Why Gujarat needs Navsarjan

 
Iwas not surprised to hear that FCRA registration of Navsarjan has been revoked by the BJP Government. Navsarjan had applied on February 27, 2016, and the FCRA certificate was granted on August 3, after over five months. The department took this time to study papers sent by Navsarjan. They had their IB inputs about the activities of the organisation before renewing the certificate. I wasn’t surprised to hear the reason cited by the government for revoking its own renewal order as “association coming to adverse notice for its undesirable activities aimed to affect prejudicially harmony between religious, racial, social, linguistic and regional groups, castes or communities”.

Navsarjan has been working in Gujarat since 1990 and I am personally working on prevalent caste issues since 1980. But it took the government 36 years to learn, between August 3 and December 15, 2016, that activities of Navsarjan created disharmony between castes! Of course, I am surprised to know that Gujarat enjoys religious and caste harmony! Can there be harmony between various castes in villages where even after death the burial grounds are segregated for Dalits and Non-Dalits? Is disharmony the product of past 35 years?

Una has been the biggest example of the “caste harmony” in Gujarat. Navsarjan was the first in India to file a Public Interest Litigation in Gujarat on existence of manual scavenging practices in 1996. Soon it became a national issue, compelling every succeeding PM to make a mention of his government’s resolve to end manual scavenging. Navsarjan did door-to-door survey over four years to unearth 6,000 acres of land given to Dalits under land reforms in Surendranagar where they had failed to get physical possession of land, although they had legal possession for forty-five years in some cases.

A PIL on the subject got Dalits their lands and opened a struggle for over 1.6 lakh acres of land in Gujarat that should be owned by Dalits. After the riots of 1992, following the Babri Masjid demolition, and again in 2002, Navsarjan helped many victims — both Hindus and Muslims — to rebuild their homes and livelihoods. It built over 4,000 houses for earthquake victims in 2001, irrespective of caste or religion. I was awarded Robert F. Kennedy award for Human Rights after Kailash Satyarthi (2000), Gleitsman International Activist Award for Human Rights (2001) and entire 80,000 US dollars award money was used to build a school for Dalit children where OBC children study too.

Navsarjan set up about 850 village libraries for children and set up theatre groups involving children from all castes. Navsarjan was given custody of Patan Gang rape victim and the organisation supported her working in collaboration with special public prosecutor until all the accused, including Dalit professors, were given life imprisonment. The organisation, in over 27 years of public existence, helped thousands of victims of Caste and Gender violence to get legal justice. It identified over 1,500 Dalit children in Saurashtra who were singled out to clean school toilets and put an end to this practice.

Navsarjan set up a vocational school, Dalit Shakti Kendra in 2000. Since then, it has trained 9,036 youths (5,160 women) in vocational education from 13 Indian states. These are Dalits, Tribals, OBCs, minorities and general caste youths. As per reputed academic studies, 82.5 % of them are employed in spite of the fact that most were school dropouts. State Government has not contributed a paisa. It will take many pages to describe Navsarjan’s work. For us “foreign money” is not alien. Under the colonial rule Indian money was looted to a large extent. Besides, why not globalise human rights when we advocate globalisation of the market and economy?

The question is: Has Navsarjan disturbed the government recently and how? It’s clear and unambiguous: Post Una, government feared organised Dalit vote share of 16.6 per cent would damage it more than the combined opposition. Hence, Navsarjan’s help to Thangadh victims to force Gujarat Government to reopen investigation — where it had already filed a C summary — has hurt its interests. Their unease on the issue can be understood from their fear of releasing the inquiry report of an IAS officer appointed by themselves. Sir, government, we did not set up Navsarjan because of FCRA. We pledged to set it up over dead bodies of four colleagues murdered in Golana on January 26, 1986 and to ensure that their blood does not go in vain. What inspires us is the clarion call of Dr Ambedkar of “Annihilation of Caste”. Navsarjan shall continue its activities with renewed energy and vigor.

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