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Marching ahead: Dalits threaten to expose Modi's much promoted Gujarat model

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 9 August 2016, 14:43 IST
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First of its kind

  • The Dalit march in Gujarat is seeing tremendous support from all corners
  • Much to the surprise of right wing parties, Muslims and Dalits are protesting together
  • The Dalit Asmita March is also raising issues of repressed Dalit women


More in the story

  • How the march is dismantling the developed Gujarat model
  • Why this march is a game changer for oppressed communities


The ongoing Dalit Asmita March from Ahmedabad to Una in Gujarat's Gir Somnath district is turning out to be a landmark in the history of socio-political domain of the state.

It has rattled the entire Hindutva bogey as it threatens to expose what has been successfully peddled as the 'Gujarat model' of development by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its affiliates, particularly the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), under the leadership of Narendra Modi.

The march is an outcome of the Dalit agitation that has rocked the Hindutva laboratory ever since Dalit youth were publicly flogged by cow vigilantes while they were skinning a dead cow in Samadhiyala village of Una taluka.

As the protestors move from village to village covering parts of Ahmedabad, Botad, Amreli and Gir Somnath they are getting a tremendous response.

Not only from the Dalits, but Muslims too have joined the fray. And this has added to the concern of right-wing Hindu organisations.

Growing support

"The response is outstanding as every few metres there are people waiting with flowers, garlands and whatever refreshments they can afford. Be it packets of biscuits, chavana, farsan and even small pouches of drinking water. The enthusiasm is immense as the slogans reverberate through the air. The marchers are being joined by activists from all over, adding to their strength," says an observer who walked with the marchers for two days.

Slogans like "Jai Bhim", "Inquilab Zindabad", "Manuvad se Azadi, Jativad se Azadi" (Freedom from Manu's theory of caste divisions), "Gai ni poonch nu chodi do" (Drop the tail of cow) "Humko hamari zameen do" (Give us our land rights), "Jativad todo samaj jodo" (Break the shackles of casteism and unite the society) and "Dalit Muslim Bhai Bhai" filled the air.

"One of the most interesting aspects is the large number of women who are coming forward to join the march. It needs to be understood that while the males have been direct target of violence against the Dalits, the women are affected far more. They are coming out to join the protestors and raise their problems wherever the marchers halt for discussions with the villagers," the observer disclosed.

The marchers led by Jignesh Mevani, a youth in his mid-thirties who has been vociferously fighting for Dalit rights over the last few years, along with his associates and supporters.

Making the issues clear

Protestors are going from village to village administering an oath to the Dalits that they would no longer do the inhuman task of skinning dead animals or manual scavenging.

The oath further includes a demand for land rights for the landless Dalits, which has often been promised but never delivered.

"The marchers have not chosen the villages to be visited on account of the Dalit population, instead, they are taking into account their importance for either being a village that has been experiencing tremendous atrocities against the Dalits or for being a village where the Dalits have stood for their rights. One such village visited by them was Loliya near Dhanduka where the Dalits have given up the task of skinning dead animals for the last 15 years," an observer said.

There are many aspects of this agitation that are groundbreaking for the contemporary socio-political history of the state.

As Prasad Chacko, the executive director at Human Development and Research Centre in Ahmedabad points out, "This is for the first time that the Dalits are militarily coming out against the atrocities that they have been subjected to for years. Till now their protests had always been subdued. Earlier protests used to be more of a request for action against perpetrators of violence against them or were legal steps initiated for getting justice. This time, it is a well-coordinated move, though not planned. It has been an instant reaction. They have always been at the receiving end and had never had their way, but now they have come out on their own."

Chacko told Catch, " This is for the first time that they have collectively taken a decision like allowing the bovine carcases to pile up while refusing to touch them. Such a thing has happened in the past only during agitations of sanitation workers, for a brief while as a part of trade unionism, but not at a social level."

An Indian supporter of the Dalit community holds up a picture bearing the image of social reformer Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar during the Dalit Asmita Yatra rally in Valthera village in Dholka Taluka, some 60 kms from Ahmedabad on 6 August, 2016. Indian supporters and members of the Dalit community are taking part in the Dalit Asmita Yatra, a march from Ahmedabad to the town of Una to protest an attack on members of the Dalit community there. Violent protests erupted in recent weeks after video footage emerged of an attack on four Dalit villagers who were taking a dead cow to be skinned. (Sam Panthaky/AFP)

Why this march matters

Another interesting thing that is visible is the unity among the various Dalit sub-castes which has never seen before. The coming together of Vankars, Valmikis, Devi Pujaks etc at this level is being witnessed for the first time.

Chacko says that the biggest concern for the Sangh Parivar is the falling apart of the so-called Gujarat model of development.

He pointed out that it was always contested by the activists that the social indicators were far below the mark.

Similarly, the kind of dictatorial political functioning which was played up all over the country is now being questioned. Now it is for everybody to see what the Gujarat model actually is.

United in protest

Political and social observer Sanjay Bhave points out, "The mobilisation for this event is unprecedented. Never before has such an event, particularly organised by the Dalits, got such support on social media. It is also for the first time that the rights of Valmiki women, who stand out as the ones most oppressed in the society, is being talked about. "

"One of the unique things about this movement is that it has risen from an instance of a local case of atrocity to a state-wide agitation addressing larger issues like land reforms and rights of Valmiki women," Bhave added.

Bhave points out that with Dalits continuing to be among the most suppressed people in Gujarat and particularly Saurashtra, women coming out to receive protestors and shout slogans is no mean feat.

Eminent sociologist Gaurang Jani sees the developments as a tremendous opportunity for the civil society both at the individual as well as at the group level.

"What is most significant is that it remains a movement where politicians are not involved. Those leading the march are not politicians but Dalit youths. There have been no press releases or press conferences. In the last two decades this is a unique event where it is the people who have come out to speak for their rights," Jani said.

Shaking the system

An Ahmedabad-based observer of socio-political developments pointed out that this is the second time that society has witnessed a departure from the Gandhian philosophy that is equated with Gujarat.

In 2002, perpetrators of violence against Muslims could be heard openly bragging that they were proud that Gujaratis had come out of the shadow of the Gandhian philosophy of non-violence.

This time around the Dalits have departed from the Gandhian way of resolving things, taking a firm position against something that is wrong.

It is for the first time that such a re-grouping is taking place and Dalits are openly threatening to demolish things that are wrong.

Muslims extending support to the Dalits is something the Hindutva groups never expected as it was the Dalits who were instigated to attack the Muslims in 2002.

One observer pointed out, "You can gauge what has changed from the fact that a person like Deepak Parmar is one of the marchers? This resident of Odhav area of Ahmedabad was hit by a bullet, allegedly from a security personnel's gun, in the 2002 violence. His wound has still not healed. He was also booked in a case pertaining to the 2002 violence against the Muslims. He had gone on to open a pan shop under the name 'Godhra Kand Pan Parlour' which was demolished by the local civic body on the charges of having come up on encroached land. Today he is a part of the march where slogans of Dalit-Muslim unity fill the air."

"Perhaps the Muslims have come to understand that under the rule of Sangh Parivar, they are the Maha Dalits of Gujarat," joked another observer.

Edited by Jhinuk Sen

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First published: 9 August 2016, 14:43 IST
 
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