Split Wide Open

Nature was undiscriminating in the staggering death and devastation she wrought on Gujarat. But as international and national aid pours in, disturbing reports of caste, class and communal bias in its distribution continue to surface. Among other things, this could mean scant attention to the rehabilitation of craftsmen from worst-hit Kutch – a region famed for its rich and vivid handicraft tradition

Devastation, death and despair bring out the best, and the worst, in us. So it has been with Gujarat, a state that symbolises the latest paradigm of modern India — brazen communalism and urbanisation stalking hand–in–hand with aggressive globalisation and depletion of natural resources. The killer earthquake measuring 8.0 on the Richter scale, which shook the state to its roots, proved to be a brutal leveller. 

Vankars (weavers), ajrak printers, all the Kutchi karigars who’s rich tradition of hand crafts spans weaving, block printing, intricate bandhni leather crafts, metalworking and woodwork, were severed from their livelihoods as much as the flourishing Patel business class. Migrant and landless labourers had their lives snatched away as much as salt pan workers. Among the survivors in urgent need of relief and rehabilitation were Harijans (the scheduled castes among the vankars in Gujarat still refer to themselves as Harijans, instead of Dalit) and Muslims, as much as upper caste Hindus — Rabaris, Darbaris, Bhanushalis, Patels. 

It was a Republic Day that few in Kutch (Bhuj, Anjar, Bhachau), Ahmedabad, Rajkot, Jamnagar, Surendranagar and more than 600 villages around are likely to forget. The tremors that reverberated across the state and impacted neighbouring Maharashtra, too, came shortly before 9 am.
The official R–Day functions in Gandhinagar, Ahmedabad and Delhi – chief minister Keshubhai Patel and entourage saluting the tricolour, Gujarat High Court judges feasting on a lavish lunch after the traditional flag hoisting and Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and his cabinet at the official R–Day parade — continued stoically undisturbed by the crash of cement and concrete until well past mid–day. By then, much of Bhuj, Anjar and Bhachau towns had already been reduced to rubble. Even smaller townships in the Kutch and Saurashtra regions had lost most of the pucca dwellings. 

Today, rough estimates put the loss of life at close to 50,000. Gujarat joins issue and cause with Orissa in the east of the country that suffered a human tragedy of similar proportion when it was devastated by not one, but two, cyclones 18 months ago. In material terms, the loss in Gujarat has been officially computed at over Rs. 20,000 crores.

The sluggishness of government response — epitomised in Doordarshan’s non–acknowledgement of the ‘event’ until 24 hours later — to the sheer scale of the loss in human and material terms is reflective of how distant the State — central and state governments alike — have become from the real concerns and rights of people, the very people from whom they seek legitimacy.  Not only that, arms of the State in India today have distinctly partisan political and economic agendas that violate the core and spirit of Indian democracy and Constitution. It is a factor that influences responses in times of war and peace, disaster and normalcy.

A myriad images spring to mind when we reflect on the past three weeks of media glare – photographs, television images and reams of printed copy. There are the spontaneous stories of human bonding, the instinct and desire to rise above narrow mind–sets. Stray accounts of RSS workers in their khaki shorts and Muslim boys working together for rescue and relief were reported in the first few days after the disaster. Sadly, reports of sectarian mind-sets prevailing over common pain and suffering followed. Which are the ones that shall endure?

Republic Day 2001 was a Friday. A call was given through the khutba (sermon after Friday’s Juma namaaz) at the Al Fazal Mosque in the Juhapura area in the outskirts of the old city of Ahmedabad that all help should be rendered to the needy as speedily as possible. Even before the call from the mosque, 15–20 Muslim boys had rushed to the neighbouring Hindu–dominated Vejalpur locality in their bid to rescue the occupants of the Shiv Society apartments that had collapsed.

Days later, a spontaneous procession of a few hundred Muslim women dressed in burkhas, walked the streets of Ahmedabad — a city scarred by the wounds of otherness and division — praying to Allah to bring succour to Gujarat, a state affected by tragedy once too often. The march moved ordinary Ahmedabadis to tears.

However, after the initial days of such spontaneous display of undiscriminating solidarity in the face of unprecedented human tragedy, Communalism Combat began receiving complaints (from different parts of Gujarat) of exclusion from relief by marginalised sections, areas and populations. The caste–based marginalisation excluded traditional karigars and artisans from the ambit of relief and rehabilitation. And, in tune with the ascendant discourse of Gujarat as the “laboratory for a Hindu rashtra”, discrimination was also influenced by the religion of the affected.  Strange are the ways of seeing. The pall bearers of the Hindu rashtra ideology, that conjures images of military prowess gained through blood–soaked trishul and sets us back by several centuries into rank medieval discourse, has little to offer to the traditional karigars of Kutch. Karigars whose link with the past is so palpable and enduring. 

For example, in the pots crafted by the late master potter Suleimanbhai Mohammad. Or, the famed ajrak print process of the Khatris of Dhamadka. To the national award winner Khatri karigars, Mohammadbhai Siddik and Abdul Razzak goes the credit of reviving the natural dye process that had passed unnoticed to Sindh and Multan and bringing recognition, national and international awards, fashion and tourism to Dhamadka. Glitzy ‘Miss World’ outfits crafted in bandhni (tye and dye), in a technique so fine, are also notched to the credit of Ali Mohammad Isha from the region. Pooplibehn of Dhordo is another name recalled and remembered as a bandhni karigar of the highest calibre.

Hajaram is an upstart ajrak painter whose natural inclination for colour and blocks led him to acquire the technique of the famous ajrak printing from the local Khatris of the famed Dhamadka, 54 kilometres from Bhuj. Even before the devastation wrought by the earthquake, his village, like scores others in Kutch, had been reeling under a two–year–old drought, forcing people to buy food from the market, a practice alien to them. 

Today, Hajaram is a survivor of the quake that has left him bereft of five close family members. His workshop and home are badly damaged. Dazed and disoriented with the loss of family, home and workplace, he is busy trying to rebuild his own life and that of 150 other similarly affected families. 
Everything is under rubble. No heavy machinery has been brought to clear the debris. Dhamadka is on the international map thanks to the ajrak printers. But, today, no attention is being paid to the vibrant karigars who have brought the region fame and richness. 

Dhamadka and Anjar also suffered a quake in 1956; in 1912, too, the region was affected by a seismic shock. Nature, as the karigars, the landless labourers, the fishermen and women of Kutch know it, has rarely been kind to this stark region. In such an environment has sprouted the rich, philosophic, fiercely independent and enterprising Kutchi character.

Hajaram, Ghulam Hussain Oomer, Zakaria-bhai, Rameshbhai Savani, Vankar Premji Velji, are names that today represent the timeless crafts of the Kutch region, reflective of Kutchi khumari, of pride laced with self–respect. This karigar community, comprising of Muslims, Harijans and Hindus dotting the Kutch landscape, has remained marginalised from both relief and rehabilitation. Villages like Manpar, Adoi and Chaubari and 170 more around Bhuj are reduced to material nothingness, will schemes for rehabilitation allow the re-birth of these since they are home to vibrant local populations?

Emotional succour and limited support has come from some individuals and institutions associated with and interested in the crafts and culture of the region. These include Shrujan, an enterprise that supports design and craft in many villages run by Chandabehn Shroff. Sohan, a co–operative handicrafts enterprise linked for over four decades to the region with Prabhabehn Shah and Malti Jhaveri ‘in charge, is also attempting need-based assistance. Reeth with Anela Jasuja and Kalashetra with Judy Frater — a foreigner who has made Kutch her home — are other organisations in Mumbai trying to intervene sensitively. 

Meanwhile, the karigar communities have quickly gone about finding their own solutions. Ramesh Savani, is a karigar in batik from Mandvi that fortunately escaped the worst. But that has not made Savani complacent. He has been busy trying to help Hajaram and the Khatris from Dhamadka who have suffered the worst.

If Kutchi karigars are completely sidelined with little attention being paid to the revival and rehabilitation of their rich and enduring crafts tradition, there are increasing complaints from other parts of the state, too — especially Saurashtra (Morbi near Rajkot) and Surendranagar districts — of bias against minority sections in relief distribution and worse. 

“At a time like this, everything and everyone should transcend prejudices and narrow mind–sets. But in Gujarat today, these prejudices are fanned officially”.

Activists of the VHP and RSS have allegedly been insisting that irrespective of their religion, all must chant ‘Jai Sri Ram’ before they are given food at the relief camps. Both the VHP and the RSS have hotly denied the latter charge. Meanwhile, Communalism Combat has independently been receiving complaints of blatant bias being displayed by some Gujarat ministers, like Fakirbhai Vaghela, in the distribution of tents and cash doles. 

(The Gujarat government last week announced a cash compensation of Rs. 1,00,000 per deceased to surviving family members. In case of the surviving families of the nearly 400 school children from Anjar who died while participating in a Republic Day parade, the compensation amount has been increased to Rs 1,10,000 per death, since the children died while on ‘patriotic duty’).

When Vaghela, the minister for social welfare in the state cabinet, toured his constituency — in Surendranagar district bordering Kutch — on February 3, he crudely ignored Muslim–dominated areas. As we go to press, nearly three weeks after the killer quake, thousands remain subjected to the vagaries of bitter cold. Vaghela is accused by local residents of insisting that the RSS get credit for the material distributed in relief. He was also reportedly angered to find local residents having started medical relief operations cutting across community. He allegedly stopped them from doing so and took charge of the civil hospital forcibly. Hindu and Muslim residents thereafter have submitted a joint memorandum to the local mamlatdar urging that at times of crises the administration should work to unite and not divide people. 

Surendra Vanrajsingh Jala, from Kherali village in the Surendranagar district (located in Vaghela’s assembly constituency), spoke with anguish to CC, about the hoarding of relief materials and the fact that ‘backwards’ and Muslims were not being given relief. “The maximum damage from the region has been in Paldi and Halvat. Citizens of the town, from all communities, have been united in their protest against the minister’s attempts to divide people on the basis of religion. Villagers have made representations in this connection to the collector and to the chief minister and home minister protesting against this attitude.” 

Jala also revealed that in neighbouring Watwan, also in Surendranagar and the constituency of BJP MLA Dhanraj Kela, locals had looted the godown where relief materials had been hoarded at night instead of being distributed to legitimate claimants.

“For the past two weeks we residents of Dasada have been told that tents have been distributed,” complains Aslam Malik, a member of the Lok Janshakti party, “but we have not received a single tent and women and children are still sleeping out in the open.” 

Concurs Anwarbhai Pathan, a resident of Paldi: “So much relief material has been diversified or dispersed through the RSS–controlled bajaar samitis. Odhu village is nearly finished, all homes damaged, people are still sleeping out in the open. Members of the RSS, like Rashmibhai Rawal, Dilipbhai Khejadia, Bharat Painter, Vanvaji Thakore are being favoured with relief material that does not, then, reach anywhere else.”

The writ that the RSS and VHP over the state administration can be gauged from their ability to influence scrutiny of accusations of discrimination at the very highest level. The governor of Gujarat, Sundersinh Bhandari was scheduled to visit  Surendranagar following reports of discrimination, especially in Dasada, on February 19. Pressure from the RSS and Vaghela compelled him, at the last moment to cancel the visit, reliable local sources informed CC.

While CK Koshy, relief commissioner of Gujarat was unavailable for comment, PN Roy, in charge of relief operations at Anjar — one of the worst affected towns — categorically repudiated such allegations, at least in Anjar where he has been in charge. “There have never been allegations, now or ever, of the IAS being communal. Rest assured, we have taken extra care to ensure that distribution and responsibility is handled only by organisations with unimpeachable credentials. We will not let people be discriminated against,” he told Communalism Combat. 

On the day CC spoke to Roy, he had been honoured with an international award for his efforts, by an American relief agency. The citation praises Roy’s efforts for ‘excellence in International Major Disaster Management.’

“As in wars laws do not remain silent, so too in calamities and at times of crises, laws in general and constitutional rights, human rights and humanity cannot remain silent,” Girishbhai Patel, of Lok Adhikar Sangh told Communalism Combat. “We, too, have received complaints of caste– and community–based discrimination which we are looking into, case by case. But we can expect the worst from this government that is a victim of its own mindset.”

The present BJP government came to power in March 1998, publicly touting its Hindu rashtra agenda. On April 15–16, 1998, barely a month after chief minister Keshubhai Patel took the constitutional oath, the first attack on churches and Christians began. Three months later, Muslims in rural and semi–rural areas of Randhikpur and Sanjeli were targeted. 

In between, in June 1998 came the first killer cyclone that not only cost the Kandla region 10,000 lives, but also left the central government–run Kandla Port Trust squabbling with the state government on the crucial issue of relief and rehabilitation. Even then, within just a few months of saffron–hued governance in the state, there were detailed accounts of Muslim fishermen and migrant saltpan workers suffering from discrimination and bias. An official report by the Kandla Port Trust brought out recently, evaluating the proposed rehabilitation of 3,500 homes reveals that two–and–a–half years later, not more than 20 homes have been built! 

The Kandla cyclone, like the Gujarat earthquake, had raised serious questions of inept disaster management. Then, too, the Lok Adhikar Sangh had petitioned the court pointing out the total incompetence of the state government, despite scientific warnings, in dealing with natural calamities. “The government, instead of responding to the questions that had been raised, replied with reams of computer paper,” says Patel. Despite being a pioneer of public–spirited litigation, he has not gone to court this time. “I have lost complete faith in the judiciary. The two–year–old petition would have been relevant today. But what have the courts done to expedite its hearing? It is still pending. We had asked why the control rooms were inadequately staffed, why the staff that was there was not trained to handle proper co–ordination. What did we get in reply? Accusations and counter accusations between the Kandla Port Trust and the state government!”

Father Cedric Prakash of the Ahmedabad–based St Xaviers Social Service Society, a resident of Gujarat for 23 years, has been active in relief and rehabilitation work through many of these tragedies. The day after the earthquake, RSS volunteers physically stopped him from entering a building in Ahmedabad where people were trapped. Initial consignments of official aid, valued at a few million dollars, have been rooted through the St. Xaviers Society and Jan Vikas Collective along with some other NGOs. Their efforts at distribution of the material, that included heavy military tents etc. was acknowledged in a letter from the US ambassador, Richard F Celeste. 

Says father Prakash, “Look, caste discrimination is there everywhere. But what are the kinds of signals that come from the top? At a time like this, everything and everyone should transcend prejudices and narrow mind–sets. But in Gujarat today, these prejudices are fanned officially. While many people are bravely trying to transcend the confines of religion, here are organisations actually fanning differences with the blessings of the state.”
The Delhi–based All India Milli Council has also set up four camps in Gujarat to provide relief ad rehabilitation. In its initial report, it also made mention of bias in reaching of relief to survivors in Gujarat. However, while addressing a press conference in Ahmedabad on February 16, the group made a clear distinction between representatives of the RSS and VHP and ordinary Hindus who felt angered by the politicisation of relief operations.
Giving an example of attempts to make Muslims chant ‘Jai Sri Ram’ before being given food at a relief centre in the Kutch region, representatives of the Council told the media that many Hindu survivors in the camps also refused the offer of food in protest against this kind of coercion. 

Alongside communal bias, the scenario in Gujarat post–earthquake has revealed sharp and visible caste–based discrimination and prejudice. Tikar, a badly affected village in Surendranagar district happens to be the home of the brother of Sam Pitroda. When he arrived there in early February to convey his offer to re–construct the whole village, the Patels bluntly told him that while re–building the village, caste distinction would have to be strictly followed! This means that Dalits would continue to be discriminated against, continue to be subjected to the practice of untouchability and denied common and equal access to water and grazing lands.

Adhoi village, also in Surendranagar district, is also witnessing similar schisms. Valjibhai Patel, Council for Social Justice, told Communalism Combat that his organisation is co–ordinating relief effort in 90–100 camps in the district with no help from outside. The extent of caste prejudice has forced his organisation to approach the Gujarat High Court with a public interest petition. 

The governor of Gujarat, Sundersinh Bhandari was scheduled to visit  Surendranagar following reports of discrimination, especially in Dasada, on February 19. But pressure from the RSS and Vaghela compelled him, at the last moment, to cancel the visit.

“We have already collected affidavits from Dalit women from the village who have testified to the organisation of food and other rehabilitation items on a caste–wise and discriminatory basis. Even temporary shelters are being constructed on caste lines. Our plea to the court is that whenever re-built, an ideal village should emerge here within which Dalits, Muslims and Hindus intermingle and live together, not separated by discrimination.”

Serious questions about human rights issues in the context of a natural calamity have surfaced in the wake of the quake. What is the responsibility of the government towards human lives in terms of disaster management? That is, its response to warning signals of impending disasters. Also in the norms that it does or does not set for the powerful construction lobby that stands exposed for criminal and negligent conduct in Ahmedabad and Bhuj — especially in urban construction. Will the guilty builders of Ahmedabad and Bhuj be punished? There were huge individual investments made in the buildings that have collapsed. Who will bear the tab of compensation? 

Like Valjibhai’s petition, two other citizens’ interventions in court seek greater transparency and accountability from government. The first, filed by former chief justice of Gujarat High Court, Justice Bipinchandra Divan and other prominent citizens of Gujarat, has demanded accountability from government in the distribution of aid. On February 17, 2001 this PIL achieved success with Justice Dharmadhikari passing a pathbreaking order giving the reliefs that the petitioners had sought: all money received in aid would be put in a separate account (so as not to be diverted for purposes other than relief and rehab of survivors) and a district judge would monitor disbursal at every stage. 

International and national aid for Gujarat, from foreign governments, UN agencies and independent organisations, has been enormous. “If fairly distributed, aid can comfortably look after all the affected survivors of Gujarat for a year, but it is just not being distributed well,” says Martin Macwan, a leading rights activist who heads the Ahmedabad–based Navsarjan. 

Another petition filed by senior advocate Haroobhai Mehta on behalf of SAMVAD seeks criminal action against 55 builders named by aggrieved persons in private complaints filed in Ahmedabad. Some groups are also contemplating filing yet another PIL on the question of increasing and visible bias in the disbursal of relief.
Says Mehta: “Serious human rights issues have arisen after the calamity. The right to life is a guaranteed right. This means that the right to be rescued efficiently and quickly is itself the right of every human being. Chief minister Keshubhai Patel and home minister Haren Pandya have themselves admitted that one whole day lost was lost; the rescue actually started on the second day. For 24 hours there was nothing. Who will bear this responsibility? Even today the debris has not been cleared. Bhachau is still buried under cement and concrete rubble. It will be months before it is cleared.”

Inept governance that inspires little confidence, be it for the relatively privileged urban middle class or the utterly marginalised sections of quake-hit Gujarat, and a prejudicial mind–set sum up the response of the present political leadership to the calamity. 

“Immediate relief and supplies through official channels has been influenced by political considerations, the mainline versus interior bias and the poverty–caste–religion ratio,” says Macwan. Interestingly, the vocal voluntary and non–governmental sector that is always at the receiving end of governmental and administrative wrath, was open enough to work with any and all groups, until increasing reports of exclusion and bias began creeping in. The sheer scale of the tragedy that left none untouched governed this maturity. 

But was this approach rewarded? Says Macwan, “Above all, the mind-set of the present political dispensation shows up in nonsensical ways. At a recent meeting at the chief minister’s house where I was present, the general secretary of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad espoused the setting up of spiritual centres as part of their rehabilitation package! Now, this is really angering. Are we thinking of religion, or food? There are people who are still living out in the open after 21 days. 

“The fact that this mind–set can surface even at a time of a tragedy of the grossest magnitude, reflects the nuisance value of this ideology and mind–set. We have been part of different non–governmental and voluntary associations like the Janpath Initiative and the KMVS. We have in the past put aside ideological differences. This time, too, that was our approach. “Even now we feel that we should strive to look at everything as a basic human rights issue. There is the crucial question of rehabilitation. Government figures put the total loss at around Rs. 20,000 crore. The last cyclone had caused losses worth Rs. 10,000 crores. How are the people of Gujarat going to cope?

“If the RSS has a plan of rehabilitation totalling Rs. 15,000 crores, let them do it. We will be with them. But let a concrete plan emerge. And all we say is that everyone must benefit from the rehabilitation package. There must not only be a policy of equality but also an aim of social equity. Creating conditions of equity means accepting that gross inequity prevails. The question is, do they have the strength to go beyond their mind–set?” 

Hindus sweep Masjid before handing it to Muslims

Overwhelmed by the gesture shown by Muslims in providing succour to the quake–hit people of Gujarat, Hindus swept and scoured a Shahi Masjid and invited them to offer namaaz at the place of worship, situated in the communally sensitive Khadia area of the city.
Earlier, Muslims were scared of going to the mosque because of the area’s long–history of communal riots, said Amjad Ali Rajput, Rajpur ward chief of BJP’s minority cell here Thursday.
“However, the good Samaritan job done by Muslims in providing all possible help to their Hindu brethren had an impact and the Hindus of the locality on Sunday washed and cleaned the mosque before inviting us to offer prayers,” he said. 
Since then Muslims have been offering prayers at the Khadia Shahi masjid five times a day without any hesitation or fear, Amjad said.

‘BJP govt wants RSS, VHP to get all the credit’

Girishbhai Patel
Lok Adhikar Sangh

It is a clear–cut strategy of the BJP that, at the cost of it’s own reputation, the government machinery should not work but the VHP and RSS should get credit for any relief and rehabilitation. Gujarat is crying for a different kind of leadership that can respond to the assaults by communalism and globalisation. Congress does not have people of vision and the BJP has no people, it has only mobs.
This government is functioning like a religious organisation. I am sure that large numbers of temples will come up in reconstruction!
Medha Patkar and myself have surveyed the situation. We feel that there is a surfeit of relief. But instead of awakening a scientific spirit among people, except for some established NGOs, relief is being distributed mostly by the RSS and the VHP and the Jamaat–e–Islami. In many villages, the Sai Baba Samiti and other religious and sectarian organisations have reached.
The real problem is going to be of reconstruction. To this end, some of us (Medha Patkar, Justice Ravani and myself) have made a public appeal: Let us seize this opportunity to reconstruct villages in a way that they become self–sustainable villages, in a way that they reflect the traditional framework, while not perpetuating the tradition–based caste discriminations. Let us not rely on corporate structure. We need to show vision and courage on the caste question, we cannot perpetuate discrimination.
We are privileged by a sharp constitutional vision on the question of equity, social justice and non–discrimination. We must not replicate the past.
This tragedy also brings into sharp focus the consequences of the new development paradigm that we have so blindly adopted. In Gujarat, we have had two cyclones, persistent drought. And yet, those who make decisions on our behalf do so at the cost of lives and resources. How do we build up an economy that does not cause so much damage to the people?

‘We don’t know when government help will come; we have to help ourselves’

Ramesh Savani
‘Batik’ craftsman
Mandvi, Kutch

“What is needed most is chappars, for temporary houses. Mandvi was spared but Dhamadka, Kothdi village, and similarly Daneti, Dudhai, Chobari are completely and severely damaged. We have just been to Bhavnagar and surveyed the ship-breaking yard and the scrap there. The malba (scrap) contains sheets of ply and other material that are lightweight yet durable, useful for our homes. We are planning to buy these in bulk, hire a lorry and take them to Dhamadka for our craftsmen, the Khatris and Hajaram. We don’t know when government help will come. We have to help ourselves. Our women and children are suffering sleeping out in the cold, how long can they do so? ”

Even three weeks after the damage we have received no relief’

Devji Premji
Vankar, Harijan 
Bhujodi village, Kutch

“Though our village is only nine kilometres away from Bhuj proper, even three weeks after the damage we have received no relief and only one visit from the Sai Baba Samiti. There are 200 vankars in the village. Seven or eight lives have been lost and nearly 30–40 per cent of the looms has been damaged. Ours is a total population of about 3,300; we have 1,900 Rabaris and 1,300 vankars. We need talpatris (covers for roofs) but not made of plastic as they melt in our heat, and columns made of material that do not attract white ants!”
‘The mamlatdar is selectively disbursing relief material only to the RSS and VHP’ Aslam Malik
Social worker Dasada, Surendranagar “We have completed a survey of 15 villages including Dasada, Vanod, Adhiraniya, Dhama, Jejuwada, Jenabad, Odhu and Patdi (a township of 20,000). This area is also within the constituency of an MLA and a minister hence the anger of people is palpable. It is the same story everywhere. These are villages dominated by Muslims and Dalits. Patdi is barely 90 kilometres from Ahmedabad; but the mamlatdar is selectively disbursing relief material only to the RSS and VHP. In Patdi, the mamlatdar goes on saying that 150 tents have been distributed, the collector dishes out a figure of 3,500. But where have the tents gone? They have not reached the people.  Locals have demanded a survey by the executive magistrate — the 92 villages under him should be visited. Where are the 5,000 that have been sent to the district collector, news of which has appeared from official sources in the press?”

‘The Muslim fisherfolk and Harijans from the Rann of Kutch have no one to help them’

Fr Cedric Prakash
St Xaviers Social Service Society

“Our team is also discovering villages which are out of the pale of relief, where people are still outside in the open. These are in the Rann of Kutch, the Nalya and Lakhpat villages. These villages have Rabaris, Darbars and Muslim populations. Now some influential communities like Darbars have connections outside. The Bhanushali community has samajs in Mumbai, they can garner help. But the Muslim Kolis (fisherfolk) and Harijans have no one to help them. Now, how has the RSS helped here? They have taken up one solitary village consisting of 350 people to concentrate on; this village has mainly Darbar families whom they want to help!” 

‘There are complaints that in common langars, Dalits and Muslims were asked to stand last’

Haroobhai Mehta
Senior advocate

“A general bias is visible. Maliya town near Morbi in Rajkot has a 60 per cent Muslims population, so here the government moved slowly. We have also received complaints that in common langars, Dalits and Muslims were asked to stand last. There was another example of the Mudra Masjid in Kutch district where Muslims who were receiving aid from the administration were physically stopped by the RSS and the VHP. There have also been reports of relief being diverted to trucks with the BJP Lotus or the RSS emblem. The whole issue is also of the reconstruction model which should not hurt the cultural setting and milieu of the people. But at the moment the whole situation is completely anarchic.”

‘The BJP government is blatantly in favour of the privileged sections’

Valjibhai Patel
Council for Social Justice

“In Adhoi village in Surendranagar, 80 per cent of the pucca houses were destroyed; 20 Dalits died as did some Kolis and Muslims. The Patels who are very prosperous have rehabilitated themselves on the other side of the highway and called the new settlement Udaipur. But there has been not even any elementary relief for the more marginalised sections. No tents have been received; people are still sleeping out in the cold. 
The Patels want the Dalits out. Why? The Dalits are living on good fertile land. The Patels are eyeing this land.
Our PIL will be filed in a few days. We want the court to apply the Indian Constitution in directing that in official rehabilitation efforts, an ideal village gets created. 
The BJP government is blatantly in favour of the privileged sections. The chief minister made a statement that was reported in the Sandesh (February 14) saying that those with more land and who own dairy cattle deserve more spacious home and land in rehabilitation schemes. A rehabilitation packet announced by the government gives 35,000 each under the Sardar Awaz Yojana for slum dwellers to rebuild homes, while big bungalow owners have been given Rs. 100,000 without interest!” 

Archived from Communalism Combat, February 2001 Year 8  No. 66, Cover Story 1



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