A year since Una, movement to end ‘ages-long’ injustice still going strong: Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani
In an interview with HT, Mevani says a perception that their movement to end “ages-long injustice” has lost strength and direction is wrong.india Updated: Jul 19, 2017 18:05 IST
Exactly a year ago, a video clip of seven Dalits being flogged by ‘gau rakshaks’ for skinning a dead cow in Gujarat’s Una taluka went viral, sparking national outrage. The outburst that followed the Una flogging was seen as a turning point in Dalit politics of Gujarat. After the incident, the state’s Dalits decided to boycott all traditional cattle skinning work in protest. (Arun Sharma / HT Photo)
Less than a year ago, Una flogging victim Balu Sarvaiya was hosting top politicians such as Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, BSP chief Mayawati and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal who reached him at Gujarat’s Samadhaliya village to express solidarity.
On Tuesday, it will be a year since Balu, his wife and five more members of their family were thrashed at Una in Gir-Somnath district. These days, Balu does not get such high-profile visitors. After the flogging, the family had Jignesh Mevani in its corner. These days, the family is steering clear of Mevani, who became the face of Dalit protests in Gujarat following the flogging.
In an interview with HT, Mevani says a perception that their movement to end “ages-long injustice” has lost strength and direction is wrong.
Since the Una flogging incident, the Gujarat government has come up with the strictest cow protection law in India and launched radio tagging for cows. What has your agitation achieved so far?
The agitation brought the plight of the community to the fore and united activists across India. In Gujarat, we managed to get back land for many Dalits in Dhandhuka taluka. Our efforts to get land for more community members are on in other places.
Has the agitation in Gujarat lost direction and focus?
No. Even at the end of a week-long march from Mehsana to Kutch (he proposes to begin the march tiled Azadi Kooch — Freedom March — on Wednesday), we could be reclaiming land for Dalits.
Dalits in Una say you have never visited them after last year’s protest march.
Our fight is not limited to four boys or a family. The struggle now is to address broader issues concerning various sections of the society, including Dalits, Muslims and farmers. Apart from land struggle in Gujarat, we are working closely with farmers in Kerala and Karnataka.
The Sarvaiya family and other Dalits from the region say they may not join you in Azadi Kooch. Are you fine with that?
If they want me to hold picture of the politicians that they follow, I will not do so. Therefore, there are differences between us. But we have tried to keep agitation unaffected and above all such differences.