Dalits Plan 30 Days Pre-Poll Yatra in Gujarat
Untouchability Must Be Included In Political Discourse
Poll season is also a season of Yatras. While senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi moves on with his 'Bharat Jodo Yatra', the Dalit community in election bound Gujarat will also undertake a crucial Yatra.
From Thursday, activists from the Dalit community are launching a 30-day campaign to bring the issue of prevalent untouchability into the main political discourse. This Yatra begins ahead of the Assembly polls due in the next three months.
The message that this campaign will be spread across the masses will be: "We shall vote only for the party who has clearly spelt their political will to abolish untouchability in their manifesto." This campaign follows the 'Untouchability - Free India Yatra' that was undertaken from August 1 to 8 from Ahmedabad to the national capital of New Delhi, but was not allowed to move beyond Haryana.
The September campaign is being organised by prominent Dalit rights organisation Navsarjan. Their aim is to enlighten Gujarat's voters to vote for only that party which has a concrete plan to abolish untouchability in their manifesto for upcoming Gujarat Assembly elections.
The reason given for this initiative is that it is the constitutional mandate of the State to abolish untouchability. And it is the duty of the voters to remind the political parties about their position and programs for removal of this inhuman practice. It has been noted that untouchability is the biggest roadblock to the development in India, especially the Dalits' development.
A statement issued by the organisers underlined: "Ninety years ago, in 1932 Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar had to unwillingly let go his demand for separate electorate against the adamant fast of Mahatma Gandhi. The latter had justified his fast as a calling of God and a way to ensure non-division of Hindus.
"The Hindu leaders had promised to remove untouchability in the second clause of the Poona Pact. Ninety years later, Dalits have felt betrayed as neither the untouchability has been removed nor they have as Hindus felt united with other Hindus. All religions in India continue to practise segregation based on caste, belittling the Indian constitution."
The statement added:"Dr. Ambedkar in 1951 had advocated that vote has the potential to become a tool for Dalit empowerment. This is the central message to the present campaign of political education - Use the power of your vote to commit the political parties to the constitutional mandate of removing untouchability."
The campaign will visit 90 taluka (sub-divisional) headquarters spread across Kheda, Anand, Vadodara, Rajpipla, Devgadh Baria, Chhotaudepur, Panchmahal, Botad, Bhavnagar, Rajkot, Kutch, Surendranagar, Banaskantha, Patan and Mehsana before culminating at Ahmedabad on October 15. There are 252 talukas in Gujarat.
The activists and supporters will move from one village to another carrying a nine feet tall replica of an Electronic Voting Machine (EVM). it will displays as its options, various questions relevant to Dalit rights and empowerment besides highlighting the atrocities. They will also carry a replica of a Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) with similar questions and messages.
"There are many issues calling attention to the plight of the marginalised communities. We have compiled data for 42 years that states that there have been 26,000 murders of Dalits and more than 5000 of people belonging to Schedule Tribes (ST). Interestingly there is no data available from 1947 to 1977 and also for two years in the later period.
"Similarly there were 55,400 rapes of Dalits and 22,004 of women from the ST community. There have been 72.5 lakh cases of atrocities on Dalits while the figure for STs is above 2 lakh for STs," Martin Macwan, a prominent Dalit activist and one of the faces behind the month long initiative, told The Citizen.
"The law is to prevent the atrocities and violence, not to report. But nothing has been done on the prevention aspect. This was never the purpose," he added.
The questions written on the EVM replica include:
Does your party have the will to do away with untouchability?
What plan does your party have to remove untouchability?
Is this plan time bound?
How many financial resources will your party allocate to remove untouchability?
The questions on the VVPAT replica are equally bold and relevant:
How many Dalits will be killed in 2023?
How many Dalit women will be raped in 2023?
How many landless Dalits will be given land in 2023?
The doors of how many temples will be opened for Dalits in 2023?
When will Gujarat become a model for untouchability free India?
Why do most of the under trials in Gujarat come from Dalit and tribal communities?
Why are maximum numbers of malnourished children in Gujarat belonging to Dalit and tribal communities?
How many financial resources will you allocate for unemployed youth from Dalit and tribal communities in Gujarat?
There is also the resounding question, "Why not a Dalit CM in Gujarat?"
One of the most important questions related to the Untouchability Free India Yatra of August is:"Why was the coin demanding Untouchability Free India not accepted?"
The 'Untouchability Free India Yatra' of August was to conclude with a massive 1111 kg brass coin to be donated for being laid in the foundation of the new Parliament building. The message embossed on the coin was: "Will the 1947 dream of untouchability free India be a reality in 2047?" The Dalit community also wanted to donate Rs 20 lakh in one rupee coin denomination for the new building.
However, the Yatra was stopped as it entered Haryana from Rajasthan. The people camped on the road for 24 hours before returning with the coin to Dalit Shakti Kendra in Sanand in Gujarat.
"We are not giving up and will come up with a new initiative on the coin soon. The Yatra had received tremendous response. The people, including children waited for hours to have a glimpse of the coin. They [authorities] probably had apprehensions on the Yatra entering Delhi around August 15.
"There must also have been discomfort as all the tall claims made over the last 75 years would have stood belied. During the Yatra we were asked by many that where is untouchability? But all those voices fell silent after Indra Meghwal, a school boy, was beaten to death for touching a water pot," said Martin.
Now, activists and supporters undertaking the 30 day march will silently hold a 90-metre-long banner stating: "We will give our vote only to the political party whose manifesto has a concrete plan to remove untouchability."
The number 90 has relevance in context of the banner's length, and the talukas that will be visited. It is to remind the masses that 90 years have passed since Hindu leaders had promised Mahatma Gandhi to eradicate untouchability as a part of the Poona Pact of 1932.
Gujarat has around seven per cent of Dalit voters who are spread across pockets. The state continues to report instances of violence and atrocities against them at regular intervals.