South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

It is not surprising that the anger expressed by the Dalit community in Gujarat, and especially in the region of Saurashtra, is huge. Dalits are on the roads. Around 20 people from the Dalit community tried to commit suicide against the discrimination and injustice faced by the community. One Dalit died. I am familiar with Una and Saurashtra, as I visit the region regularly for my work. I was in Una last month also. The unfortunate Una incident can be a turning point in the history of the Dalit movement in the state of Gujarat. Though Maharashtra has a special relationship with Gujarat and Gujaratis, the Dalit movement is too weak there. The ruling party BJP is facing backlash from the Dalits.

Four Dalit youths were publicly thrashed by the gau rakshaks (cow vigilantes) in Mota Samadhiyala village near Una town on July 11. The unfortunate incident triggered massive protests across the state. Una is one of the most backward talukas of Gujarat. Dalit youths and others migrate to other cities and towns in big numbers in search of livelihood. The unrest among Dalit community and the earlier agitation of Patel community has also exposed the Gujarat model of development. In Una, four Dalit youths were flogged for skinning a dead cow. The cow vigilantes also took a video and uploaded it on social media. The Dalit youths were stripped, tied to a vehicle and dragged to a nearby town. Opposition raised the issue in Parliament. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was embarrassed most as he served as Chief Minister of the state for twelve and a half years from 2001 to 2014. Chief Minister Anandiben Patel, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal, Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi, Prakash Ambedkar and many other leaders visited Una and expressed solidarity with the victims. Gujarat government also acted quickly and arrested a few people.

The quick response from the Gujarat government was on expected lines, as Dalit votes have gained importance over the years. The Dalit community is now organised. The elections are due soon in importance states like Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. Dalit votes are in a position to decide who will form the government in these states. The Una incident happened at a time when Modi government is facing backlash from the Dalit community across the nation. Since the BJP-led government came to power in the Centre, many incidences of injustice to Dalits have come to light. Ambedkar-Periyar Students Group in IIT-Madras was derecognised. Rohith Vemula, a Ph.D. student at the University of Hyderabad was compelled to commit suicide. Rohith’s suicide mobilised lakhs of students across the country. Such cases led to anger in Dalit community against the Modi regime.

In Jharkhand’s Latehar district, two Muslim men herding eight buffaloes on their way to a Friday market were beaten up and hanged to death by cow vigilantes in March. In Uttar Pradesh’s Dadri, Mohammad Akhlaq was murdered for allegedly consuming beef. Keeping in mind forthcoming elections, the government responded quickly in Una incidence. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh issued a statement saying that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is “upset about the attack on Dalits”.

Dalits are believed to be facing serious discrimination and injustice in Saurashtra. They are regularly threatened. In 2015, Gujarat witnessed a five-fold increase in crimes against Dalits over the previous year. According to National Commission for Scheduled Castes, the increase is by 489 per cent. 1,130 incidents were reported in 2014 and in 2015, it increased to 6,655. It shows the grim reality of the other side of Gujarat.

There is a systematic and organised campaign. It is directly related to the ideology, which is against the interest of the common people. In October 2002, a shocking incident happened in Jajjar, Haryana, where five Dalit youths were lynched to death over accusation of ‘cow slaughter’. VHP and Bajrang Dal allegedly lauded the killers. The most shocking was the reaction of late Acharya Giriraj Kishore, then International Vice-President of VHP, who said, “according to our shastras, the life of a cow was very precious (shastron ke hisab se gau ka jeevan bahut moolya hai). What message such kind of statement sends? It sends the message that the cow is more important than human being. It also gives an ideological base for the gau rakshaks.

The government must not allow gau rakshaks and fringe groups to take law into their hands. These fringe groups are named differently at different places but they have the same ideology with the same working pattern. They do get inspiration from the Sangh parivar. Since Modi government came to power in 2014 at the Centre, such fringe groups have mushroomed. The message needs to go that nonsense will not be tolerated. Only action can prove whether government is serious or not.

Government needs to act tough in cases like Una, demolition of Ambedkar Bhavan, etc. It is time for Modi government to prove that they will not tolerate nonsense and will act tough against the accused even if they have links with the Sangh parivar. 

Updated On: 25 July 2016