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Dalits live in separate colonies in Ahmedabad

D P Bhattacharya/Express News Service

Posted: Jun 19, 2007 at 1411 hrs IST

In a recent trend, Ahmedabad is witnessing 'only-Dalit' residential societies—around 300 of which have come up in the last few years. However, for most Dalits, it is not a matter of choice, but of compulsion.

“Even if a Dalit can afford a flat in areas dominated by the upper castes, they are often denied by the builders or the seller,” retired IAS officer P K Valera, who lives in one such Dalit society in Ramdevnagar, says.

Some social scientists say the alienation started in 1982, after the anti-reservation agitation, but agree that the caste and class distinctions have become more serious in recent years. This trend can be seen not only in the walled city but also in the posh areas of west Ahmedabad like Satellite, Vastrapur, Bodakdev, Ambavadi.

Socio-political scientist Achyut Yagnik says, “There are more than 300 Dalit societies in the city. In Chandkheda alone, there are 200 societies, most of which have come up after the 2002 riots when people moved out from Gomtipur, Bapunagar and Dani limda area. You will find construction contractors who only build Dalit societies.”

Jayantibhai Jadav, a Congress councillor from Chandkheda and a builder-constructor, said, “In case a Dalit approaches a upper caste builder for accommodation, he is either directly discouraged or tacitly denied. The upper caste buyers don’t even approach Dalit builders.”

Jadav points out that while a Dalit from Gujarat cannot find a house in the upper caste societies, things are different for Dalits, who are non-Gujarati. “As the unfamiliar surnames do not reveal the caste of non-Gujaratis, Dalits from other parts of the country stands better chance to get accommodation in mixed societies,” he adds.

Ashok Shrimali, who moved from Gomtipur to Shyam Bungalows, one of the Dalit societies in Chandkheda post 2002 riots, said, “A quest of safety took me to various Hindu-dominated housing societies in Ahmedabad. But I was denied an accommodation everywhere as I am a Dalit,” says Shrimali. Even in Chandkheda, he could not find accommodation in any of the mixed societies.

“Finally, I moved to this society, inhabited by Dalits only,” he says.

“When does they (Sangh Parivar) consider us Hindus? Just check the list of the dead and wounded in the riots, you will find names of only Muslims and Dalits.” says Bharatbhai Makwana, a small time businessman in a Dalit society in Ranip. “Only during elections and riots, they come to us. Otherwise, we are never considered as a part of Hindu society,” he adds. “It is not only people from the lower income bracket, but Dalits retired from senior government position also find it difficult to find accommodation in the up market residential areas,” says Valera, pointing to Kanabhai Parmar, a former under-secretary of Gujarat Legislative Assembly, who being a Dalit was denied accommodation in a upper caste housing society in Gandhinagar.

Bitthal Bhai Makwana, a former government official and an ex-editor of National Book Trust, points out that even today, a Dalit cannot buy a house in the upper caste housing societies coming up in Chandkheda Gandhinagar Highway.

“We have been trying to buy a house in Satelite for last 10 years with no result, as people refuse to sell their house to a Dalit,” says Makwana. He adds that only recently, a gentleman from Uttar Pradesh has sold them a house in that coveted area. “Right behind my house is the Pramukhswami Society, a upper caste housing society, which has couple of shops vacant for sometime,” he says. So far Makwana had made futile attempts to hire a shop there. “They would rather let this shops decay than rent it out to a Dalit,” he adds.

Builders and real estate agents say selling property to even one Dalit family in a society becomes detrimental to sales. Pulin Modi of Modi Constructions says, “Buyers do check out their neighbours before they book a flat in any area. Caste plays an important role as people want to live with their own class of people.” He further said that people even avoid the builders, who sell houses to Dalits.

Pankaj Shrimali, lecturer of history in G L S Arts college, says, “Wherever I had approached for house in Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar, I was denied as I was a Harijan. In Hari Nagar society in Gandhinagar, as a rule, they do not allow Harijans.”

Manjula Pradeep of Dalit Shakti Kendra says, “It is not always that people move to such ghettos because they were refused houses elsewhere. Even if a Dalit manages to find a house in such areas, the moment his identity is disclosed, his neighbours start avoiding him. This fear of rejection, social isolation and a need for social security has pushed most of the Dalits to such ghettos,” Pradeep adds.

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