Only the Gujarati media appears disappointed with BSP chief Mayawati for not visiting Mota Samadhiyala village in Una Tehsil, 400 km from Ahmedabad. The five Dalits, who were publicly flogged by Shivsainiks on June 11 for skinning a cow, belong to this village.
“This is the second time she is cancelling (her visit). It doesn’t look like ‘your’ Mayawati cares about you,” a local TV journalist tells Balubhai Sarvaiya (45) who is sitting in the middle of hundreds of Dalit activists from across Gujarat on Saturday.
Balubhai is the only one of the five victims of the Una attack to be discharged from hospital. Just a few days ago, he had publicly thanked Mayawati for raising the issue in Parliament.
As the reporter thrusts the mic forward, the crowd turns to look at Balubhai who is sitting with a big bandage around his head on a cot that has been placed in a clearing, bang in the middle of the Dalit colony. Under pressure, Balubhai goes quiet.
Just then, a loud- and confident-sounding voice breaks the silence, “It seems you are more disappointed than us.” It’s Jeetu Sarvaiya, the 22-year-old nephew of Balubhai, who is an engineering student in his final year. He is the community’s prodigal son; the only one from the 27 Dalit families in Samdhiyala to enter college.
“Mayawati need not come here and waste her time. She doesn’t need your media publicity,” he tells the reporter as the other Dalits go “haaaanh haaaanh” (aye aye). “Let Mayawati hold Delhi. We will hold Samdhiyala,” says Arvind Sarvaiya, Jeetu’s 24-year-old cousin, who dropped out of high school and started working in the farms of the Patel caste landlords of the village.
Chatting later with other journalists, the TV reporter says, “That Balubhai is like Nattha (from the film Peepli Live). He doesn’t know anything. That engineer boy is brainwashing him.”
Jeetu packed his bags and returned to his village the moment he heard the news of the attack on his uncle and other four relatives. The first thing he did after returning is organise the young Dalit boys of the village. He says he doesn’t mind losing an academic year and won’t go back to college till all the accused are arrested.
“My people don’t even understand the Gujarati spoken in Ahmedabad let alone Hindi or English. These media people keep asking Balubhai and my relatives twisted questions and make them say things they don’t want to,” Jeetu says and warns this reporter, “I know English and I will read your report. So don’t twist my statement.”
He is media manager, table-chair-cot organiser, bouncer and crowd controller by day. By night, after the media and the crowds leave to spend the night in hotels at Una, Jeetu also becomes the chief strategist and replaces Balubhai in the middle. Community elders huddle around to hear him speak. His cousin Arvind and a few other Dalit boys sit close to Jeetu in the center of the circle, as he analyses the day’s developments.
“Mayawati is the only one we can trust in Delhi,” he tells the elders, many of whom have only heard her name and know that she’s also Dalit. “Remember the fair skinned man who came in the morning (Trinamool MP Derek O’Brien)? He said that all the parties including Kejriwal will support Mayawati on this issue. She is our true leader,” Jeetu says. At this point, he requests for privacy and asks this reporter to leave. As we get up to leave, Arvind gives an apologetic look and whispers, “I will take you to see Lions later, OK? They often come to the river at night.”
Jeetu and the boys come over for another chat after the community meeting which ends at 2 am. “I hope you didn’t feel bad that I chased you away. These are internal, community matters,” he says as we settle on the banks of the Raval river that runs past Samdhiyala.
“When I was in the village I didn’t know anything about Ambedkar or Mayawati. I learnt all that in the city where I met many Ambedkarites. I am now teaching Ambedkarism to the young people in my village,” he says.
Under Jeetu’s influence, his cousin Arvind too has become a staunch Ambedkarite. He recently added three large Ambedkar portraits to the array of Hindu gods and goddesses on the wall of his living room. “I argue every day with my mother who refuses to take down the other (religious) photos. I will soon convert to Buddhism,” he says.
So, what about Mayawati? Jeetu says, “Every political party in the country has felt the power of Dalits after the death of Rohith Vemula in Hyderabad and now the agitations in Gujarat. They are all hoping to benefit from this consolidation. But the fact is, none of them has ever really stood by Dalits.”
Mayawati, the unifier
His forecast is that Mayawati will head a coalition of non BJP parties in the next parliamentary elections. “She is the only one who can unite Dalits and Muslims to fight against Narendra Modi and the BJP,” he says speaking like a seasoned psephologist.
Arvind and the others seem to get the gist of what Jeetu is saying. “Basically, we have to fight the BJP like how we fight the Lions that attack us in the fields,” Arvind explains. “Let’s say a lion comes right now. If even one of us runs, it will get confident and kill all of us. If we don’t scatter, it will circle us and growl for some time, then, leave silently.”
Arvind says that leaders of several political parties are circling around them and looking for Dalits in the village who will break the formation. “The young people are united but the all the elders are not with us. Some are still loyal to either the Congress or the BJP,” he confesses.
Nanjibhai Sarvaiya (31), Jeetu’s uncle who works as a daily wage farm labourer, takes Arvind’s Lion analogy a little too literally. “What if a lioness comes right now?” He asks. “You know, a lioness is more dangerous. Whether we stand together or not, she will surely attack.”
“If a lioness attacks, we all die. C’mon let’s go,” Jeetu says and cuts his uncle sharply. The others follow him obediently as he starts to walk back to the village.
As we spread out to sleep on the terrace of his house, he squeezes in his last quote for the day, “Don’t forget to write that we will be going to meet Mayawati the moment the other four are discharged from hospital.”