abuses. Now they (Thakors and Rabaris) must drag their dead cattle out themselves, and they don’t like it.”" - Mukesh Shrimali, Lhor Village
The Quint tried to speak with the Thakors of Lhor Gam on camera, but none of them were responsive and evaded questions by saying they are unaware of the Dalit boycott.
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