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Changing face of atrocities against Dalits in Gujarat: What's the reason behind the attacks?

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 26 May 2018, 18:23 IST

The much hyped 'Gujarat Model' of governance has surely come a long way even as far as atrocities on the Dalits go. After all, who could have imagined till sometime back that a Dalit youth would face music for his little foray into the cyber world as an attempt to speak out for his community. The shape and form of atrocities are also changing with the changing times.

This actually happened when 22 year old Maulik Jadhav of Dholka suffixed 'Sinh' to his name on his facebook profile. He was attacked by upper caste Rajputs for doing so who still bear the notion that writing 'Sinh' behind their name is their sole prerogative.

The incident at Dholka followed another one in Banaskantha district of North Gujarat where a Dalit family had faced an attack for writing the 'Sinh' suffix in a wedding card. Actually Maulik, a science graduate who runs tuition classes in Dholka, reportedly added 'Sinh' to his name on the facebook profile to air protest for what had happened in Banaskantha.

Social activist and observer Mehul Manguben points out, “One can see how areas are divided between upper and lower castes even in public places. If you travel frequently in long route buses or trains you will find that the seats at the rear end of the buses might be occupied by groups of Dalit daily travelers while those from upper castes would be occupying the front rows. It is an accepted social norm where a conflict emerges when a Dalit dares to change his seat someday. The same is true for schools where Dalit students often occupy the back benches in segregated groups. Here too a conflict arises if one of them is adamant to sit amidst upper caste students or in the front rows.”

He further said, “In case of employment in the small private firms that are highly unregulated, the majority of those employed are from upper castes. A Dalit can manage to get an employment only for doing menial jobs and in front of the brute majority of upper castes he has to accept the treatment that is meted out to him. Generally there is no conflict as the the employee and the others treat him with a 'Daya bhaav' but problem arises if he starts seeking what is rightfully his.”

The same goes for the housing sector where builders are reluctant to sell flats to Dalits even if the latter has the capacity to pay. The logic given is that if a Dalit occupies a flat on one floor, there would be a problem finding upper caste clients for the remaining flats and not many Dalit customers are in a position to purchase them. It is true even for renting accommodations. What has emerged is a caste-based ghettoization.

Coming back to the instances at Dholka and Banaskantha, one of the most prominent Dalit activists Martin Macwan underlined that such behaviour with prejudices from educated upper caste youth were not expected. “I have a hunch that it is politically motivated. The attempt is to ensure that the society stands polarised on caste lines. It has moved on from Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan to Gujarat. There has been no political reach out to the victims.”

Referring to the episode of a Dalit rag picker being beaten to death in Rajkot on Sunday, he explained, “Forget going to meet the family of the deceased, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani has not even uttered a word of condemnation. The talk has only about compensation as if it is the only programme.”
He recalled that along with the organization Navsarjan, he had been instrumental in putting brakes on the atrocities in Dholka area but the government remaining quiet on such incidents has led to the new generation sustaining caste prejudices.

Mehul elaborates on the phenomenon pointing, “The area of conflict has increased in the last 25 years ever since the Brahminical ideology was promoted and the youth were fed with an ideology of hate. I would say that the roots of the present day pattern of atrocities lie in the 'Gaurav Yatra' of 2002 of Prime Minister Narendra Modi who was then the chief minister of Gujarat. Before that Yatra violence was never celebrated. The new trend got culminated in video recording and circulation of episodes like the Una public flogging of Dalits who were carrying out their vocation of animal skinning or the recent video of the rag picker in Rajkot being beaten to death going viral. Earlier, even the few upper castes who took pride in carrying out such deeds had some guilt.”

He further explained, “The reasons for the atrocities going up is clearly the failure of the state to intervene. The government has clearly failed to understand the Scheduled Castes (SC)/Scheduled Tribes (ST) (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. It calls for prevention. Where is this prevention? There is no preventive action. It needs to answer how many atrocity sensitive districts have been identified ? How many committees were formed to check atrocities ? Who are the members ? How many meetings have been held ? What were the minutes ? What decisions were taken and implemented ? Things just do not end at compensation for atrocities committed.”

The issue of compensation not being a solution can be well understood by a recent tweet from Dalit leader and Vadgam MLA Jignesh Mevani that read, “In Rajkot flogging and murder case, we have decided to return the cheque issued to victims by Rupani gov. Mr. Rupani, We want justice not your 8 lakh. Announce that chargesheet will be field in 3 weeks and trial will be completed in 4 months or will return your cheque.”

Dalit and other social activists also rue the fact that even the social and religious leaders who have a massive following too refrain from condemning the acts of violence against the Dalits.

In Gujarat, Dalits are just seven per cent of the population and are too widely scattered to make any political impact in the state, but of late the message going out from here is resonating loudly in other states much to the discomfort of Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) national president Amit Shah. Both of them have gone overboard in promoting their 'Gujarat Model' and will sooner or later be facing questions on what this model has achieved in context of social justice and equality.

First published: 26 May 2018, 18:23 IST