Chandapur (Surat), March 15: For freedom, people are prepared to do anything. In this Gujarat village, tribals have declared freedom so that they can drink in peace.
If they have to fight the government of the country’s only state where prohibition is in force for the right, so be it.
After a spirited three-hour debate yesterday, the tribals decided to invoke the Gujarat Panchayat Act, 1998, to impose self-rule so they could drink during festivals “without the fear of being harassed by police and prohibition department”.
A banner put up in the village since says: “Delhi-Gandhinagarmaa amaari sarkar, amara gaam ma amej sarkar (In Delhi and Gandhinagar, it’s our government; in our village, we are the government).”
Gandhiji would have approved — not the drinking, but the spirit of self-governance of the people of his home state.
The panchayat act — based on the Dilip Singh Bhuria Committee’s recommendations — allows tribal villages to “regularise use of intoxicants in the village”.
The tribals are aware that their “village government” could be headed for a confrontation with the displeased district authorities.
The resolution they adopted has come in for flak as the clause on intoxicants in the act is open to interpretation.
“The resolution adopted by the village has no validity,” said local revenue official Mohan Patel, who was present at the gram sabha, “because the sarpanch didn’t attend the meeting”.
The state government, too, appears unwilling to grant the tribals the power it promised in the act that, in theory, allows local bodies in 33 tribal-dominated talukas to decide on the five-decade-old prohibition policy.
Government spokesman I.K. Jadeja said the resolution “has no meaning, no legal validity”.
Tribal activist and advocate Paresh Chaudhary, however, insisted the act allows tribals to lift prohibition in their village.
“This is what tribals want. We offer liquor to our deities. Liquor is an integral part of our tradition. During our festivals, both men and women drink and dance. We cannot imagine life without liquor.”
Complicating matters are the decisions the tribals took that day regarding development of their village. The sarpanch has already been reprimanded by a senior revenue official, said deputy sarpanch Jayram Vasava, who had chaired the sabha.
The official had earlier threatened to arrest Chaudhary and Himanshu Banker, an activist with a tribal NGO called Vikalp, if they went ahead with the meeting.
The villagers — 80 per cent of whom had turned up for the conclave — however, are not giving up.
Chaudhary and Banker, appointed the gram sabha advocates, said the resolutions would be sent to the governor, the district development officer and the local taluka authorities.
“We will wait for their reaction. We will see whether they comply with our resolutions. If they throw them out and we see our work is not getting done, we will move court,” one of the advocates said.