When the sants came marchin' in: RSS deploys 70 seers to appease Gujarat Dalits
The Dalit cauldron in Gujarat's Hindutva laboratory continues to simmer even as the RSS has started to make a desperate effort to use religion as a tool to address the issue of caste.
The agitating Dalits will now be taking part in a 350-km-long march from Ahmedabad to Una in Gir Somnath district to raise the issues of social justice. The 10-day march, called the Dalit Asmita Yatra, will culminate on 15 August, Independence Day, in Una - where cow vigilantes flogged several Dalit youths for skinning a dead cow.
It was that incident served as a trigger for the Dalit upsurge that the state is currently witnessing. They've called for a stop the inhuman practice of skinning dead animals and have asked to be allowed to apply for arms licenses.
But three weeks later, the mother organisation of all Hindutva forces - the RSS - has now stepped in to appease the agitated Dalits through its lesser-known frontal organisation Samajik Samrasta Manch (SSM).
The appeasement game
The SSM organised a Samajik Sadbhav Sammelan at the Marketing Yard in Una where around 70 spiritual leaders from the Hindu fold condemned the flogging incident.
"The incident at Samadhiyala village near Una and similar other incidents are condemnable and inhuman," said the resolution passed at the event.
It further said, "The spiritual leaders oppose the goondaism taking place in the name of cow protection. The antisocial activities being carried out in the name of cow protection must be stopped. It is a social crime to exercise cruelty in the name of cow protection on innocent brothers. The government should take action against such elements."
It also says "untouchability is a sickness in Hindu society and is the mindset of a large number of people in the society. The Sant Samaj is committed to cure the society of this mental sickness. We don't accept untouchability. The disparity in the society must be done away. Harbouring such feelings against our brothers is a sin. He aim of every citizen should be to ensure that the Hindu society becomes free of this sin and we appeal for this."
The last point in the resolution read, "The Hindu belief is that god resides in every living being. Untouchability and the system of upper and lower cannot be accepted. Unity and social harmony is the conviction of the Hindu society. We hope that Hindus are committed to this one conviction."
Promoting social harmony?
Sources say that the effort failed to get the desired response from the Dalits in the area.
The top RSS leadership, along with a spiritual leader Swami Parmatmanand, also reportedly visited the village and met the families of the youths who had been assaulted before attending the Sammelan.
The decision to hold the Sammelan came about after several rounds of meetings and it was decided to get the help of spiritual heads to prevent the Dalits from drifting away and promote social harmony.
Spiritual leaders were called in from various parts of Saurashtra including Rajkot, Jamnagar, Ahmedabad, Junagadh and Dhandhuka. These spirituals heads wield considerable social clout in Saurashtra.
In the name of religion
The RSS tried its best to make the event a success and even made multiple calls to the media. "It came as a surprise when we started getting repeated calls to attend or send someone to cover the event. This is unlike the RSS which prefers to remain away from the media glare," says a local journalist.
Observers say that the RSS and other Hindutva organisations are rattled over the possibility of Dalits converting to some other faith.
"Things have been all right till the point that the Dalits vented their anger at a political party, even if it was the BJP. But the party never expected them to target the inhuman social norms that are accepted by present day Hindu society. This has shaken them badly," said a senior journalist from Rajkot who has been consistently writing on Dalit issues in Saurashtra.
Dalit activist Kirit Rathod told Catch, "The RSS wants to lure Dalits in the name of the religion, but they understand that they are being offered a lollipop. The RSS stands rattled that the image of Gujarat as Hindutva's laboratory stands tarnished. The developments of the recent days also expose the myths of Narendra Modi's Gujarat model and his slogan of Sauno Saath Sauno Vikas. The plight of Dalits has come out from the so called developed Gujarat for all to see."
He further said, "The RSS is disturbed over the threats coming from various corners about Dalits planning large-scale religious conversions. Some 200 Dalit youth in Ghogha area of Bhavnagar district have threatened to convert to Islam. The administration has also been hit hard by their unwillingness to not lift carcasses of dead bovines. With the possibility of disease looming large, the government has now given the responsibility of disposing off these carcasses to the revenue department officials. Now, these carcasses are just dragged to isolated spots to be consumed by birds and animals."
The never-ending headache
The Dalit Asmita Yatra with its adopted slogan of 'Azaadi Kooch' (March for Freedom) by Una Dalit Atyachar Ladat Samiti is proving to be another headache for Hindutva forces.
Jignesh Mevani, one of the main organisers of the march, that will culminate in Una on 15 August with the unfurling of national flag, said, "We do not want to be a part of the Hindu poll of BJP or the RSS. We want the social justice promised by BR Ambedkar. We want an end to the caste discrimination."
He said that the purpose of the march is to connect with the Dalits living in the villages of Saurashtra on the 350-km stretch that forms the route from Ahmedabad to Una.
"We will discuss their problems on daily basis. We want that the government to give land to landless Dalits so that they do not have to depend in inhuman vocations for their existence. We will be distributing 10,000 forms that will be handed to the government in support of this demand. Land reforms are the way forward to end caste discrimination. Why should Dalits continue to skin dead animals, clean gutters and do other inhuman activities for a living?" he told Catch.
Many in the state describe the developments in Gujarat as a social revolution taking place, one that hits out at the core of Hindutva politics. "Proponents of the Hindutva politics believe that all Hindus are equal but Brahmins are superior and Dalits are inferior. The developments in Gujarat are completely shattering their theory," said a senior political commentator from Ahmedabad.