The indefinite relay hunger strike by residents of Sasan Gir and two other villages in Talala taluka of the newly-created Gir Somnath district, opposing their re-merger with Junagadh district, intensified on the fourth day on Sunday with women joining the protest. More than 100 women from Sasan Gir, Bhalchhel and Haripur villages joined the hunger strike outside Sinh Sadan, the local headquarters of Forest department in Sasan Gir.
Situated on the border of Gir forests, Sasan Gir is famous for lion safaris. Gir is the only natural habitat of the endangered Asiatic lions.
Villagers have been camping near the Sinh Sadan since Thursday after the state government issued a notification on September 9 merging these three villages with Mendarda taluka of Junagadh. In the initial notification for Gir Somnath early this year, the entire Talala taluka, including Sasan Gir, Bhalchhel and Haripur, was made part of the new district.
"The state government is singling out these three villages after representations from BJP's Junagadh MLA Mahendra Mashru and other local leaders. They are saying that Girnar and lions cannot be separated. However, the Forest department data shows that even Girnar has lions," said Devayat Vadher, a Congress member of Talal panchayat.
The villagers claim that they have nothing to do with any political party and are opposed to the government's decision due to distance between their villages and the new taluka headquarters, Mendarda town. "For us, Talala is 15 km away whereas Mendarda is 32 km. If the state government wants to make it convenient for people by making new districts, how fair is this?" asked Lakshman Dhokadia, the sarpanch of Sasan Gir.
Gypsy association, guides association and members of the hotel association of Sasan Gir have extended support to the protesters. "If the state government does not reconsider its decision by October 15, we will launch a 'road blocking' agitation and not allow tourists to enter Sasan Gir," the sarpanch threatened.