by Ratnakar Tripathy
The past few days have seen violent protests by Dalits across the Saurashtra region in Gujarat and the state government just seems to be waking up to them. The trigger behind the incident is the recent spurt in the vigilante culture that has spread over large parts of the country with little discouragement from the state governments and the centre. It is almost as if the governments expect all the trouble to blow over in the manner of a dust storm, after which the damage may see some kind of repair. It all started in the town of Una, Gujarat several days ago when a group of four Dalits were severely beaten up by a group of people for handling a dead cow. The attackers alleged that the cow had been slaughtered by the Dalit boys who claimed that they were just skinning an animal already dead. The evidence in the shape of a video has been circulating on the social media platforms for the past few days. The incident as is often hoped by our governments would have indeed simmered down but the humiliated Dalit youth decided to commit suicide by way of protest. On Tuesday, three youths attempted to kill themselves by consuming poison at their residential society in Batwa town in Junagadh district, and seven Dalit youths attempted suicide at Gondal and Jamkandorna in Rajkot district on Monday to protest the assault. In fact one of them has already lost his life, angering Dalits across several towns in the region and sending them on rampage. The wave of suicide attempts clearly indicates the frustration levels among the Dalit communities. This frustration and anger is based on the lived reality of Dalit lives in India of 2016.
While the general vigilante climate has indeed been lately promoted by the BJP governments at the centre and the states, and beef has become one of the touchiest issues in today’s India, it is very telling that the targets of such attacks have been either very poor Dalits or Muslims. This only shows that the everyday idea of common justice and compassion has taken a beating and hard-headed ideological dogmatism is now taking over India. Whether it is a passing phase or an enduring transformation of an otherwise tolerant society in its own anarchic way, only time will tell. But to make a target out of the weakest is an ominous sign for any society.
From all accounts it seems that the Dalits of today not only face continued oppression in their daily lives but are being cornered and pushed against a wall through recurrent provocations. This is hardly likely to suppress their voices and we may expect fresh waves of the Dalit self-assertion as the only means of retaliation in a democracy. Within hours of news about the violent Dalit agitations in Junagadh, Jamnagar, Rajkot and Amreli districts a broad range of politicians have promised to descend on Gujarat and offer their leadership to the local agitators – this includes Rahul Gandhi, Arvind Kejriwal and also Mayawati who raised the matter in the parliament on the very first day of the monsoon session. With a broad range of political parties eager to make a cause of Dalit oppression, the present government is only inviting a series of confrontational situations in the state. the Saurashtra incidents are a reminder of the Patel agitations last year around the same time and indeed the young Patel leader Hardik has already expressed solidarity with the Dalits.
Finally, on Tuesday, Chief Minister Anandiben Patel appealed to the people of Gujarat and particularly the Dalit community members to maintain peace, whatever such appeals amount to. But the state government has ordered a CID (crime) probe and 16 persons have already been arrested according to a statement issued by the state government. The Chief Minister will be visiting the victims and their family members in Una on Wednesday confirming a stock pattern of agitations and disturbances all over the country, the pattern being ‘don’t react before it is too late’ and ‘only take actions without consequence’. As a result of the incidents, the political loss to the BJP locally and elsewhere will indeed be quite serious despite its attempts to win over the Dalits in the UP elections of 2017 and its new-found affection for Baba Sahib Ambedkar. But the worrying part is what the country may lose by way of common fellow feeling among its diverse citizenry.
As almost a sequel to the Gujarat incidents yesterday the BSP leader Mayawati raised raises strong objections to a BJP leader from UP comparing her to a prostitute in a most matter of fact fashion. The uproar shook the parliament, and because of the fear of losing votes in the forthcoming elections in UP in 2017, The party expelled him almost immediately. The damage has been done already however and this ugly episode will echo for a long time in the numerous public speeches and canvassing for the assembly election in UP. The last week has been full of news about Dalits who have responded energetically to all the attacks against them. The media too can no longer afford to ignore them as it always did in the past.
Note: you can watch the abusive statement by the BJP leader Dayashankar Singh from UP here.