"The Youth Will Lead": Young, Collective Dalit Leadership Emerges in Gujarat
NEW DELHI: As Opposition parties hesitate to come out of the safety and security of Parliament’s walls, young activists across Gujarat are busy mobilising for a big Dalit rally in Ahmedabad on Sunday to raise demands for justice and equality.
Led by the young, and without a single recognised face, this rally has unnerved the Anandiben Patel led Gujarat government that has issued advertisements in the local media, reaching out to the Dalits even as it lets it be known that they are being “misguided” by what authorities like to describe as “some elements” with the word anti-national thrown in every now and again.The response, the organisers, say has been huge and while permission has not been given for the rally as yet, “we will go ahead regardless” is the refrain.
The father of one of the victims has come out on the record, in reports carried by sections of the Gujarat media, alleging that the attack on the youth was pre-planned. The state authorities are moving to file cases of criminal conspiracy against him, in what local activists describe as knee jerk, panicky responses of a government clearly out of its depth.
The ‘one million march’ call and the enthusiastic response from across Gujarat seems to have unnerved the Chief Minister who is again caught between a rock and a hard place. A decision has yet to be taken whether permission should be given, or whether the rally dispersed with the use of force as was done with the Patidar community last year.
35 year old Jignesh Mevani is the convenor of the Una Dalit Atyachar Ladat Samiti, that emerged from the spontaneous Dalit protests after four youths were stripped and flogged in Una village by Gau Rakshak vigilantes. Speaking to The Citizen from Ahmedabad on the eve of the ‘one million march’, he said that a list of demands will be presented to the Chief Minister. These include justice for the victims, the arrest of the perpetrators seen in the video recording of the crime along with the larger demands of land for the Dalit landless in Gujarat, their protection in real terms, a Reservation Act in Gujarat and other related issues.
A crackdown on Dalits that might leave many injured could have nationwide repercussions, more so in Uttar Pradesh where Dalits have been protesting since the Una incident. More so, with an eye on the state elections, opposition parties like the Bahujan Samaj party is playing a more proactive role in UP in organising and supporting such protests.
Mevani regretted that there was no leadership from the Opposition saying, “the youth will lead this stir.” Several local organisations with little to no base in Gujarat where the Dalit movement as he said, had been “very weak” have come together under the Una Dalit Atyachar Ladat Samiti banner to provide a direction to the anger and alienation of the Dalits in the state. He said that the political leadership, Dalit or otherwise, was emasculated and that no one was looking to the organised political parties any longer. He was clear that a new, young, collective leadership was emerging in Gujarat and elsewhere.
Mevani said the intention was to have a collective leadership and not of one individual like for instance, Hardik Patel. He said the idea was to ensure that the protest was not linked then to the whims of any one individual, ending if he or she decided to switch sides for personal aggrandisement. A collective leadership, he pointed out, would protect the agitation and the rights of the Dalits with no one person then in a position to jeopardise the momentum.
Mevani pointed out that in Gujarat the Dalits have been, and are being exploited and suppressed but because of the absence of an organised leadership had not been able to articulate their demands. Asked why now, he said, “it was waiting to happen” and the protests were completely spontaneous with the Dalit youth unwilling to accept the persecution any longer. Local organisations and activists followed the stir, and came out of their small pockets of influence to merge resources and give direction at the state level to this. Mevani was conscious of the fact that the Dalit groups have little to no links with organisations and individuals outside, but had decided to work on forging these essential links.
The Muslim organisations are supporting the Dalit march in Ahmedabad on Sunday as well. Marginalised groups have come together, with the opposition in Gujarat becoming bystanders to the process.