A year after Una, Jayesh Solanki's murder proves nothing has changed for Dalits in Gujarat
It takes a special kind of hatred to kill somebody for what Jayesh Solanki was murdered in Gujarat's Anand district on 1 October. All that Solanki, a Dalit, and his friends were reportedly guilty of was watching upper caste men and women dancing the garba during Navratri celebrations. This was enough for some upper caste men to take umbrage to such a level that they lynched Solanki.
The incident has come as a stark reminder of the condition of Dalits in Gujarat, a year after massive protests took over the state in response to the Una incident. In July 2016, Hindutva-inspired goons publicly flogged Dalits for skinning cows. Pictures and videos of the incident triggered public anger not just across the country, but even at the national level.
A year has passed since then and it looks like things are back to where they were. Imagine the level of prejudice against Dalits prevalent in the state that upper castes do not even want them to see the latter's gatherings, let alone the question of mingling. And upper castes will not merely object, but will hit, thrash and even kill to ensure their diktat prevails. Where does this impunity come from?
Latest government data puts Gujarat at the top of the list of states with the highest number of incidents of atrocities against Dalits. With 6,665 cases, Gujarat reported a five-fold rise in such crimes in 2015 over the previous year. This was the highest highest rate of atrocities against Dalits among all states, recorded at 163 crimes for every 1,00,000 Dalits.
Just two days day before Solanki was lynched in Anand, Dalit youths were reportedly thrashed near Ahmedabad for sporting moustaches. The assailants were reportedly Rajput men who felt that such moustaches were a symbol of upper caste pride.
These are only incidents that were reported so this is not even the tip of the iceberg of caste hatred that exists inGujarati society. In large parts of the state, Dalits continue to be denied access to temples. Enquiring about someone's caste even in places like public transport is a routine occurrence.
These conditions form the background of the larger process of dis-empowerment of Dalits in the state. Believed to be numbering only about 7% as an electoral bloc, they are not a key constituency anymore. The Una protests had made observers look at their numbers along with that of the Patidars, who were protesting separately demanding reservation in governments jobs and educational institutions.
Patidars number 14% and along with Dalits, this would have become a sizeable chunk of the electorate unhappy with the BJP. However, what the Anand lynching incident has also shown is that far from being a bloc, this is a mutually hostile grouping. Solanki's alleged killers are reportedly all Patidars and if that's true, it is merely indicative of the contempt that upper castes like Rajputs and Patidars harbour for Dalits.
Against this background, can Patidar-Dalit unity against BJP ever be possible? Given how much Patidars resent Dalits, will the two communities ever ally? In the absence of that alliance, will all of Dalit and Patidar anger against BJP mean anything concrete?
And if Dalits are still such pariahs for the upper castes of Gujarat, how will a repeat of Una and Anand be prevented? These are questions not just for the opposition with the impending assembly polls in the background, but for the Gujarati society at large.