In a unique victory for Gujarat Dalits, a Godhra court has sentenced Nimesh Gordhanbhai Patel for five years’ imprisonment and Rs 25,000 fine for refusing permission to Dalits to cremate one Nanabhai Kohyabhai Vankar, who died at the age of 75 in on September 19, 2014, in the cremation ground of Mehlol village of Godhra taluka.
Patel managed the cremation ground, which was built from the grant of former BJP MLA, Prabhatsinh Chauhan.
Following the refusal to allow Vankar to be cremated on the common ground, senior activist Rohit Manu of Gujarat’s largest Dalit rights group, Navsarjan Trust, filed an FIR with the Vejalpur police station under the anti-atrocities Act, citing it as a clear case of untouchability.
From existing records, this is for the first time when a Gujarat court has ordered stringent punishment for not allowing Dalits to use a cremation ground.
The Godhra sessions court order has come, ironically, at a time when the Gujarat government has been providing funds for separate cremation grounds for Dalits, who are refused to perform the last rites of their departed near and dear ones on the common cremation ground.
A 2016 Navsarjan Trust survey says, funds have been allocated to as many as 50 villages across Gujarat for this. Interestingly, in Central Gujarat’s rich Kheda district's Moholel village, where the Dalits are just 5% of the population, there are three crematoriums – one for the "general" and two for the "lower castes".
A report quotes Manish Parmar, a resident of Moholel village as saying, “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."
Justifying the creation of separate crematoriums a senior state official, however, said, "The work was done as per government guidelines. Separate crematoriums are approved if there is a demand from the communities or recommendation from MLAs.”
Manu, who filed the untouchability case against those denying cremation facilities for Dalits in the Godhra village, backed by Maheshbhai Dhulabhai Parmar, Rajesh Solanki, lawyer Narendra Parmar, said, “There is nothing unusual in Gujarat for not allowing Dalits a separate cremation ground. It is part of the prevailing untouchability milieu in the state.”
Ashaben, a government pleader, fought the case in the Godhra sessions court.
“We live in a state where untouchability does not leave us even when we die”, Manu regretted, adding, “The case was filed following protests in Godhra against the refusal to cremate Vankar on the common cremation ground. The Dalits cremated the body outside the age of the cremation ground, which has been built from the local MLA’s grant.”
The 2014 Dalit representation to the district officials following the protest in Godhra said, “The relatives of the deceased had no other option but to cremate Vankar’s body outside the closed gate of the cremation ground.”
The representation further said , “It is disturbing that, even decades after Independence, Dalits are subjected to untouchability even after they are dead. This is a serious violation of our basic human rights, and you are requested to take legal action against those responsible for this.”
It added, “When the family members of the deceased reached the cremation ground with the body, the person who manages it, Nimesh Gordhanbhai Patel, told them that they could not cremate Vankar’s body within its premises. This happened when they approached Patel for the keys of the main gates of the cremation ground, which were closed.”