Mumbai/Nagpur: Eight days after a mob of self-appointed “cow protection” vigilantes in Gujarat tortured and savagely beat up four Dalit men for skinning a dead cow, an unprecedented Dalit uprising is underway in the state. Two men have already died while many attempted commiting suicide.
The incident that triggered the ongoing turmoil took place on July 11, when a group of Shiv Sena vigilantes came across a Dalit family skinning the carcass of a cow in Gir Somnath district’s Una taluka. Accusing them of cow slaughter, the mob began to thrash the Dalits with iron pipes and rods, stripped four of them, tied them to the back of a vehicle and dragged them from their village to Una town, where they were beaten right near a police station for several hours. The assaulted men are still recovering in a Rajkot hospital.
A video of the atrocity went viral on Gujarati social media soon after, ironically posted by the perpetrators only. On July 18, protests erupted across central Gujarat. Protesters pelted stones, set some public buses on fire and in Rajkot district, seven Dalits including Congress leader Anil Madhad tried to commit suicide by consuming poison.In Amreli, a police constable died because of heavy stone pelting by angry Dalits.
By the time the news had captured national attention on July 19, the protests had intensified manifold. Nine more Dalit protesters made suicide attempts in different parts of the state, and one of them – Hemant Solanki – reportedly died in Bhesan.
Soon after some Dalit organisations found a novel way of protesting – they brought the carcasses of dead cattle to their protest rallies and dumped them on top of government vehicles and in government offices.
Opposition parties naturally jumped into the fray. Rahul Gandhi, seen to be napping when issue was being debated in Lok Sabha, next day was seen visiting the injured youth in a Rajkot hospital and hugging their mother warmly. Kejriwal is in the state today.
But Dalit organisations spearheading the protests and drawing the footfalls at rallies claim that despite politicisation, their new movement remains non-partisan. “The Dalit wings of the BJP and Congress and other parties are all united in this fight, and we have also created a temporary federation of politically unaffiliated Dalit organisations to take these protests further,” said Ashok Samrat, the secretary of the new federation that has been named Dalit Swabhiman Andolan. Samrat claims at least 200 activists representing around 70 organisations across Ahmedabad attended the first meeting of the federation on Tuesday.
On July 25, the federation plans to organise a two-hour “stand-in-silence” protest in front of Ambedkar statues across the state.
Meanwhile in Mumbai, a rally to protest the demolition of Ambedkar Bhavan brought traffic in south and central Mumbai to a standstill on Tuesday morning. Rajya Sabha MP and general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) Sitaram Yechury, Mumbai Congress chief Sanjay Nirupam, AIMIM legislator from Byculla Waris Pathan. among many leaders cutting across party lines demanded action against the demolition of the historical building in Dadar (East). Also present at the rally, which saw about 50,000 protesters, was Kanhaiya Kumar, president of JNU Students’ Union. Surprisingly even Shiv Sena legislator Neelam Gorhe was part of the rally.
Ironically, CM Fadnavis had conducted a bhoomi pujan for a 17-storey tower to replace the Ambedkar Bhavan on April 14, the birth anniversary of Dr B R Ambedkar. The demolition of the old Ambedkar Bhavan was carried out on June 25.
While Ambedkar’s grandsons Prakash and Anandraj, leaders of the Bharatiya Republican Party (BRP) Bahujan Mahasangh and the Republican Sena respectively, had immediately protested the demolition, an inquiry was ordered only on Tuesday, over three weeks later. The massive show of strength and the spontaneous participation of thousands of Dalits was seen as a significant revival for the Dalit movement headed by Prakash Ambedkar.
And then if these instances from Western India states were not enough,Uttar Pradesh BJP vice-president Dayashankar Singh goes calling Mayawati, the self styled ‘Devi of Dalits’ a prostitute.
“Even a prostitute fulfils her commitment to a man after she is paid. But Mayawati, such a big leader in UP, sells party tickets to anyone who pays her the highest amount. If someone gives her Rs one crore for a ticket, she will give it to the other person who is offering Rs 2 crores,” Singh told reporters, repeatedly using the word “veshya” in Hindi.
Reacting furiously in Parliament Mayawati retorted “I am referred to as behenji (sister) all over the country… I preferred not to marry and remain a single woman because I wanted to serve the country and its underpriviliged people,” Mayawati said as she lamented the lowering of political discourse in the country.
These incidents have opposition parties uniting finally over the BJP’s saffronization and percevied anti-dalit and anti- minority stance. Sending a strong message to the BJP over its leader’s derogatory language against Mayawati, the Rajya Sabha today unanimously condemned the slur as most opposition parties accused the saffron outfit of being both anti-women and anti-Dalit.
“The country will not forgive the BJP for the statement. The BJP has the audacity to make such a comment even as Dalits are protesting in Gujarat over the atrocities,” said a very angry Mayawati .
Today Dalit protesters in UP are holding dharnas in front of the BJP leader’s house and his wife has complained to the media that they are making indecent slurs at her and her minor daughter. Unfazed, Mayawati replied that her supporters just want to make it clear that She, Mayawati is somebody’s daughter too.
Coming just before the UP elections, how are Amit Shah and the ruling BJP going to handle this unprecedented Dalit uprising that is happening country wide now?
The first spark was lit with Dalit student Rohith Vemula’s suicide in Hyderabad last year after he and some other dalit students were thrown out of the hostel and their scholarships stopped, after ABVP complained against them.
There has been unrest in other University campus’ after this, including the famous JNU episode.
But now it seems that despite Modi’s efforts to appease Dalits with glorification of Ambedkar, the issue has reached wider ramifications.
Modi’s long silence over any dalit atrocity over the past two years is sure to add to the Ruling party’s woes. To mix up two metaphors – the cow has come home to roost for BJP.