Even before the BJP government in Gujarat is done with the Patidar agitation, the state is engulfed in widespread protests by the minority dalit community against the thrashing of four dalit youths over alleged cow slaughter.
On July 11, when so called "gau rakshaks" (cow protectors) shot the video of four youth tied to an SUV and beaten up at Samdhiyala village of Una in Saurashtra, their primary motive seemed to be to "teach a lesson" to the dalits. However, little did they realise that the video, which went viral, would result in widespread protests by the community that has been holding a strong grudge against remaining oppressed for decades.
A section was also unhappy over the state government giving 10 per cent reservation to the EBCs following Patidar agitation.
Whilst the condition of dalits may well be the same like in other states, it raises an alarm, considering Gujarat is projected as the BJP’s model state. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had coined "sabka saath, sabka vikas" (together with all, development for all) when he was the chief minister of Gujarat.
The protests have seen one policeman die, more than 10 youth attempting suicide, state transport buses torched and bandh calls.
This pent up anger against the system that has snowballed into protests could not have come at an inopportune time for the ruling party. Patidar agitation leader Hardik Patel was just released from jail after nine months and though he has been asked to live outside Gujarat for six months, the stir is far from over.
With elections in Uttar Pradesh due early next year, the incident has given much needed ammunition to the opposition, including the BSP. The BJP has gone into damage control with Chief Minister Anandiben Patel visiting the victims.
Kaushik Parmar, one of the members of a fact finding team of dalits, while talking to THE WEEK, alleged that the police was hand-in-glove with the accused. "When the accused were taking the victims to Una, on the way a police vehicle also joined. The police said they were going to the incident site and the accused said that they were going to Una," he says.
What has angered the dalits and dalit leaders alike is the way the youth were thrashed despite the fact that they had skinned dead cows. "Where does the question arise when one Najabhai Ahir, whose cow had died, had called up the victims to come and take away the cow," asks dalit activist Subodh Parmar.
The fact finding team also gathered that one Praful Korat of upper caste had threatened Balubhai Sarviya, one of the victims, to stop the business or face dire consequences. Sarviya is into the business of taking out skin of dead animals.
Sources say that while skin of a healthy dead cow can fetch around Rs 700, buffalo skin can fetch Rs 1500. With no system in place, when the animals die, people from the dalit community are called to dispose of carcasses of animals.
"When you respect cow as your mother, why don’t you do its last rites? Instead you call the dalits to dispose of the carcass," they ask in unison.
The incident snowballed into a controversy and an agitation only because the video became viral. Otherwise, stray incidents of violence against dalits is common in Gujarat, Parmar alleges, adding that only two months ago, a few dalit youth of Bhavnagar were beaten up for allegedly killing a cow.
The activists also point out to Thangadh killings near Rajkot. Three dalit youths were killed in police firing in 2012 in the region, but justice still eludes the victims’ families.
Chief Minister Anandiben Patel’s appeals on news channels and newspapers did not have much impact. The bandh called to protest the atrocities had good response in different parts of the state on July 20. Many schools remained closed, stones were pelted and state transport and city buses damaged.
Political parties would have to share the blame for the genesis of the trouble, points out Ahmedabad-based noted sociologist Gaurang Jani, "Though Hinduisation was practiced, the caste system continued. Political parties failed in bringing about social reforms. It only remained limited to celebrating Ambedkar Jayanti."
Jani feels that due to this "arrested mobility", the dalits feel helpless. According to him, it is for the first time that he was seeing such a mobilisation of the dalits after the anti-reservation stir of 1981 in Gujarat.
Many like Subodh and Kaushik are also unhappy with the manner the dalits have been treated. "When you want to fight against the Muslims, you make us Hindus otherwise you treat us as dalits," they say, adding, that it is for the upper caste people to answer as to why a different treatment is meted out when we also worship the same god.
Discussion on dalit atrocities would continue in the days to come but the dalits are not happy with the action taken. On Thursday four policemen, including an inspector, were suspended on the charges of dereliction of duty and nine accused were arrested. "The video footage shows there were more than 35 persons involved in the incident. Before coming in such a large number to beat up dalits, they had even carried out a recce of the place," Parmar said.
In the Lok Sabha, Home Minister Rajnath Singh claimed that the incidents of atrocities on dalits in Gujarat were more during the Congress rule as compared with the incidents during the BJP rule.
Points out Manjula Pradeep of Navsarjan, working for the dalits, "The way the youth were beaten up is disgraceful. What has surfaced is the built up anger. My only concern is that it should not be milked for political gains." The protests, she says, cannot be violent and need to channelised in a proper way.