Gujarat Assembly Election 2017: Hindu Dalits in Shiyani forced to bury their dead due to economic, caste divide

Cemetery and graveyard – these two words are enough to identify a person's religion. However, it is hard to distinguish the religion of someone living in Shiyani village of Sundar Nagar district of Gujarat through these two words.

When Firstpost reached Shiyani village to talk about the upcoming Gujarat Assembly elections, one of the complaints of the people of that village was that they have no cemetery to bury dead bodies. On saying that one needs a graveyard to bury, 25-year-old Gautam Makivan said, "in our culture, we bury the Hindus also. But according to our religion, it's called cemetery and not a graveyard."

In most of the villages of the Sundar Nagar district, Dalits, including people from Valmiki community, are buried. Despite being a Hindu, their last rites are performed in accordance to Muslim culture. The difference between burying a Hindu and Muslim is that unlike the Muslims, Hindu Dalits don't have a tomb.

Only the lower class people follow the tradition of burial in this district. There is no clear reason for this. The founder of Navsarjan trust, an organisation which works for the Dalits, said "it does not happen everywhere. However, one reason behind this practice is precaution from air pollution."

One theory is that years ago, the people of this community started the practice of burying people after their death in a bid to reduce air pollution. However, there is no proof of this. Second theory is that the difference between upper and lower castes here was so vast that the lower castes did not have the freedom to adopt Hindu customs. This difference is starkly visible even today.

That is probably the reason why there's a separate crematorium for the upper castes in this district. This means, the distinction of untouchables remains even after death.

One of the complaints of people of Shiyani village is that there is not cemetery to bury the dead. Image procured by the author.

One of the complaints of people of Shiyani village is that there is not cemetery to bury the dead. Image procured by the author.

Third theory is that these people were initially Muslims and had changed their religion. These are just theories and for now, nothing definite can be said.

Even two yards of land is not available

It is said that after death, the struggle of life is over. However, the struggle of the Valmiki community and the Dalits of Shiyani village continues even after their death. Bacchu bhai (70) hopes that he will be able to own two yards of land at this age. However, it is nothing less than a dream. He said, "the practice of untouchability affected our lives and now, we don't get any respect even after death."

Their list of complaints is so long that for a moment, it feels that we are in some backward state and not Gujarat. Shiyani has about 10,000 houses, which includes 30 homes of the Valmiki community and 50 of Dalits. Rest of the homes belong to upper caste people.

Mukesh (35), who belongs to the Valmiki community, is upset with this situation. He said, the land allotted to Valmiki community for burial of the dead remains submerged in water. This small piece of land is located between a canal.

The land allotted to Valmiki community for burial remains submerged in water. Image procured by the author.

The land allotted to Valmiki community for burial remains submerged in water. Image procured by the author.

Mukesh also said that even after death, the people of the Valmiki community are not given a proper goodbye.

When Makivan was asked if he would like his last rites to be performed according to Hindu culture, he said that he wants to be cremated but he does not have the land or the status to demand that. He further said that even if they want to cremate in keeping with the Hindu culture, they would not be able to afford the wood.

He also said that the upper caste people are cremated in the middle of a garden. There are facilities for praying and taking a bath there.

This means only castes decides how a person is treated after their death here. The struggle of a respectable life does not end even after death.

Updated Date: Nov 27, 2017 18:57 PM

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