Unseen prejudice against Chharas in progressive Guj
Do Gujarat police and chief minister Narendra Modi have the courage to profile the Patels, Shahs, Vaghelas and Jadejas? Has the government ever issued a ‘fatwa’ against these communities? But, in case of Chharas it not only profiles the community but also stigmatises it as ‘Chhara gangs’.
As mentioned in a ‘confidential report’ prepared by Ahmedabad police, there is no denying that there are about 207 people accused of petty crimes and brewing illicit liquor among Chharas in the city; but for the acts of a few, how can the government stigmatise the entire community of over thousands in Gujarat?
There are many human rights organisations which protest when a Muslim, Dalit or anyone from a marginalised community is denied a house in the ‘mainstream’ area, but why is there a painful silence, when a Chhara is denied a house in a mainstream locality? This writer was forced to sell off his legally owned house in Ghatlodia area of the city, only because of the community identity that he got from his parents.
Anna Hazares and Mahatma Gandhis may come and go, but except a few persons like Mahasweta Devi and Dr Ganesh Devy – who brought an effective change in the community - everything else for a Chhara is the same as it was in 1871. That year, the British declared this community as ‘born criminals’ by passing Criminal Tribes Act (CTA). Why would Magsaysay Award winner and famous writer Mahasweta Devi write that every Chhara is born with two birth years – the other one being 1871, the year CTA was passed?
After independence, the government continued the discrimination against this community in one form or the other, at times with CTA, at times with Habitual Offenders Act and now with a confidential dossier. The British, for Chharas, still live with them in a new avatar, and Chharas identify them as Indian police.
This writer fails to understand whether he and thousands of other Chharas like him are free citizens of a free country. When the constitution gives us the right to equality and freedom, how can the state government invoke a highly discriminatory step against a section of the society and also get away with it? Every instance of the police using the term Chhara Gang decreases the chance of securing a job by a member of the community. The message of the booklet prepared by the police is clear – to keep Chharas as criminals and to let them be identified as criminals. What else would the explanation be for the regressive step?
When a community is forced to stay in ghettos, labelled as criminals, denied all the fundamental rights granted to the citizens of this great country, and are forced to stay uneducated, what do the cops and the government expect from them?
So what do Chharas do? They are lawyers, government pleaders, doctors, journalists, call centre executives, teachers at educational institutions, working with Hindi and Gujarat film industries, film-makers, rickshaw drivers, food-joint owners and petty workers.
Imagine you kid being punished for theft in a school by the class teacher, only because he is your son or daughter? Chhara parents are often seen in schools struggling to prove that they are not criminals. What do students do to evade this discrimination - they stop going to schools.
A Chhara girl, who holds MA and BEd degrees, was asked during an interview for a job whether she was carrying a knife. That was her last interview!
People who have been involved in making liquor or petty crimes have no option but to continue. Except a few lucky ones like this writer, whose parents managed to give him exposure along with good education, thousands of others continue to be denied just that, even today.
Mahasweta Devi and Dr Ganesh Devy – the two persons who first spotted the unseen discrimination, at least taught the community to retaliate. Thanks to their efforts, police academies across the county had stopped teaching behaviour of ‘Ex-Criminal Tribes’. Despite all the negativities, Chharas created a niche whenever they got a chance.
Gujarat has all the reasons to be proud of the community. How many people are aware that the only person from the state to participate in the SaReGaMaPa singing competition, held by a national TV channel, was a Chhara? How many of us know that after a gap of 14 years, two students from Gujarat who could get admission at the National School of Drama, New Delhi, were both Chharas? Or that a Chhara had represented Gujarat at the University of Leeds in UK, and another at the United Nations in New York? He was a Chhara who made us proud by winning the South Asia Pacific Documentary Film Festival in 2007.
Don’t the citizens of a progressive state like Gujarat feel that, by compiling and releasing a confidential report on Chharas, the government is crushing the smallest Hindu minority of the state through the biased police department?
The writer is a principal correspondent with DNA.
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