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Gujarat govt 'refuses' to include Ambedkar in national leaders' list: Dalits to stage protest

Kirit Rathod with Ambekdar's portrait
By Mahesh Trivedi* 
Gujarat’s Dalit rights leaders have come together to form Dr Ambedkar Swabhimaan Sangharsh Samiti to organise awareness campaigns as part of their state-wide agitation following the Gujarat government reportedly rejected a proposal to include their Dalit messiah in the list of national leaders.
It all began about ten days ago, when scores of angry members of the Dalit Adhikar Manch from various towns and villages, who gathered in Vadodara recently, made a bonfire of copies of a recent anti-Ambedkar resolution of the state government, deciding to launch an indefinite mass movement by staging demonstrations, taking out rallies and submitting memoranda to local authorities in every nook and cranny of the state.
The scheduled caste men and women are boiling with rage after the BJP-governed administration rejected Manch convener Kirit Rathod’s proposal to include the name of the messiah of Dalits, Dr BR Ambedkar, in its list of national leaders.
Rathod told this correspondent, plans were afoot to even organise a massive protests near the Vidhan Sabha building before the end of the House business on April 1 if the Vijay Rupani regime did not include the name of the chief architect of India’s Constitution at the earliest.
He said that the Dalit leaders, who met in Vadodara and handed over a memorandum addressed to the Chief Minister to the district collector, had also formed a Dr Ambedkar Swabhimaan Sangharsh Samiti to organise awareness campaigns as part of the state-wide agitation which has the support of lawmakers of the community who had also made several representations to the government. The first such awareness drive was kicked off in northern Patan town on Saturday.
For more than a year, Rathod and other Dalit leaders have been going from pillar to post to meet various officials of the administration, including educational institutions, police department, administrative blocks, etc. to persuade the decision-makers for paying tribute to Dr Ambedkar by at least hanging his photo frame along with those of other national leaders.
As Rathod carried on with his marathon efforts to make sure that justice is done to the champion of the downtrodden, even the Governor advised the General Administration Department (GAD) to look into the Dalit leader’s gravamina, what with even the National Commission for Scheduled Castes later shooting off a notice to the Gujarat government and seeking its reply on why Dr Ambedkar’s name was missing from its list of national leaders.
But, on November 21 last, Rathod was shell-shocked when he finally received a letter from Rupani-headed GAD citing a 1996 government resolution about the approved list of national leaders who did not include the man who drafted the world’s longest-written, 146,385-word Constitution.
“The Gujarat government has insulted the great Constitutionalist and messiah of the untouchables, and this at a time when cases of harassment of Dalits by upper-caste men have been coming to light now and then,” said Rathod.
In crimes against Dalits, ranging from rape, murder, violence and land-related issues, Uttar Pradesh remains among one of the top states, followed by Gujarat
February alone witnessed countless incidents of atrocities on Dalits who are treated like dirt in the saffron-ruled state.
While the Manch has lodged a police complaint against a BJP candidate Jhelum Choksi who used offensive words against a low-status caste during her election speech last week, upper-caste Darbar community men in a village near northern town of Patan on February 23 hurled casteist slurs at a Dalit teenager and threatened to kill him if he did not remove the suffix ‘sinh’ from his name, used generally by the Darbars. The threat scared the living daylights out of the 19-year-old who has now shifted to Ahmedabad with his parents.
If, on February 23, stones were hurled at a wedding procession of a Dalit groom by upper-caste people in Limb village in Aravalli district who objected to the revellers wearing a traditional headgear and dancing to loud music, similar incidents of violence during celebrations by the socially-disadvantaged community occurred in Nandisan village in Modasa taluka in the same district and Kamliwada hamlet in the Patan region.
All said and done, the fact remains that, according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), in crimes against Dalits, ranging from rape, murder, violence and land-related issues, Uttar Pradesh remains among one of the top states, followed by Gujarat. UP has witnessed substantial increase of 47% from 2014 to 2018 in the crimes committed against Dalits followed by 26% in Gujarat which also registers the lowest conviction rate.
After all, frequent incidents of injustice meted out to Dalits were the order of the day even when Modi was the chief minister, and continue unabated even till date, raising serious questions regarding the role of the Gujarat government and local administrations in containing cases of harassment of Dalits.
As for the scene in India, crimes against Dalits totalled 45,935 in 2019, an increase of 7.3% over 2018.
---
*Senior journalist based in Ahmedabad. A version of this story was first published in Clarion

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