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A year after Una, another march proves the Dalit uprising in Gujarat is in full swing

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 24 June 2017, 17:04 IST

The poll bound state of Gujarat is set to witness another round of Dalit agitation to mark the first anniversary of the Una flogging incident and the subsequent Una march.

This time, Dalits in the state are going on a week-long 'Azaadi Kooch' for land rights in North Gujarat. Last year, the theatre of the Una march had been Saurashtra. Both these regions have a large number of Dalits and a high reportage of atrocities against them.

The march for freedom

The march is once again being organised by the Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch (RDAM), led by its youth leader Jignesh Mevani. 

“Our programme will start on 11 July, the day Balubhai Sarvayya and his four sons were flogged while they were carrying out their vocation of skinning dead animals in the Mota Samadhiyala village in Una Taluka of Gir Somnath district. We will be bringing together the family members of victims of cow vigilantism and lynchings from Alwar, Una, Latehar, Dadri and Jamshedpur on a common platform at a conference that will be held in Saraspur locality of Ahmedabad,” he said.

Thereafter, the march will begin from Mehsana on 12 July and end a week later at a village either in Banaskantha or Rapar in Kutch.

“The focus will be on land rights. It has been decades that the Dalits were allocated land, but they are yet to get its possession. The march will conclude with us hoisting the national tricolour and a blue flag (symbolising the Ambedkarite movement) together on one such piece of land. This defines azaadi for us. Our fight for right to land is also our struggle for respect and freedom from economic exploitation. Only an end to caste discrimination and economic exploitation can take us to true azaadi,” Mevani told Catch.

Land rights

According to RDAM, land rights for Dalits have always remained on paper. The land allocated to them 32 years ago in Gujarat is still under the possession of the people from the powerful upper castes. 

“The government does not want to allocate even an inch of fresh land. This makes it clear that it wants the Dalits to clean the gutters and carry out scavenging for years to come. Hence, Manusmriti remains in operation,” said the Manch in a statement.

“The possession of land to corporate houses is given overnight while that to Dalit remains merely on paper. The slogan for our march will be 'Gai ki poonch aap rakho, humein hamari zameen do' (You keep your cow's tail, give us our land),” it adds.

The Manch has underlined that from the day that Una flogging came to light, the atrocities against Dalits and minorities in the name of cow protection have only increased while the governments in the Centre and the state choose to remain quiet.

Political implications

Mevani says that though Dalits have voted for various parties in Gujarat and are disillusioned with them, they particularly dislike the BJP and believe that voting for it in the forthcoming assembly polls would only result in moving towards the creation of a Hindu Rashtra.

“This time, we are not going to vote for the BJP. We are also trying to bring all the marginalised communities and minorities together. These will also include communities like Patels along with the working class and the farmers who have been at the receiving end during the more than two-decade rule of BJP in the state,” he added.

Mevani claims that the Una March had a massive impact as it sparked off agitations and movements in different parts of the country. He believes that the BJP fielding a Dalit for the Presidential post is a deeply planned 'political gimmick' and 'tokensim' to tame this upheaval.

“They want to dilute the impact of the Una march, the agitation that had followed Rohith Vemula's death and the impact of the Bhim Army but they will not be able to do so. Their attacks on the Dalits have not declined and they have not even spared Rohith Vemula's mother Radhika Vemula. Dalits are in no mood to let them go scot free,” Mevani said.

BJP fielding a Dalit for the Presidential post is a deeply planned 'political gimmick': Mevani

Dalits, in particular, have been giving the party a severe headache by the way of protests and agitations at regular intervals. Recently, the community took out an agitation which asked pointed questions to Dalit representatives in Parliament and the state assembly as to what they have been doing in light of growing instances of lynchings, cow vigilantism and Dalit atrocities.

They also carried out a unique protest in Surendranagar in May seeking rations for cows so that the bovines do not have to feed on toxic grass and plastic waste in the state.

Cleansing 'casteist ideologies'

In fact, to cleanse Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath of his 'casteist ideologies', Dalits in Gujarat came up with the idea of sending a 125-kg soap embossed with an image of Gautam Buddha. This was also to mark the 125th birth anniversary of BR Ambedkar who had embraced Buddhism with a view to fight casteism in Indian society.

Dalit rights leader Martin Macwan was quoted as saying, “After attaining enlightenment 2,500 years ago, Buddha had taken Sunit, a scavenger, as his disciple at Kushinagar near Varanasi to protest the prevailing caste system. It is the same place, the Uttar Pradesh chief minister recently chose to distribute soaps and shampoo before visiting the Dalits. It indicates that Yogi, under the influence of Manusmriti, wants to reverse what Buddha has done. We feel that Yogi’s casteist ideologies can be cleaned by Buddha’s message. We can fight the ideologies of saffron groups and Yogi through the ideologies of Buddha.”

The soap was manufactured for Rs 3,200, the money for which was donated by Dalit women and it was displayed on the premises of Centre for Development in Ahmedabad. 

Once again, the message coming from the land of Mahatma Gandhi, who was described as a 'chatur baniya' by BJP national president Amit Shah recently, is that the Dalit uprising is in full swing. This time the message will be more shrill, and likely to cause BJP worry because Gujarat - its laboratory of Hindutva – will soon be going to the polls.

First published: 24 June 2017, 17:04 IST