Following the refusal of villagers to buy from a Dalit shop, the collector of a district in Gujarat transferred all ration cards to a neighbouring village in a worrying incident of potential caste discrimination.
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Kanosan village, with a population of 2,000, in the Saraswati tehsil of the Patan district in Gujarat, is dominated by the Thakor, or non-Dalit, community, and for around 18 months, the majority of the villagers have refused to buy essentials from the government-allocated fair price shop (FPS) owned by Kanti Parmar, who happens to be from the Dalit caste.
As a result, the Patan district collector, Arvind Vijayan, ordered for all 436 ration cards allocated to the Dalit’s shop in Kanosan to be directed to the FPS in the neighbouring village, Edla, on September 12.
The Thakors of the village, who make up more than 90% of Kanosan’s population, had lobbed several allegations on Kanti, one of them accusing him of trying to charge them under the Scheduled Castes & Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocity) Act on false grounds. Kanti and his family have denied all allegations and have voiced their intention to question the validity of the collector’s order in court.
What the order said
Kanosan residents have also accused Kanti of not delivering grains properly, with them being sent late or not in the stipulated quantity fixed by the government during the pandemic. This led to the villagers ordering rations from the shops in the neighbouring villages of Edla, Vagdod and Nayta for about a year and a half.
268 residents of the village were questioned by the district administration—260 of them were willing to buy from a neighbouring FPS, while only 8 stated that they weren’t opposed to buying from Kanti’s shop. Unsurprisingly, Kanti’s shop has overseen a continuous slump in the distribution of rations—from 36.84% in March to 8.18% in June this year.
With these points in note, the order was issued that all Kanosan rations cards would be transferred to Visabhai Rabari’s FPS in Edla, nearly 1.5 km from Kanosan. Rabari was further ordered to ensure timely delivery of the goods at Kanosan itself. The order also contained Kanti’s statements, in which he denied all allegations.
The Dalit compromise
Kanosan is a village where ward members and the sarpanch aren’t elected, but instead chosen by the villagers “by consensus”—the central feature of villages under the “Samras” scheme launched during Modi‘s reign as Gujarat’s chief minister. Samras villages are rewarded by financial incentives, with Rs 2 lakhs for a village having a population below 5000, and Rs. 3 lakh for any village over that. The benefits receive a 25% bump annually if the village goes Samras for consecutive years.
The scheme was introduced as a “finer and more successful model of democracy” which aimed at replacing “conflict” with “governance through consensus” and “social harmony”. However, critics believe that the scheme only worked to mask divisions and perpetuate privilege and dominance of one class over another.
Rekha, Kanti’s wife and member of the Kanosan Gram Panchayat said that the Dalit community supported the move to enrol the village under the Samras scheme in December 2021. As a result, no Dalit candidate stood up for elections, but Rekha now felt that the Dalits have been betrayed.
Kanti, who has been running the shop for around three decades, recounted that his feud with the Thakors started around 2-3 years ago, when he denied ration to a member of the community, as he was possessing an ineligible ration card. This, he said, provoked the Thakors into launching a smear campaign on him, while urging and threatening their community members to do the same and boycott him.
According to Kanti, the Thakors claimed that the boycott was a result of Kanti allegedly filing false cases under the Atrocity Act against them. He denied these allegations, noting that the handful of complaints made by him and other Dalit residents were in response to atrocities perpetrated against them. Except for one case, the Dalits and the Thakors reached a compromise via assistance of some leaders, he said.
The exception was a case concerning Kanti attempting suicide in May. He took poison at a public park in the town of Patan and while he was saved, his leg had to be amputated due to the poison’s effect. This prompted Mukesh, Kanti’s son, to charge four Thakors, who allegedly ran the boycott campaign against Kanti while also furnishing false statements in order to get his shop’s license cancelled, with abetment of suicide.
Prakashji Thakor, Genaji Thakor, Lakhaji Thakor and Jaktaji Thakor were initially arrested, but later were released on bail after a sessions court hearing in Patan.
Villagers suspect “conspiracy”
Kamraji Thakor (45), who owns a flour mill in the village, said that he hasn’t been buying from Kanti’s shop for two years and accused him of filing false complaints under the Atrocity Act, which allegedly led to an elder woman from the family serving a jail sentence of a month. Popatji Thakor accused Kanti of “conspiracy”, and also justified his decision to boycott his shop, claiming that he had to go to jail for 8 days.
Kanosan Sarpanch Raghu Thakor asserted that the demand to shift the ration cards from Kanti’s FPS to neighbouring ones stemmed from villagers complaining about the inadequate delivery of ration, along with false cases lodged against them. Raghu is the grandson of former sarpanch Jaktaji Thakor, one of the four named in Mukesh’s complaint in May.
After “internal inquiry” and “opposition from the villagers”, the order was passed, according to District Collector Arvind Vijayan. District Supply Officer, D S Ninama echoed Vijayan’s statements, while adding that the decision was only made after listening to both sides. He added that Kanti would be given the opportunity to lay down his case to the collector, who would then decide whether to cancel the licence of Kanti’s ration shop or not.
Kanti said that his three sons have been pushing him to take the case to court. Mukesh, who assists his father at the Kanosan FPS, said that a court case was their last resort in order to protect their only means of livelihood. Even his family’s ration cards have been transferred to the FPS in Edla.