Una Dalit Atyachar Ladai Samiti, the group spearheading Dalit protests in Gujarat, will intensify its agitation by blocking trains and taking their protests outside the state, its leaders said on Thursday.
Members of the Samiti are currently on a 350-km march from Ahmedabad to Una to galvanise the community in the state and protest against the growing atrocities as well as what they is the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government’s apathy.
It was triggered by the incident in Una town in Gujarat’s Gir Somnath district where four Scheduled Caste men were brutally assaulted by alleged cow-protection vigilantes for skinning a dead cow last month. The march - Asmita Yatra - will end on August 15 with a public meeting.
“On 15th, we will give a deadline to the government. And if our demands are not met by that deadline, we will organise rail roko in Ahmedabad,” Jignesh Mevani, convenor of the Samiti, told Hindustan Times.
The Samiti has demanded the immediate arrest of all those who can be seen in the video thrashing the four Una men and prohibit them from entering the state. They want policemen, who helped the accused, to be booked under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes Prevention of Atrocities Act.
They have asked for the withdrawal of false cases lodged against the members of Dalits community. They want allotment of land to Dalits who don’t wish to continue their job of skinning cows and an assurance that those who have been given land on paper, get possession the as well.
They also want employment for the scheduled caste members under the Smart City project and permanent jobs for all sanitation workers under Nagar Paloma as well as benefits of the sixth pay commission.
Before the rail blockade, the group plans to conduct a rally from Mehsana to Gandhinagar in north Gujarat and said Jawaharlal Nehru students’ union leader Kanhaiya Kumar may join it.
“The Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) and former chief minister Annandiben are from Mehsana. We need to take the battle there,” Mevani added.
During the ongoing march, Mevani and his aides are trying to consolidate the support of Dalits and developing a database of community members expected to participate in future agitations including the rail blockade.
They are confident of stopping trains after the July 31 Ahmedabad rally which was a show of strength where reportedly more than 20,000 people participated.
Mevani and his aides also said that they plan to take their movement to Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Punjab, among other states. The idea is to join forces with those working for the cause of Dalits, backward, extremely backward communities and minorities in various states, they said.
“In all the states where we travel, our agenda will be to ‘expose’ the Gujarat model, unite Dalits with Muslims, demand land reforms and diffusion of sub-castes so that community members across the country can come together as Dalits,” Mevani said.
The Samiti has already found support in organisations like Rihai Manchester, Muslims For Secular Democracy and Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist).
“What is happening in Gujarat proved that the Dalit community wishes to give a chance to new leadership. We want to give a message that no political party can take backward communities for granted,” Shahnawaz Hussain of Rihai Manchester, a civil society organisation that plans to host them in Lucknow, said.
The youth and students’ wing of the CPI(ML) will conduct a mobilisation program across Uttar Pradesh on August 15 to condemn the Una incident and other social and economic issues plaguing the community. It will be followed by a Youth Parliament at Jantar Mantar in the national capital.
In Mumbai, Dalits from Gujarat will lead a mega rally on Thursday at Azad maidan.
“We have invited Jignesh to Mumbai. The date has not been finalised. But the plan is on,” Feroze Mithiborwala from Muslims For Secular Democracy, a civil rights group based in Mumbai, said.
Mithiborwala was recently at the forefront of the agitation to get equal access to women at the Haji Ali shrine.
“Issues such as the harassment by cow vigilantes and watering down of SC-ST atrocities act are common to Gujarat and Maharashtra. People here will relate to what Jignesh would say,” he added.