An RTI query by divyabhaskar.com has revealed that the Anandiben Patel government is funding separate cremation grounds for those belonging to Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe in several villages in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's home state, Gujarat, a fact corroborated by a survey conducted by Navsarjan, an NGO that works in 11 districts of the state.
According to the survey, 10 villages have separate crematoriums for Dalits while the state government has allocated funds for 40 more in other villages.
Manjula Pradeep of Navsarjan Trust, a Dalit rights organisation, said: “The equality that we fight for, the dignity that we seek in our lives should not be denied to us in death. If the government builds separate cremation areas for Dalits, it is aiding caste-based discrimination.
“Dalits are forced to cremate their dead in open places because in some villages they are not allowed to do so in a general crematoriums,” she alleged.
Tracking the revenue record through an RTI query in Kheda district's Moholel village, where the Dalit community is around five per cent of the population, revealed that it had three crematoriums – one for the "general" and two for the "lower castes". Documents produced by the village panchayat under an RTI query proved that the cremation areas for the SC/STs were funded by the state.
"By building different crematoriums for Dalits instead of ensuring that the last rites for their dead are performed in the crematoriums common to all, the government is trying to create a rift ", said Manish Parmar, a resident of Moholel village.
Reply for the RTI query establishes that the construction of Dalit crematoriums was done as per the guidelines of general administration department (planning) vide Gandhinagar’s circular no: JAM/1179/Y (Dated: 4/10/1980 and Dated: 16/6/81).
Pravin Patel, deputy secretary, planning, said, "The work was done as per government guidelines. Separate crematoriums are approved if there is a demand from the communities or recommendation from the MLAs. In many villages, there are different cremation grounds for Dalits, upper castes and Thakors. Each district has own Ayojan Samiti that works in accord with the state’s guidelines,” he said, adding in the same breath that “there is no guideline to make separate crematoriums for Dalits.”
Ramesh Chavda, a Dalit MLA from Kadi, made it clearer.
“Separate crematoriums in villages are not an uncommon phenomenon. Since Dalits are not allowed to use the ones frequented by the upper castes, in some cases the MLAs have allocated funds for exclusive Dalit crematoriums. Take it from me, untouchability will not be abolished in the next 100 years.”
Some of the members of the upper caste, however, denied that Dalits were disallowed from using general crematoriums.
Mafat Patel from the influential Patel community said: “There is already one samshan (crematorium) for Hindus in the village. Nobody denies the Dalits from entering it. Instead of constructing a proper road that leads to the crematorium, the government wasted money to build a separate one."