'No Dignity in Death': Dalits in Gujarat Fight For Crematoriums

In several Ahmedabad villages, Dalits are fighting for defined crematoriums to perform last rites of their kin.

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In May 2022, Chuna bhai Valmiki -- in Dekavada village in Gujarat's Ahmedabad district -- died of a heart attack. His sons Rajesh and Sanjay waded through neck-deep water to perform his last rites at a place which is supposed to be a crematorium for the Dalit community in the village.

"Do you see anything even remotely resembling a crematorium here?" asked Sanjay, as he looked at a barren piece of land on the outskirts of Dekavada, five km away from their house.

In Dekavada, Sanjay said, people from different castes go to different crematoriums.

"The Thakores, Patels, Desais, and the Dalits -- all have separate crematoriums here. Those (crematoriums) belonging to the dominant castes are well-kept whereas those belonging to the Dalits are in a miserable state," he told The Quint.

Chuna bhai Valmiki, 45, died in May 2022 of a heart attack.

(Photo: Himanshi Dahiya/The Quint)

As per Kanu bhai, an activist with the Dalit Foundation, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) working for the empowerment of Dalit communities, caste-based crematoriums are a common site in villages across Gujarat.
"Historically, we've had different crematoriums for different caste groups. I don't know when did this exactly start. Crematoriums belonging to the Dalits, however, only exist in name. Those belonging to the dominant castes have all kinds of facilities — benches to sit on, water, trees, and tiles,"
Kanu bhai, Dalit Rights Activist

The Quint visited Rampura, Indrapura, Nathpura, and Dekavada -- village in Ahmedabad's Detroj Taluka -- approximately 50 km from the main city. Each of these villages had at least 2-3 crematoriums belonging to different caste groups.


Can Villages Have Common Crematoriums?

Rajesh and Sanjay both hope to have a common crematorium in their village. "That is how it happens in the city, no?" Rajesh said. "Everybody goes to one common crematorium and nobody is turned away. In our village, however, we are told that we cannot use the crematoriums built for the Patels or other dominant castes," he added.

Rajiv Patel, sarpanch of Indrapura, a village only 8 km from Dekavada, where the Dalit crematorium is being used as a dumpyard told The Quint that he does not mind common crematoriums.

Road leading to the Dalit crematorium in Dekavada. 

(Photo: Himanshi Dahiya/The Quint)

"I don't have a problem if there is one crematorium for everybody in the village. These, however, are traditions which have been passed on to us through generations. I have build a wall for the Patidar community's crematorium in my village. Will build one for the one belonging to the Dalit community also."
Rajiv Patel, Sarpanch

Shailesh Patel, a resident of Dekavada and member of the Patidar community, said told The Quint the are "separate wells, crematoriums, and public spaces in his village for people belonging to different castes."

He said, "We've always had separate spaces for people belonging to different castes. We don't want anything to change. If we sit together their hands and legs will come in our way."

Shailesh Patel is a resident of Dekavada village.

(Photo: Himanshi Dahiya/The Quint)


Who is Responsible for Maintenance of These Crematoriums?

As per a 2016 RTI query by Divya Bhaskar, a Gujarat-based daily, the state government funds separate crematoriums for people belonging to the Scheduled castes.

Rajiv Patel told The Quint that the village Panchayat is responsible for the day-to-day maintenance of public spaces in the village.

"Last year I built the boundary wall of the Patidar crematorium in the village. Next, I am planning to revamp the crematorium belonging to the Dalit community," he said.

Patel, who has been the village sarpanch for 10 years, was aware of the crematorium being used as a dumpyard. "I got it (crematorium) cleaned over 2 years ago. Will get it cleaned again," he said.

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Topics:  Caste   Caste Politics   Gujarat Elections 

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