Amid rising atrocities, Dalits take an oath to 'demolish BJP' in Gujarat polls
With the news of continuing atrocities against the Dalits in Gujarat hitting headlines nearly every day, much to the embarrassment of BJP which is in power, Dalits in the state are not taking these assaults lying down.
At the centre of these protests is Jignesh Mevani once again, the youth leader who shot to prominence after the Una incident where several Dalits had been flogged.
This time around, innovative protests have ensured that the statement being made is very strong and political; something more than just protesting against an unfair social casteist order.
Under the tagline “BJP sarkar ne padi didu” (demolish the BJP government), Dalit activists led by Mevani are going from village to village where Dalits reside in substantial numbers, and organising meetings that conclude with the participants taking an oath that they will not vote for the BJP in the forthcoming Gujarat assembly polls.
The oath says that the Dalits must not vote for a government which is anti-Dalit, anti-people and anti-poor. The campaign is not restricted to physical oaths alone and has also made its way to social media.
According to Mevani, the response so far has been very good. This week, a meeting is to be held in Borsad in Anand where a Dalit boy was reportedly killed by upper caste men for watching them dance a few days ago.
An ignored community
Dalits in Gujarat have been a largely politically ignored community because they constitute only 7% of the total voter strength. More so, Dalit populations are spread far and wide across the state. In the past, no political party has given them much weightage and very few candidates open election offices in Dalit areas.
But the vociferous protests from the community in recent months has certainly rattled the ruling dispensation under Vijay Rupani. This is because of two reasons. One, reportage of such incidents becomes embarrassing to the BJP outside the state and also exposes the much propagated Gujarat model of development. Secondly, though small in number, the Dalit resentment, if reflected in terms of votes, can make a big difference once added to the anti-party votes polled in the elections.
“The BJP is in for some trouble, if not much, because Dalits and Patels have decided to not to vote for the party,” Mevani told Catch.
A large number of Dalits protested in the state capital in Gandhinagar on Wednesday in the wake of yet another assault on a Dalit youth in Limbodara village of Gandhinagar. According to reports, unidentified men stabbed a 17-year-old boy identified as Digant Maheriya when he was returning after giving an examination at school. This attack follows an assault on a couple of Dalit boys in Kalol on 25 September for sporting a moustache.
In Gandhinagar, the agitating Dalits demanded the resignation of Pradipsinh Jadeja, the minister of state for home. Such protests are only expected to grow in the coming days.
The attack on 25 September had seen a rally by Dalits in Kalol many Dalits with moustaches participated. In fact, the moustache protest also went viral on social media with people uploading images of twirled moustaches with a crown on top as their profile picture, along with the logo 'Mr Dalit'.
Chalking out a course of action
Dalit activist Subodh Parmar disclosed that representatives of various Dalit organisations have convened a meeting on 15 October to chalk out the future course of action to air their resentment against the continuing atrocities against the Dalits in the state.
Ironically, no political party has reached out to them formally. “We do not expect any of these parties to resolve our issues. We will have to struggle for our goals. The government does not want to intervene and hence nothing will come out of it,” he said.
They are also demanding that the report of the Sanjay Prasad Committee that had probed the Thangadh incident of 2013 in Surendranagar district where three Dalit youths were killed in firing be made public. “Despite the State Information Commission directing the government to disclose the findings on an application under the Right to Information (RTI) Act filed by Kiritsinh Rathod, the government continues to keep the report under the wraps,” said Parmar.
The Gujarat government has also drawn critical observations from the Gujarat High Court, but has continued to dilly dally on the matter.
Meanwhile, Mevani, Parmar and their other associates in the Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch (RDAM) who have been working for land rights of Dalits, have received a shot in the arm. Mevani disclosed that the state government has eventually come around and has started distributing land to Dalits in Saroda village of Dholka taluka in Ahmedabad district. These youngsters had earlier scripted a similar success story in Panva village of Patdi taluka of Surendranagar district.
The way it looks right now, it is more than likely that the caste struggle in Gujarat will have an impact in the forthcoming assembly polls.