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Golana: Price for justice... when Darbars wanted to teach Dalits lifetime lesson

Paying homage to victims at Golana
By Gagan Sethi* 
Eight years of continuous engagement, which included setting up of forestry cooperatives and conscientisation work among the youth, helped us infuse a sense of confidence and self-respect among the Vankar Dalits of Golana village, situated off Bay of Khambhat.
Thanks to these efforts, the community had begun to stand up for its rights. It had begun to identify the entitlements the Dalits should get and also how they were deprived of their rights because the existing socio-political setup.
An application for allocating land had been sent to the mamlatdar of Cambay, as Khambhat was called then. It was the same land that had been encroached upon by the upper caste Darbars of the village.
In official records, it was a government land, set aside for housing for the weaker sections.
The mamlatdar acted in favour of the Dalits. He did this despite political pressure. We believe he had orders from the then Kheda district collector, Ravi Saxena, to do his duty, and not act under pressure.
I distinctly remember how Saxena admonished an MLA in his chamber in our presence. Saxena told the MLA not to bang and shout in the collector’s chamber, as it wasn’t the Gujarat legislative assembly.
On January 26, 1986, the feudal landlord Darbars of Golana village, unable to bear the loss of social power, brutally attacked Dalit households. Four of our colleagues were gunned down on the spot. Eighteen others were badly wounded. Several houses were set on fire.
Darbars thought that they would teach a lifetime lesson to the Dalits, so that the oppressed community didn’t raise its head again. Little did they know that times had changed, and that the community had galvanized itself into a united front. The media stood with us, and we forced the then chief minister, Amarsinh Chaudhary, to visit the place.
For months Golana remained a symbol of Dalit struggle. It was a pilgrim spot for Dalits across the state. The then district development officer, DJ Pandian, now chief secretary of Gujarat State, took special care to see that the District Rural Development Agency granted a housing programme to the Dalits under the Indira Awas Yojana.
The state agreed to our demand for a special public prosecutor, and we got the appointment of renowned advocate RK Shah with his full team to support the legal battle. Ten persons were sentenced to life.
It is quite another thing that the case finally took 13 years to complete in the Supreme Court.
We learned from the trial how justice often remains beyond the reach of the common victim.
One would need strong institutional backing and huge resources to prove a case in favour of the victim in the court of law.
In this ambivalence was born the dream to set up Centre for Social Justice and Navsarjan, so that access to justice is within the reach of the excluded and the victims of systemic injustice.

*Founder of Janvikas & Centre for Social justice. This article first appeared in DNA

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