The Narendra Modi government’s commitment to protect cows does not make it anti-Dalit, minister of state for social justice and empowerment, Ramdas Athawale said on Friday.
Amid a growing clamour for a complete ban on bovine slaughter, a move perceived to affect livelihoods of Dalits and minorities, Athawale said the government’s intent to protect cows is being politicised.
“Atrocities against Dalits are not happening because this government pushes for cow protection. Dalits are being oppressed because casteism still exists in large parts,” he told HT.
Athawale, who heads the Republican Party of India (A) said while the government must ensure that the ban on slaughter is not extended to buffaloes and bullocks because spent cattle becomes a burden on farmers. He said the government’s intentions to protect the cow are being misread as anti-Dalit and minorities.
His statement comes in the wake of growing instances of Dalits and minorities being attacked by alleged cow vigilantes.
A diary owner Pehlu Khan who was beaten up by cow vigilantes in Rajasthan’s Alwar district succumbed to injuries earlier this month; while four Dalit youths were flogged for skinning a dead cow in Gujarat’s Una in July 2016.
“What happened in Una (Gujarat) is a subject that the Congress will make an issue of in the elections (upcoming Assembly polls). But Prime Minister Modi has himself said that if anyone is upset with the Dalits, they should shoot him but not harm them,” the Dalit Buddhist leader said.
Opposition parties blame the BJP governments in Rajasthan and Gujarat and the Centre for tacit support for these so-called cow protectors.
“These accusations are all political. When Bhupinder Hooda was the chief minister of Haryana, Dalits were attacked in Gohana, Mirchpur and Jhajjar. Was the Congress behind those attacks? When the Samajwadi Party was in power, there were atrocities in Badaun and Sadhupur; there was Belchi in Bihar (where Dalits were attacked),” Athwale said.
The minister said laws and government alone cannot stop atrocities against Dalits and called for a collective will to push for change.
He said though some changes visible on the ground with more inter-caste marriages, people doing business with Dalits and their entry into temples is not barred in the cities, discrimination is still prevalent in many villages.
“No government can prevent discrimination; it is the society that has to change. The government must ensure there is strict punishment for the oppressors,” the member of Parliament from Maharashtra said.