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BJP rattled: Dalits carrying soap to cleanse Yogi's mind held in Jhansi

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 3 July 2017, 18:40 IST
(Arya Sharma/Catch News)

The BJP is clearly rattled by the spate of Dalit agitations, programmes and marches across the country.

This discomfort with the Dalit uprising was more than visible when the police detained 45 Dalit youth from Gujarat at Jhansi Railway Station on the evening of 2 July while they were on their way to gift a 125-kg soap to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.

The soap was to be displayed at a press briefing at Lucknow Press Club on 3 July. Dalit activist Martin Macwan, who was among those who had gotten the soap made with an insignia of Gautam Buddha embossed on it, told Catch, “I am told that there is heavy police presence at the Press Club and permission for the briefing has been withdrawn.”

More so, eight people were arrested from Lucknow Press Club in Qaiserbagh area and 23 were arrested from Chowk locality. Retired IPS officer and Dalit activist SR Darapuri, the convener of the proposed Lucknow Dalit convention, was among those arrested under section 151 of the CrPC (arrest to prevent commission of cognizable offences). They got bail later in the evening.

The soap was to be a symbolic gift to the CM, meant to 'cleanse his casteist mindset'.

Law and order

The youth were told by the police to not proceed further for the sake of their own safety. They then proceeded to sit on a dharna at the railway station, but after some negotiations, the soap was handed over to the local administration.

The police reportedly followed the Dalit youth right from when they boarded the Sabarmati Express in Ahmedabad. Their identity cards were checked and they were asked to board different compartments before being forcibly made to leave the train at Jhansi.

Additional Director General of Police Aditya Mishra says, "The Lucknow police felt that these activists coming to the state capital could create a law and order issue. On their request, they were not allowed to proceed to Lucknow. As it is, large congregations are banned in the state capital as Section 144 is in place."

According to Mishra, the 45 youth will be released shortly.

Macwan tried to fly to Lucknow but his flight was cancelled on Monday morning. In fact, the police consistently asked the Dalit youth detained at Jhansi station: “Who is Martin Macwan?”

Rejecting untouchability

The coarse soap, which is made along the same lines as the yellow soap commonly used by Dalits in Gujarat, was made in protest against the reported distribution of soap and shampoo by the Yogi Adityanath government before Dalits from Mainpur Deenapatti village in UP’s Kushinagar district got to meet the Chief Minister in May this year.

Macwan, the founder of Gujarat's biggest Dalit rights NGO Navsarjan Trust, had displayed the 125-kg soap in Ahmedabad on 8 June. The purpose was to tell Adityanath that he had insulted Dalits, as well as Buddha, who 2,500 years ago had accepted a manual scavenger called Sumit as his follower, thus becoming the first person in India to reject untouchability. It was also an insult to Kushinagar, where Buddha is supposed to have attained moksha.

Meanwhile, Macwan and his team have given the clarion call for another programme that would start from Sanand near Ahmedabad on 15 July. Around 1,000 people from various villages in the area will gather at Sanand to ask whether India can become 'Asprishyata Mukt Bharat' (untouchability free India) over the next 30 years, by when India would have reached 100 years of independence.

“The BJP has been talking of a 'Congress mukt Bharat', while other parties are also talking along similar lines. But we want to know whether India can become untouchability free by 2047," Macwan said.

"Untouchability remains in practice even today and has been abolished only on paper. Dalits have remained on the margins of the society and successive governments have done nothing for them. We later want to extend this programme on 'Asprishyata Mukt Bharat' to other parts of the state,” he said.

Macwan referred to a study conducted on untouchability by Navsarjan in 2010. The study was carried out by a team from Navsarjan in collaboration with three professors from the US. They studied 98 forms of caste discrimination after interviewing 98,000 people across 1,589 villages.

“Around 90% had reported discrimination when it came to entering temples and 54% reported discrimination in the mid-day meal programme in public schools. There were 54,000 people who were manual scavengers at the time of the study. When the matter was raised in the Gujarat state assembly, the government decided to get a study conducted by Ahmedabad based Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology (CEPT). The CEPT study came out with certain findings, but did not mention untouchability. We now want to take the 'Asprishyata Mukt Bharat' agitation to every district,” Macwan said.

A flustered BJP

But the real question is: why exactly is the BJP so rattled by Dalit programmes?

It appears that the BJP is following a clear two-pronged policy towards Dalit activists across India. Firstly, it seems to be cracking down on activists who are agitating against the BJP and its state governments - Bhim Sena chief Chandrashekhar Azad, Gujarat-based activist Jignesh Mevani and now the arrests in Jhansi and Lucknow are indicative of this. On the other hand, it is propping up its own Dalit leaders like Udit Raj and Ram Shankar Katheria. The nomination of Ram Nath Kovind as the President is part of the same process.

Of late, Dalits in Gujarat have been very vocal on land rights and the continuing atrocities against them.

The 'Asprishyata Mukt Bharat' programme will coincide with a march being held from Mehsana to Banaskantha to mark one year of the Una March held last year after the public flogging of Dalits.

In the last two months, there have been several programmes organised by Dalits, including one seeking rations for cows under Public Distribution Scheme (PDS) so that the animals are not forced to eat toxic fodder and plastics. yet another sought an explanation from Dalit representatives in the state assembly and parliament on what they have done on issues like cow vigilantism and increasing atrocities against Dalits.

Macwan says that the Dalit vote is very critical for the BJP in the forthcoming assembly polls.

“The 6.5% votes of the community are very essential for the party, but are not with it. Secondly, the fielding of a Dalit candidate for the President's post has not yielded desired results for the BJP. Dalits have seen through their plan. An aura was being created that everything would fall in place once a Dalit President is elected, but that is not the case. In fact, this tokenism was to be highlighted at the press briefing in Lucknow,” he said.

The Dalit march being carried out from 12 July onwards by youth leader Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch leader Jignesh Mevani and his team will mainly focus on the issue of land rights. The slogan for the march is 'Gai ki poonch aap rakho, humein hamari zameen do' (You can keep the cow's tail with you, just give us our land rights).

Dalits are also agitated over the failure of the government to make the report on the 2013 Thangadh killings public. Three Dalit youths had been killed in firing in the incident at Thangadh in Surendranagar district. Dalit and human rights activists have been seeking that the probe report by Sanjay Prasad committee set up by the state government that looked into the matter. The Gujarat government has also drawn critical observations even from the Gujarat High Court on the issue.

It is evident that all these issues will raise their head once campaigning kicks off for the state assembly elections scheduled to be held towards the end of this year. Where the BJP will stand remains to be seen.

First published: 3 July 2017, 18:40 IST