Protesting against the thrashing of Dalit youths in Una, members of the community traditionally engaged in skinning and tannery work have refused to dispose of the dead cattle in several parts of Gujarat demanding protection and I-cards from the government to prevent harassment from cow protection vigilantes.
The decision to stay away from the work by the community members has left the administration harried, particularly in Surendranagar city where the civic staff has disposed of more than 80 dead cattle using their own resources over the last one week.
Surendranagar district collector Udit Agrawal has said he will discuss the demands put forward by the Dalit bodies with the government in the coming days.
“Skinners are on strike since last one week. Thus, we are engaging municipality staff to dispose of the carcasses. Even some maldharis (cattle rearers) are also helping us. Till now, we have disposed of 88 cattle in the city. We are making sure that people don’t face any problem due to the ongoing stir,” Agrawal said.
“Once the dust settles, I will call Dalit leaders to discuss their demands, as they have not given me anything in written yet. One of their main demands is issuance of I-cards for skinners. I will definitely put forward this demand to higher authorities for a long-term solution,” he said.
The strike has been called by Dalit Manav Adhikar Movement, which is an umbrella body of several Dalit rights groups, including Navrsarjan Trust.
According to Natu Parmar of Navsarjan Trust, many Dalits across Gujarat are joining the movement.
“Many members of the community across Gujarat have joined our movement and announced that they will stay away from the work of disposing carcasses. Surendranagar has received huge response to our call, as most families of this community have completely detached themselves from this work since last one week,” he said.
Parmar claimed that the district administration is now forced to dispose of at least 200 cattle every day.
According to him, around 120 cattle, mostly cows, die in 14 to 15 cattle shelters in the district every day.
“Apart from them, around 100 such cattle, owned by maldharis, die in different villages of the district every day. We will not resume our work till our demands are met. People came to know about atrocities on us only after the Una incident. Otherwise, skinners face such problems every day. We want assurance of protection from government,” said Parmar
On July 11, four Dalit youths were beaten up by cow vigilantes at Mota Samadhiyala village in Una taluka of Gir Somnath district when they were skinning a dead cow.
Though the youths pleaded that they are from the skinning community, the cow vigilantes thrashed them, alleging that they were involved in cow slaughter.
One of the key demand of the community is the issuance of I-cards, so that police or ‘gau-rakshaks’ do not harass them while transporting or skinning a dead cow.
“We want I-cards for all the skinners, so that they do not face any problem or don’t fall prey to any misunderstanding. The I-card can help us in establishing that we are not into cow slaughter. We also want government to provide land to carry out skinning work in each taluka,” Parmar added.