Women are accustomed to cooking with firewood and fetching water from a distance of more than two kilometers, usually twice a day, in the northern tribal belt of Gujarat, far from the massive flyovers that reflect Gujarat’s growth story. As well as being done to death by their husbands in a fit of rage, they can also be killed by a husband’s desire to remarry. It could be due to the delay in serving dinner.
“The victim’s parents then would destroy the accused’s house and fields, as well as the properties of members of his caste or subcaste,” said Rupabai Ghorina of Upla Ghoda village in Banaskantha district. People of the victim’s caste accompany the victim’s parents,” he said. In accordance with village elders’ decisions, the accused is required to pay compensation based on the first installment, followed by the rest over a mutually agreed upon timeframe. He said the practice is called ‘chadoturu’, and is a way for people in the local community to seek justice. It is a form of creating pressure on people to pay on time.
Currently, when women are experiencing labor pain, they go first to a shaman called a ‘bhuva’ (shaman) in their town. It is still common to brand a woman a witch in Panchmahals, Dahod, and Chhotaudepur in central Gujarat. He spreads some grain on the floor and then divines whether it is indeed labor pain. Single women or widows are usually easy targets.
It is true that tribal people sometimes show brilliance – they become doctors, engineers, or athletes – but for most of them, development remains an unattainable dream. As Gujarat votes in early December, the tribal belt stretches from Ambaji in the north to Umbergaon in the south. And the BJP is eager to win more seats in the region than it did last year.
A total of 27 seats were reserved for scheduled tribes in the assembly, of which 15 went to the Congress, nine to the BJP, two to the Bharatiya Tribal Party, and one to the independent party in the last elections. This time around, however, Congress faces big challenges. Early this month, Mohansinh Rathwa, an 11-time MLA from Chhotaudepur, joined the BJP, a major setback for the party.
BJP member Rajendrasinh Rathwa was given the Chhotaudepur ticket, where he faces Sangramsinh Rathwa, who is the son of Congress Rajya Sabha MP Naran Rathwa. Apparently, Naran, whose term is about to expire, asked for a ticket for his son, which sparked a conflict between him and the senior Rathwas. Bhavesh Katara, the Congress MLA from Jhalod, has also resigned from the party.
Ashvin Kotwal, a Congress MLA in Khedbrahma, quit the party in May and is now running for the BJP. Tushar Chaudhary, son of former Gujarat chief minister Amarsinh Chaudhary, is being challenged by Congress. Two years ago, Mangal Gavit joined the BJP after being a Congress MP.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi held his first election rally in Kaprada, south Gujarat, in recognition of the importance of the tribal belt. In ABCD, ‘A’ stands for Adivasi, and I am thankful that I am beginning my campaign with the blessings of my tribal brothers and sisters. Both Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal have rallied there as well. As a result of a tie-up with the Congress, the party contested seven seats in 2017. The influence the Congress enjoys in the tribal belt is due to the work done by Gandhians in the region, said Mustukhan Sukh, a farmer in Banaskantha’s remote villages.
Activist Ganesh Devy, the recipient of the Padma Shri, says mobile technologies are responsible for the change seen in cities and villages. According to him, these changes are despite the government and are also seen in [states like] Bihar. He believes that constitutional guarantees and promises should be taken into account when analyzing development. Although the Constitution guarantees religious freedom, tribals are forced to identify as Hindus.
Radhivad, a village that borders the Himmatnagar-Ambaji highway, is a classic example of neglect. Despite the fact that the local authorities declared the school unfit two years ago, a new one has not yet been constructed, says Premsinh Rehwar, a villager. Villagers are angry that the government failed to provide better health care and to build 100 toilets as promised. Classes are now being held in rooms rented from villagers. Due to his inability to obtain an Aadhaar card for his wife, Natwarsinh Chauhan pays more than Rs10,000 a month to treat her kidney ailment.
Residents are boycotting the elections and have requested that all politicians stay away from the election since the free treatment is only available to those with an Aadhaar number.
Anant Patel, a Vansda MLA who led the agitation against the Par-Tapi river linking project, told media outlets that irrigation was one of the biggest problems in the region and tribal people relied on rain-fed agriculture. Their crops fail because they get poor quality seeds, he said, because of cheaper seeds.
Many villages have expressed concern about unemployment. According to Kanubhai Parmar of Ratanpur, educated youth are not getting jobs. Most of the jobs go to influential politicians. Their representatives have also performed poorly. Despite the fact that Parmar said, “We elect these people as MLAs, but they never come back to visit us afterward.”