Dungri Garasiya Bhil
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In the tribal village of Tadhi Vedi, a lifeless body has been hanging from a green neem tree for six months.
The body, wrapped in a sheet, is of Bhatiyabhia Gamar, who died under mysterious circumstances early in January. The village is 2km from the Gujarat-Rajasthan border in Poshina taluka of Sabarkantha district. Gamar’s relatives go about their lives, walking daily past his swinging body.
Gamar, 22, was first found hanging from a tree near Poshina a while ago. His father Memnabhai was reconciled to suicide being the cause of death. But Gamar’s other relatives believed he was murdered by the family of a girl he was in love with.
“The body clearly bore marks of beating. His face was hit with a knuckle duster. Gamar was warned by the girl's family of dire consequences if he continued his relationship with her," said Nimesh Gamar, a cousin.
Bhatiyabhia Gamar's body has been hanging from a neem tree for the last six months
The dead man lies hanging some 15 feet above ground. “The sight is unnerving for some, especially because the area is desolate. But that’s how justice is sought in these parts," said Raimaben, one of Gamar’s aunts.
Local cops have filed a case of accidental death after preliminary probe ruled out foul play. But the family is not bothered with police investigation because it relies on society for justice. “Those who have done the act must come forward and face the consequences,” Raimaben said. “Till then, the body will keep hanging, screaming for justice.”
The tradition, known as ' chadotaru', is an age-old belief in the tribal belts of Poshina, Khedrahma, Vadali and Vijaynagar. Under this custom, any unnatural death where foul play is suspected calls for a price to be paid by the accused. The money is then distributed among the victim's kin and community leaders.
The tradition is prevalent among the Dungri Garasiya Bhil adivasis who prefer it to the country's criminal justice system.
Where Chadotaru is practiced and how it works
-Practiced by Dungri Garasiya Bhil adivasis who live on the Gujarat-Rajasthan border
-It starts with one party declaring another accused
-Both families then approach elders to negotiate
-Elders get about 10% of chadotaru amount after settlement
-Tough talks held on basis of capacity to pay, social status
-Talks can start from Rs 50-60 lakh, and finally come down to Rs 5-6 lakh
-On completion of negotiation, part of the money is used to buy jaggery, which is distributed to all present
Ashwin Kotval, a tribal leader and Khedbrahma MLA, said chadotaru is not invoked in serious cases alone. “It could be used to protest against injury or damage to property,” he said. “First, the aggrieved party and the accused try to talk things out. But when negotiations fail, the former declares chadotaru. While instances are getting fewer, it’s still prevalent in many pockets.”
Chadotaru was recently declared by the father of a 17-year-old girl called Pinky, a first year student of arts in Khedbrahma, who was found hanging from a tree in February this year. Her family did not cremate her body. They suspected foul play and for 36 days they preserved the body in a wooden box on ice slabs at their family home in Panchmahuda village. They alleged that the girl had been raped and murdered. The last rites took place in March only after cops made seven arrests.
Chadotaru could be used to protest against injury or damage to property... While instances are getting fewer, it’s still prevalent in many pockets
Local residents say another body is awaiting last rites. Rahul Dabhi, a resident of Sadoshi village near Danta, was riding pillion on a bike when the vehicle met with an accident last week. Dabhi was flung from the spot and died during treatment. His family has demanded money from the rider and has preserved his body at their residence.
Police have been trying to persuade tribals to give up the practice, but it's a tough mission. Chaitanya Mandlik, SP of Sabarkantha district, said, “We take action whenever we're apprised of such an act. But it is a major challenge as the community has been following this system for generations.”