Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi reached Una and met family members of the Dalit men who were thrashed for allegedly killing a cow earlier this month, an incident that sparked violent backlash over the past two days.
Simmering discontent blew up across the state after a video of the incident went viral. The violence has so far claimed the life of a policeman while a Dalit committed suicide in protest.
Rahul’s visit to Una comes on the heels of that of Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel who met the victims and their families on Wednesday.
Patel told the victims’ families that her government was taking strict action against the culprits and 16 of them were already arrested. As some of the victims complained of getting threats, Patel assured that police would also arrest those people.
Congress VP Rahul Gandhi meets the family members of victims of Una incident, in Una (Gujarat) pic.twitter.com/cxXhutphlE— ANI (@ANI_news) July 21, 2016
The Congress vice-president met Balubhai Sarvaiya, one of those beaten, and his family members after landing in Diu. Seven of Balubhai’s family members, including him, were beaten.
“He (Rahul) also asked questions about issues and discrimination being faced by us in our village. We told them that the practice of untouchability is prevalent here as we are made to stand away from others,” Jitu, who is studying engineering at a college in Bhavnagar district, said.
Dalit organisations had called for a bandh on Wednesday to protest the brutal thrashing of the community youths in Una. The bandh evoked a mixed response with incidents of stone-pelting and road blockade reported at some places.
Some parts of Saurashtra and north Gujarat regions observed total bandh where sporadic incidents of stone-pelting and road blockade were witnessed.
The attack on the Dalits by the vigilante cow protection group on July 11 has seriously dented the BJP’s plans to reach out to scheduled castes in Gujarat.
Both the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) are keen to make political capital out of the unrest in Gujarat. After Rahul, AAP supremo and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal is scheduled to visit Una on Friday.
The atrocities on Dalits in Gujarat also rocked Parliament on Wednesday, forcing home minister Rajnath Singh to concede that the attacks on Dalits are a ‘social evil’. He condemned the Una incident and urged political parties to unite over the issue.
The Congress had announced on Wednesday that Rahul Gandhi would visit Una to meet the victims. But the sight of the Congress vice-president dozing in the Parliament during the discussion on the situation in Gujarat, drew fire from BSP chief and Dalit leader Mayawati.
Mayawati slammed Rahul, saying it showed his lackadaisical attitude in the sensitive matter. The Congress vice-president was spared of further embarrassment because his nap was overshadowed by the outrage that exploded following a sexist slur on Mayawati by one of BJP’s vice presidents in UP - Daya Shankar Singh who has since been expelled from the party.