Yoginder Sikand


Gujarat under Narendra Modi is touted about as Hindutva’s most successful laboratory. The corporate world and influential sections of the ‘mainstream’ Indian media never tire of singing paeans to Modi’s ‘developmental model’, which they uphold as eminently worthy of emulation by the rest of the country.  Scores of middle-class Hindus passionately advocate Modi as India’s next Prime Minister, who, they fondly hope, will propel the country into the league of the economic and military ‘super-powers’.


As in the rest of India, but perhaps to an even greater degree, the much-applauded Gujarat model of rapacious capitalist ‘development’ has led to mounting inequalities and pauperization of vast numbers of people, particularly belonging to the Dalit and Adivasi communities, at the same time as it has greatly enriched Gujarat’s already well-entrenched social and economic elites. While Adivasis and Dalits together comprise more than a fifth of Gujarat’s population, they remain at the bottom of the state’s steeply hierarchical social pyramid. This clearly illustrates the caste-class interests that the politics and ideology of Hindutva and Modi’s ‘developmental model’ are geared to promoting.


Much of Gujarat’s reported economic ‘success’ owes to the exploitation of cheap Dalit and Adivasi labour. Gujarat enjoys the dubious distinction of having one of the largest numbers of child labourers in the country, most of who are Dalits and Adivasis or belong to other such marginalized caste groups. They work in miserable, often bonded-labour like, conditions, being paid a pittance, and the state government, apparently, is completely apathetic to their plight.


Early last month, a friend of mine, the indefatigable social activist Rajesh Solanki, Secretary of the Ahmedabad-based Dalit Hak Rakshak Manch (‘Dalit Rights’ Protection Forum’), shot off a memorandum to Kamala Beniwal, Governor of Gujarat, drawing her attention to the absence of a State Commission for the Protection of Child Rights’ (SCPCR) in Gujarat, which, it indicated, meant that children’s rights’, particularly of marginalized communities, continued to be violated on a large scale across the state. It argued that despite the fact that the Commission for the Protection of Child Rights Act 2005 had made it a duty of state governments to set up such commissions, the state Government of Gujarat continued to ignore this. It pointed out that the claim of the Gujarat government that in place of a separate SCPCR it had arranged for child-rights-related issues to be handled by the Gujarat State Women’s Commission was specious and, in fact, in  violation of the Commission for the Protection of Child Rights Act. Given that the Women’s Commission had its own specific mandate and that it did not possess adequate human resources to deal additionally with the violation of children’s rights, the memorandum insisted that the Gujarat Government must set up a separate Child Rights’ Protection Commission as was required by law. Delegating the work of such a commission to the Women’s Commission, it pointed out, was leading to the subversion of children’s rights on a large scale.


The memorandum submitted by the Manch, which is one of the most active Dalit groups in Gujarat, elaborated on the extent of gross denial of rights to children (particularly belonging to marginalized caste and tribal communities in the state), all of which necessitated, it said, a full-fledged Child Rights’ Protection Commission. It pointed out the existence of at least 400,000 child laborers in Gujarat (who must be mostly Dalits and Adivasis) making the state ninth among India’s 28 states in terms of child labour. Despite child labour being declared illegal, it noted that the state had exhibited little enthusiasm to tackle the problem. Less than 4500 child laborers were ‘freed’ from child labour during the period 2001-2010, it pointed out. As on 31st January this year, it noted, more than ten thousand cases related to children in the state remained pending before the Juvenile Justice Board, and only around a fifth of them have been disposed.


Every year, the memorandum added, thousands of workers (who are mainly impoverished Dalits and Adivasis), along with their children, are lured to Gujarat from neighbouring states—to work in farms and factories under extremely harsh and exploitative conditions. Yet, it noted, the Gujarat state had failed to arrange for an inter-state coordination committee to address the serious problems of such migrant workers and their children.


More than 100,000 children, the memorandum indicated, including minor girls, ‘are being exploited and sex-ploited’ in hybrid cotton seed farms across seven districts in Gujarat. In this case, too, most of these child laborers would be from the marginalized and historically oppressed Dalit and Adivasi communities. The memorandum noted with dismay the refusal of the Collector of the Banaskantha district to acknowledge the presence of such child labour in his district when confronted with evidence to the contrary by activist groups. The memorandum noted that the Dalit Hak Rakshak Manch has requested the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights to use its quasi-judicial powers and summon government officers in Gujarat to inquire as to why they continue to allow such an obnoxious form of exploitation.


The memorandum stressed that the separate Child Rights’ Commission which it urged the Gujarat Government to establish was also needed for the proper implementation of the Right to Education Act 2005. It noted that vast numbers of children across the state (probably mainly Dalits and Adivasis) are denied access to primary education facilities, in part due to what it called the ‘callousness of the government’. Gujarat, the memorandum pointed out, lagged behind 21 other states in the immunization coverage of infants, and this clearly exposed what it called ‘the tall claims’ of the Gujarat Government about its achievements in the health sector. It criticised the Gujarat Government for giving the task of the implementation of the Right to Education Act to the State Women’s Commission, which, it stressed was ‘nothing but a mockery of the Right to Education Act. All this, the memorandum stressed, were additional reasons why it was imperative for  Gujarat to establish a separate state Child Rights’ Commission.


The memorandum concluded with an appeal to the Governor to issue appropriate orders to the Gujarat Government, which it termed as a ‘penny-pinching miser’ that ‘does not want to use resources for this vital issue related with future citizens of this state’.


So much, then, for the story of the Modi ‘Model of Development’.


(Rajesh Solanki, Secretary of the Dalit Hak Rakshak Manch, can be contacted on rsolanki0@gmail.com)

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