Suresh Vaghela, a 22-year-old Dalit youth from Karakthal village of Viramgam taluka in Ahmedabad district, received a call just after he had dinner on May 23. The caller identified himself as one Dhamabhai and he demanded to know why Vaghela had sported a moustache. Within few minutes of the call, nine people including Dhamabhai reached Vaghela’s home and attacked him.
“It was around 10 pm in the night and my parents were asleep just after we had dinner. First, I received a call from Dhamabhai who asked me why I was sporting a moustache and he threatened to thrash me. But I disconnected the call and went to sleep. Within minutes there was a knock at the door, nine people including Dhamabhai had arrived at my house with wooden sticks and iron rods,” Suresh Vaghela said. “They abused me verbally with casteist slurs and then thrashed me with sticks and rods. I was rushed to primary health centre and then admitted to a hospital,” he said,
“I did not have enmity with those people yet they attacked me for just sporting a moustache,” added Vaghela who has sustained grievous injuries on his head.
An FIR has been filed against six named and several anonymous people with charges under the Schedule Caste and Schedule Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989 amongst other charges. Noticeably, the accused who have been identified as Dhamabhai Thakor, Kaushik Valand, Atrik Thakor, Sanjay Thakor, Vijay Thakor and Anand Thakor, all residents of Kakthal village, belong to the Thakor Community, which falls under the Other Backward Classes (OBC) category and is considered higher in social hierarchy than Dalits.
According to the FIR, Vaghela’s father opened the door and was about to go out when Vaghela rushed out and met Dhamabhai outside his home. Vaghela tried talking to him but they (accused) abused him with casteist slurs and attacked him. When other family members intervened to attempt to save Vaghela, the accused thrashed them too.
“The cries and screams of my family members brought other villagers on the spot and those people (accused) fled,” Vaghela, a worker at Voltas in GIDC, Sanand, stated in the FIR.
All accused have been arrested by the Ahmedabad rural police.
Casteism over Mustache
In September 2017, after two similar incidents wherein Dalit youths were thrashed for sporting moustache, a protest erupted across Gujarat where Dalits posted photos of themselves on social media flaunting a moustache with hashtags like #Jativadnavirodhmaa (Protesting against casteism), #Piyushbhainasamarthanmaa (in solidarity with Piyushbhai), and #samvidhannasamarthanmaa (in support of the constitution).
The incidents that sparked the protests took place in Limbodra village in Kalol taluka of Gandhinagar where two Dalit youths, Piyush Parmar and Krunal Maheria, were thrashed. Noticeably, the village has only about 100 Dalit household whereas Darbars (kshatriya aste) dominate the village with about 2,000 households.
On September 25, 2017, 24-year-old Piyush Parmar was returning from garba (a Gujarati dance festival) with his cousin when they were confronted by four men from Darbar community. The men hurled casteist abuses at Parmar and his cousin for sporting moustaches and beat them up.
Later an FIR was filed against the four Darbar men, all residents of Limbodra village.
After four days of the incident, on September 29, Krunal Maheria was thrashed for sporting a moustache in Limbodra. The 30-year-old law student was visiting a friend when men from the Darbar community abused him verbally and thrashed him. Maheria, who was seriously injured, had to be admitted to the Gandhinagar civil hospital.
“They beat me with a police baton and kept saying if I dared to become a Darbar by sporting a moustache,” Maheria had told the media after the incident.
An FIR was lodged in the case and the accused was identified as a relative of one of men who had attacked Piyush Parmar four days earlier.
Noticeably, this is not a story of one village in Gujarat. Rural Gujarat has witnessed many such incidents of caste discrimination for a long time.
Gujarat’s History of Caste Atrocity
In multiple villages in Gujarat, Dalits have to follow rules laid down by the dominant upper caste community in the villages, such as not wearing new clothes, not sporting a moustache, not riding a horse on wedding day, not getting shaved by the village barber, not fetching water from the same well or tubewell as the upper castes and availing separate crematoriums for Dalits to name a few.
Noticeably, a survey was conducted by the Navsarjan Trust, an NGO working with Dalits in Gujarat, between 2007 and 2010 in 1,489 villages across 14 districts. The survey found that there are 98 forms of untouchability that are still being practised by upper castes against Dalits, while 99 types of untouchability are practised within 32 sub-castes of Dalits.
Seven years later, on August 15, 2017, when Martin Macwan, the head of the Navsarjan Trust, resumed the campaign against untouchability, members of the NGO had made a handwoven national flag measuring 125 feet by 83.3 feet to give it to the Chief Minister as a constitutional symbol and ask him to take steps against the caste atrocity and untouchability meted out to dalits. However, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani refused to receive it. Instead, the then Collector of Gandhinagar received the national flag, with a memorandum asking the Chief Minister to declare at least one village untouchability free by the year 2047.