States Round Up Issue-01 July to September 2010 Index Page
Full version of the report

Gujarat



I. Highlight: RTI activists murdered

During July-September 2010, environment and Right to Information activists came under increasing threats for exposing illegal mining and corruption in Gujarat, ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

On 20 July 2010, two unidentified assailants shot dead Amit Jethwa, an environment and Right to Information activist near the Gujarat High Court. Amit, who was the president of Gir Nature Youth Club had filed several petitions against the Forest Department and a public interest litigation (PIL) on illegal mining in the Gir forests of Junagadh district. [1] Amit Jetwa’s father, Biku Jethwa alleged that Dinu Solanki, Member of Parliament from Junagadh belonging to the Bharatiya Janata Party was behind the murder of his son. He alleged that Dinu Solanki had threatened him as well as Amit after his son filed the PIL against illegal mining. [2] On 7 September 2010, Dinu Solanki’s nephew Shiva Solanki was arrested from the Rajkot airport in connection with the murder of Amit. Police investigations indicated that Shiva Solanki might have hired the contract killers who shot dead Amit. [3]

Earlier on 11 February 2010, Vishram Laxman Dodiya of Ahmedabad was found murdered shortly after meeting officials of Torrent Power. [4]The deceased had filed an application under RTI to get details about the illegal electricity connection obtained by the company. [5]

II. Violations of civil and political rights

During July-September 2010, cases for prosecution of security personnel accused of violations of the right to life continued.

On 9 September 2010, while hearing a petition filed by father of one the victims, Javed Ghulam Sheikh alias Pranesh Pillai, the Gujarat High Court asked the Gujarat Government, the Central Government and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to suggest names of officers for constitution of a Special Investigagion Team (SIT) to probe the controversial encounter of Ishrat Jahan and three others. Earlier, a judicial inquiry conducted by Ahmedabad Metropolitan Magistrate S. P. Tamang already concluded that the encounter was fake. [6] Ishrat Jahan, a Mumbai college girl was killed along with Pillai, Amjad Ali alias Rajkumar Akbar Ali Rana and Jisan Johar Abdul Gani in an alleged fake encounter by police in Ahmedabad on 15 June 2004.[7]

The ACHR also documented a case of rape by a police officer in Kutch district.

On 2 July 2010, a police sub-inspector posted with Bhimasar police station in Rapar taluka of Kutch district allegedly raped a married woman in Adesar. The police officer identified as RL Rathod barged into the house of the victim on the pretext of inquiring about her husband’s health and allegedly beat up the victim and raped her. As the victim’s husband confronted the accused cop next day, he allegedly trained his revolver at him and threatened to kill him. [8]

Further, there were reports of death of a number of prisoners under mysterious circumstances.

On 20 July 2010, Shushil Mishra (28 years), a resident of Mota Bharda village in Waghodia taluka, an undertrial prisoner, was found dead under mysterious circumstances in the Central Jail in Vadodara district. The jail authorities claimed that the deceased committed suicide by hanging himself with a towel in the common bathroom of the jail as he was depressed for not getting bail. [9]

On 8 September 2010, Virkram Makwana, an undertrial was found dead under mysterious circumstances at the Godhra sub-jail in Panchmahal district. The deceased, a resident of Vinzol village in Godhra taluka, was lodged at the jail in 2007. He was found hanging inside the toilet of the jail and the jail authorities claimed that the deceased committed suicide with the shirt he was wearing. [10]

On 19 September 2010, Ramasida Devipujak (22 years), an undertrial prisoner died under mysterious circumstances at Jamnagar District Jail. The deceased was found hanging inside the jail bathroom by another inmate. [11]

III. Violations of the rights of indigenous peoples

Exploitative sata-pata system

In Gujarat, tribal women and girls are victims of a strange system of exploitation called sata-pata. A huge number of tribal girls are being exploited by affluent families as pawns simply by luring them to cohabit with them at a price to beget girl child to be bartered in future to find a wife for their father or brother in the father’s community through a system called sata-pata. In this system, which is prevalent in many communities, it is imperative to pledge a girl in marriage to the family which is giving away a bride. [12]  A NGO, Child Rights and You (CRY) claimed that it had reported some 200 such cases in the past 2-3 years. A large number of tribal girls were sold from tribal belt of Banaskantha, Sabarkantha and Panchmahal to districts like Patan, Himmatnagar and Mehsana. [13]

Earlier, upper caste men used to buy and marry tribal girls. The tribal girls were sold as commodities by middlemen, who are usually relatives, to affluent upper caste males who allowed the girls to stay till they give birth to couple of girl children. After giving birth to couple of girl children the women are forced to leave home without the girls who would be bartered for a wife for their father or brother from in the community through the sata-pata system. [14]

Manjula (31years) was identified as one of such victims. He was bought by a man belonging to Patel Community in Mehsana for Rs. 50,000 from her tribal parents when she was just 13.  After bearing two daughters and a son, Manjula was thrown out of home by her husband with the son keeping the two daughters with him. [15]

Similarly, Shaila (28 years), a brick kiln worker, was sold to another man from Mehsana for Rs. 50,000 by her brother-in-law when she was just 13. However, unlike Manjula, she fled with her seven years old daughter after 13 years of exploitation and abuse. [16]

Violations of land rights

The tribal farmers remained vulnerable to violation of their rights over land, including by the state forest officials. Investigations by a team of State Government officials from Gandhinagar, along with Panchmahal district officials, in its preliminary investigation found that land mafia had usurped land from 192 tribals by subverting law in collusion with local revenue officials. The illegal transfer of land measuring 554 acres worth Rs. 70 crore to non-tribals took place during 2001-2007 in 16 villages of Godhra Taluka in Panchmahal district. [7]

The tribals also came under attacks from the forest officials.

On 9 July 2010, Balwant Amrabhai Baria (32 years) of Devli Kuwa, a tribal village under Rajgadh police station in Panchmahal district was assaulted by five forest guards when he was tilling his ancestral land in the forest. [18]

IV. Violations of the rights of the Dalits

In a significant judgement, a Special Court in Ahmedabad delivered justice to the family members of a 35-year-old Hasmukh Parmar, a dalit, who was burnt alive by a police constable on 9 April 2006 in Amaraiwadi area in Ahmedabad. In September 2010, Special Judge D T Soni sentenced the accused police constable Hari Patel to life imprisonment and directed him to pay Rs. 25,000 as compensation to the legal heir of the victim. The court also ordered for initiating departmental actions against the investigating officer for trying to save the culprit by converting the case of murder into a case of suicide. [19]

However, there were increasing reports of atrocities against the Dalits. Even their empowerment by way of election as a sarpanch or panchayat member does not protect them from caste abuses. Dalit women bear the worst.

A survey by the the Navsarjan Trust, an NGO, revealed that 65% Dalit sarpanches have separate cups to drink tea, water in their own offices and 40% of them are not allowed to sit in chairs and are forced to seat on a sack on the floor kept for them. 64.5% dalit women said that they have separate cups to drink tea and 38% said that they have separate plates or utensils for food or snacks. [20]

Dalit women in panchayats not only face caste biase but they are also victims of proxy politics. Only one-third Dalit women sarpanches were reportedly able to act independently to win panchayat elections while 85% of them were pushed into panchayat politics by members of the dominant caste or their husbands. [21]

Dominant castes also in most cases sought to directly engineer elections by consensus, making reservation policy redundant. Ms. Gangaben in Anand was declared as the consensus candidate by a person from the dominant caste without her knowledge for panchayat president post and his wife as the vice-president. The upper caste person threatened that they would stop her husband’s work if she did not allow him to proxy control the panchayat administration [22].

V. Violations of rights of the child

Child labour was rampant in Gujarat. Each year thousands of tribal children from the four southern Rajasthan districts of Udaipur, Dungarpur, Banswara and Sirohi are reportedly trafficked to adjoining prosperous Sabarkantha or Banaskantha districts of Gujarat. Children as young as seven years are brought to Gujarat to work in BT cotton fields of the rich farmers in Sabarkantha or Banaskantha districts. Dungarpur District Collector Purna Chandra Kishan acknowledged that some 30,000 children were sent across the border in 2009. Udaipur District Collector Anand Kumar put the number of such trafficked child labourer from his district to 25,000 during the corresponding period. [23]

On 19 July 2010 police raided different places in Dungarpur and Udaipur districts and rescued 57 children and arrested 12 persons for trafficking of children to work in BT cottonseed farms in neighbouring Gujarat. [24]

Those trafficked children returned back home with just Rs.1000 to 1200 after three months of continuous works. The children were made to work for 12 to 14 hours a day without any rest. The child labourers got approximately a wage of Rs.1 per hour against the official minimum daily wage of Rs. 50. [25]

VI. Violations of ESCRs

a. Violations of the right to work-NREGA

A large number of people are denied the right to work because of the diversion of funds under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS). There were numerous reports of corruption pertaining to misappropriation of NREGS fund.

In June 2010, Fatehsinh Pargi of Moti Shehra village and 156 other workers from Fatehpura Taluka filed a complaint with the District Development Officer against 48 accused persons including 11 elected Women Sarpanches for non-payment of wages, misappropriation of funds and manipulation of job cards and work muster rolls under the Scheme in Dahod district. On 12 August 2010, a fresh police complaint was filed against 48 persons including a retired Taluka Development Officer and the present Taluka Development Officers, 20 talatis (lokayuktas) and 20 Sarpanchs from the taluka. Thereafter, a police team from Fatehpura Police station raided the houses of 17 accused persons. Most of the women sarpanches hardly knew what was going on and they were reportedly just signatories while their husbands with the help of the local talatis embezzled funds and created false names for the muster rolls. [26]

Earlier in March 2010, the Dahod District Administration had filed a police complaint in Fatehpura Police Station against non-payment of wages for over two years to 3,385 farmers under the NREGA. In Karmil village, 10 kilometers away from Fatehpura town, three existing wells were shown as having been dug under NREGS and Rs.11 lakh was sanctioned for the construction work, which was siphoned off by Sarpanch Kantaben Pargi and Talati S L Damor by entering false names in the muster rolls. [27]

The state government itself was responsible for diversion of huge funds from NREGS to carry out works in other departments not permitted under the NREGS. A probe conducted by officials from the Union Ministry of Rural Development found that the Government of Gujarat had diverted funds from NREGS to the forest department for their departmental works though without any official directive at any level for diversion of the same. The inquiry team found that although job cards were distributed to all rural households but there were discrepancies in the entry of the name of job card holders and their corresponding photographs. It was also found that none of the job cards inspected was found to have shown in the entry of work allocation and payment made to the respective workers. And, in most cases, job cards of workers were found in possession of Sarpanch or Patwaris. [28] The probe team also found that hardly any entry was made in the cash book after financial year 2007-2008 in Dachka Gram Panchayat Sabarkantha district. There was no mention of ongoing works in the records and no entry in the employment register. There was no system to record demand for employment either at Gram Panchayat or Taluka level. Workers interviewed by the probe team at certain work site submitted written complaints alleging non-payment of wages despite working for more than five weeks under the scheme. [29]

Endnotes:
1. Gujarat RTI activist killed in Ahmedabad, IBN Live, 20 July 2010
2. ‘BJP MP behind whistleblower’s murder’, The Times of India, 21 July 2010
3. BJP MP Dinu Solanki’s nephew held in murder of green activist, The Indian Express, 7 September 2010
4. Eight RTI activists killed in seven months, The Hindu, 25 July 2010
5 http://rtigroupaligarh.blogspot.com/2010/07/ab-tak-20-attacks-on-rti-activists.html
6. SIT of cops, CBI to probe Ishrat case, The Asian Age, 10 September 2010
7. Ishrat Jahan killed in fake encounter: Judicial probe, The Hindustan Times, 2009
8. Kutch cop accused of raping woman, The Times of India, 6 July 2010
9. Complaint of the ACHR to the NHRC on 22 July 2010.
10. Complaint of the ACHR to the NHRC on 13 September 2010.
11. Complaint of the ACHR to the NHRC on 29 September 2010.
12. Tribal girls sold in new bride barter scheme - The Times of India, 24 September 2010
13. Ibid
14. Ibid
15. Ibid
16. Ibid
17. Tribal land up for grabs in Godhra, district officials sniff a scam, The Indian Express, 18 September 2010
18. Assault on farmer: Foresters say land claim documents yet to reach them, The Indian Express, 30 July 2010
19. Cop gets life term for burning Dalit man alive, The Indian Express, 11 September 2010
20. Dalit sarpanches face bias in own office, The Times of India, 6 September 2010
21. Proxy-politics plagues 85% women dalit representatives, Times of India, 6 September 2010
22. Ibid
23. Re 1 per hour: Children fuel Bt cotton boom, The Hindustan Times, 19 July 2010
24. 12 held for trafficking 57 children to Gujarat, The Asian Age, 19 July 2010
25. Re 1 per hour: Children fuel Bt cotton boom, The Hindustan Times, 20 July 2010
26. NREGA scam: For women sarpanchs, husbands ran show, The Indian Express, 16 August 2010
27. Ibid
28. Central inquiry says Gujarat illegally diverted NREGA funds, The Daily News and Analysis, 26 July 2010
29. Ibid
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