Saturday, July 30, 2016

Gujarat Dalit agitation leaders "regret" lack of support from non-Dalit communities, well-known secularists

JIgnesh Mevani
By Rajiv Shah
While agitations may have rocked Gujarat's urban and semi-urban areas against cow vigilantes in Una violently thrashing four Dalits belonging to the Rohit (chamar) sub-caste after tying them with SUV on July 11, questions are beginning to be raised about their sustainability.
Claiming a “strong wave of anger” among Dalits, a day ahead of the Dalit “mahasammelan” of July 31 in Ahmedabad, even the top organizers lament “lack of support” from other communities, as also “lack of awareness” among non-Dalits about untouchability and caste discrimination, and refusal to join in, in any manner.
“We are a largely spontaneous movement spread out of anger against the injustice meted out to the Dalits in the recent past. We are angry ever since the Thangadh incident, in which three Dalit youths were killed in police firing. In two cases, even the chargesheet has not been filed. Worse, the official report prepared on the incident by IAS official Sanjay Prasad has not been made public”, says Jignesh Mevani, the chief organizer of the “mahasammelan”, planned for Saturday.
Suggesting that this suggests the “pent-up” anger is “not new”, Mevani, a young human rights lawyer groomed by late Mukul Sinha, a top-notch Gujarat High Court advocate who fought 2002 Gujarat riots cases, however, admits, “Not to talk of other non-Dalit communities, even Gujarat's secularists, active with huge placards during attacks on minorities, have failed to show up and organize protests. This suggests some sort of caste bias.”
Indeed, spread of the video on social media showing the cow vigilantes thrashing the four Dalits all the way to the Una police station was a major reason why the spontaneous agitation picked up. The agitators are not even recalling, and many of them are not aware, that two days earlier, July 9, a Dalit farm worker, Rama Singrakhiya, was hacked to death in village Sodhana, about 35 km away from Porbandar, and not very far from Una.
The spontaneous Dalit anger received a major “fillip” following the spread of another video showing Shambhunath Tundiya, a “dharmaguru” among Dalits with a religious seat (gadi) in Zanzarka, angrily speaking out against cow vigilantes. A BJP Rajya Sabha MP, he was seen as angrily telling the Anandiben Patel government that injustice “would not be tolerated”.
Indeed, the July 11 incident has helped radicalize the Dalits. The Dalit youths belonging to the Rohit community never liked scavenging and skinning of a dead cow, with many of them in villages and towns moving away from their age-old the hierarchical caste occupation.
“Dalits have stopped picking up cows in scores of towns and villages. In Surendranagar district, local officials are being forced to employ costly earth movers to remove the cattle corpses, many of them lying for over a week”, says Martin Macwan, founder, Navsarjan Trust, a well-known Dalit rights organization.
“One of them was lying in front a top hotel on the national highway off Surendranagar town for about a week, with people complaining of the terrible stench, but the authorities showing helplessness”, Macwan says, adding, “One can well imagine what would happen to a large number of government cow sheds (panjrapols), which take care of aging, abandoned cows. At least 250 cows die every day in panjrapols. They have already stopped accepting more cows.”
Yet, the fact is, despite the planned mahasammelan, so far there is little indication that the spontaneous agitation would turn into a formal movement. As a well-known development expert, refusing to be named, put it, “It is difficult to say this openly, but the hard truth is, movements are a very, very costly affair. Where are the resources to sustain the Dalit agitation?”
Natubhai Parmar, a former government official who is an active organizer of the July 31 mahasammelan, claims that they are “collecting funds” from the more resourceful sections of Dalits, many of them “beneficiaries” of the government reservation system. “Dalit government officials in Sachivalaya may not be participating in the agitations, but they supporting us”, says Parmar. There are also reports that the Congress have lately begun funding the agitation.
Yet, if one goes by what the grassroots Dalit activists say, majority of them “cannot sustain” the agitation for long because it is a question of their livelihood. The question being asked is: For a movement to last long, who will take care of the cadres' livelihood problem? The Dalit neo-middle class is not as resourceful as the Patidars, the most occupationally diversified community of Gujarat. For a year, the Patel quota stir, despite hurdles being created by the state government, has been continuing unabated, despite seeing major ups and downs.

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