Gujarat Dalits Show the Way
MUMBAI: The Dalit agitation sparked off against the atrocity in Mota Samdhiyala Village and Una town in Gujarat, in which a family and its four Dalit youth were flogged in full public view by the self proclaimed cow vigilante group portends a new kind of awakening among the Dalits.
After the Dalit Panthers in 1970s, Dalits have never articulated their response in a rebellious form and with materialistic overtone. The atrocities on Dalits in the country have as such been ubiquitous and even in far more grotesque form than what happened in Gujarat.
The only difference between this one and other atrocities is the temerity with which the perpetrators videoed it and posted on to the social media, reflecting the confidence that they would never be prosecuted for their crime.
Leave apart lynching of five Dalits to death and setting them ablaze in Dulina (Jhajjar), Haryana by the very similar cow vigilante goons in 2002, in Gujarat itself, in September 2009, in a minor clash between the Dalits and upper caste youth at a fair at Thangadh in Surendranagar district, the state police had killed three Dalit youth but it did not provoke spontaneous reaction of such intensity. Of course, the accumulated anger of Thangadh, and many such incidents and the complete inaction of the state have greatly contributed to build up of the anger that manifested into the current agitation.
The video of four Dalit youths, stripped to their waist and tied to the back of an SUV being flogged mercilessly by people taking turns in public view near the Una police station went viral provoking anger all over.
Emulating perhaps the protest of Rohith Vemula, in a first wave of indignation nearly 30 Dalit youth tried committing suicide at different places in the state. One 23-year-old Yogesh Sarikhada who had consumed pesticide died in hospital. But it was soon followed by a rebellious form of protest which Dalits never tried after Ambedkar’s days.
Ambedkar had exhorted Dalits to give up dragging dead animals and had angrily retorted some Brahman’s argument that he was causing monetary loss to Dalts by saying that he would award a cash prize in addition to the carcass if he did it. Unfortunately, not all Dalits followed his advice and the practice survived even to this day. He had advised them to give up all unclean vocations too, but Dalits continued with them partly for the need for survival and partly under pressure from the dominating communities.
There were no alternatives offered even by Ambedkar than staying half starved but with dignity. This agitation should be credited with appropriately combining a demand for five acres of cultivable land to every Dalits who gives up his caste vocation.
Dalits have this potent weapon as well as apt answer to the Hindutva brigade, obsessed with cow protection. A week after the incident, scores of Dalits from villages brought dead cows in tractors and dumped them in government offices in Gondal and Surendranagar. T
he Una Dalit Atyachar ladat samiti convened with an initiative of a young Dalit activist, Jignesh Mewani, to coordinate the spontaneous agitation of the Dalits, declared that the Dalits would stop lifting dead animals and told the government to ask Shiv Sainiks and the self-proclaimed cow protectors to collect and dispose of the rotting carcasses.
Within a couple of days, Times of India (28 July 2016) reported, the stink of rotting carcasses brought both the cow protectors and their protector, the state, to their senses. The Samiti extended this call to stopping of manual scavenging too, the existence of which the government has been persistently denying despite its own agency acknowledging the fact.
If Dalits collectively decide to give up just these two tasks associated with their Dalitness, the entire caste establishment can be brought to its knees. Why they haven’t been able to do it is because of their vulnerability and also the fear of backlash from the dominant communities. The Dalits, who are engaged with these dirty jobs are ghettoized away from the mainstream with little mobility.
Gujarat has been treated as the laboratory of Hindu rashtra, which enables us to see with clarity its content. The status of the Muslims has been made clear enough by the carnage in 2002, that the only way for them to survive in India would be to live on Hindutva terms, The same for Dalits remained shrouded in a multi-layered strategy of cooption, retribution, and condemnation.
Earlier, Dalits were taught a similar lesson in 1981 and again in 1985 reservation riots, which were more widespread than the 2002 assault on Muslims, in which reportedly some 300 Dalits lost their lives. These repeated onslaughts buckled their already weak consciousness and they were seen participating in the procession of Jagannath Yatra of 1986.
But this reconciliation did not change their plight; on the contrary, they saw it worsening year after year, as the atrocity figures reveal. Contrary to the commonplace impression, Gujarat has always been one of the top tormentors of the Dalits. The BJP never lost an opportunity to proclaim that the state had one of the lowest rates of crime against the Dalits. Recently, it gets its collection of slavish ‘Dalit leaders’ and ‘intellectuals’ to do the same on its behalf.
For instance, in a television debate on NDTV in the wake of Una atrocity and subsequently writing in The Week (August 07, 2016), Narendra Jadhav, who has been awarded with a Rajya Sabha seat for his acquiescence with the Sangh Parivar, tried to show that Gujarat does not figure among the top tormentor states.
He stated, “In 2014, the top three states were Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Bihar. Gujarat, which is the centre of attention now, actually had much lower rate of crimes against the scheduled castes in 2014—2.4 per cent—whereas the above mentioned three states were all in the range of 17 per cent to 18 per cent.”
He deliberately misread the figures. The table 7.1 of the Crime in India, 2014 provides the rates of incidence which for Gujarat is 27.7 (atrocities per lakh population of the SCs), much higher than that for Uttar Pradesh at 19.5. The year 2014 surprisingly showed up Gujarat relatively much better right. In the previous years Gujarat consistently ranked among the top four to five states in terms of atrocities.
In 2013 when Narendra Modi’s publicity of Vibrant Gujarat had reached a crescendo in the wake of ensuing general elections and his imminent coronation as the prime ministerial candidate, the rate of crime against the Dalits was 29.21, up from 25.23 in the previous year- 2012, marking it as the fourth worst state in the country. In terms of the major class of atrocities like Murders and Rapes also Gujarat beats most states dry to be at the top,
The agitation of the Dalits in Gujarat has simply kept these so called self seeking Dalit leaders and intellectuals out. It has shown, the collective Dalit rage itself provides it a face, resource and ideology. It is a weird stroke of dialectics that the solution to Dalit problems is brewing in the Laboratory of Hindu rashtra!
(Anand Teltumbde is a writer, political analyst and General Secretary of CPDR, Mumbai)