Sunday, August 14, 2016

Gujarat Dalit rally to reach Una amidst wide support to stop scavenging dead cows, retaliation from upper castes

Dalits of Goradaka village pledge not to pick up dead cattle
By Our Representative
The Dalit Asmita Yatra, flagged off in Ahmedabad on August 5 by a Valmiki girl, will be completing its 350-long journey in Una on India’s Independence Day, August 15, where a Valmiki girl is scheduled unfurl the national flag. During the 10-day yatra, 100-odd campaigners, mostly from Ahmedabad, would reach outskirts of towns and villages, and begin 20-25 km long foot march to hold rallies with community people.
The yatra has been organized by the Dalit Atyachar Ladat Samiti (Una Dalit Committee to Fight Atrocity) in protest against the July 11 incident in Una, a small Gujarat town in Saurashtra region, where four Dalit youths were flogged by cow vigilantes with iron rods after tying them up with an SUV, punishing them for skinning dead cattle.
In the towns and villages where the Dalit yatra reached, the leaders took the pledge from the Dalits not to continue with the hierarchical occupation of disposing of dead cattle, a job carried out by the Rohit (chamar) sub-caste. The Valmikis are the lowest in the Dalit caste hierarchy, with many of them involved in manual scavenging in towns and picking up dead animals in villages.
In each of his speeches, yatra convener Jignesh Mewani, a young human rights lawyer asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to “take care of dead cows, who are mother to cow vigilantes.”
Slogans of “Dalits Muslims bhai bhai” were heard in several of the towns, including Botad, Rajula, Savarkundla and Gadhada, and villages, such as Dhasa, Tatam, Valthera, Gadhada, Goradaka, Thoradi and Nagalpur, where the leaders addressed hundreds of community people.
As the yatra proceeded, the campaigners noted a board “Rajula Gauseva Sadan in Rajula, Amreli district, Gujarat”, where they found dead dogs and cows feeding on heaps of garbage. Pratik Sinha, a Mevani associate, noted, “Dalits were beaten up by go sewaks just 500 metres from this area in May end. This is Gujarat model.”
Heaps of dirt lying alongside board of panjrapol (cow herd) in Una
A resident of Thoradi village in Amreli district told the campaigners that the decision not to pick up dead cattle is being strictly observed everywhere. According to this resident, “A cow died at a Patel family's house and the family was ready to pay up to Rs 5,000 to pick it up and dispose of. The Dalits told them that even if they give Rs 50,000, they wouldn’t touch the dead cow. This forced the Patel family to bury their dead cow on their own.”
Even as the yatra was on, Raju Solanki, a Dalit rights activist from Ahmedabad, reported that in Surendranagar district, massive retaliation from dominant castes against Dalits for refusing to pick up cow dead cows has begun.
He said, “Three Dalit campaigners, on reaching a hotel on the highway, were violently attacked with rods. One of them, Kanji, a daily wage worker, who doesn’t even do the job of scavenging dead cattle, suffered leg fracture is currently undergoing treatment in Ahmedabad civil hospital.”
Those attending the rally noted, quite like Kanhaiya Kumar of the Jawaharlal Nehru University, Jignesh Mevani, a skillful orator with degrees in English and law, quotes Karl Marx and Babasaheb Ambedkar, even as rattling out facts and figures from the right to information (RTI) petitions and court cases he had filed to show how rural Dalit were deprived of the land there were entitled to.
On Mevani’s call for support from the country as a whole, those who responded included Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of BR Ambedkar, who on August 12 addressed a rally in Mumbai. Among those who joined in included five members of Dalit Samaj Punjab and the CPI-ML group from Bihar and UP to be part of the yatra. On August 13, the People’s Platform for Dalits Assertion, Tamil Nadu, announced a solidarity meet on in Chennai.
Kanji beaten up in Surendranagar for refusing to pick up dead cow
Nita Mahadev, a Gandhian, sent out an appeal to fellow Gandhians and Gandhian institutes to support the yatra, saying, unprecedented atrocities committed against the Dalits by cow vigilante groups was not acceptable. In response, a group Gandhian headed by Jaywant Mathakare of Seva Gram Gandhi Ashram, founded by Mahatma Gandhi in Vardha, went to Una, offering the Dalits who had suffered flogging two acres land, a place to live and education to children for 25 years.
International support to the yatra poured in from US, Canada and Germany, with messages of protests sen by Ambedkar Association North America, Ambedkar International Mission, Boston Study Group, Ambedkar International Centre, Ambedkar Association of California, and students and research fellows at the University of Göttingen, and Goethe Institute Gottingen, Germany.

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