Last Sunday, the Dalit villagers at Mota Samadhiyala had a surprise visitor, one they thought hated the community.
The guest was Purshottam Roopala – a loyalist of BJP chief Amit Shah, the party’s tallest Patidar leader in the state and a key pacifier of the Patel agitation last year who was rewarded with a berth recently in the Union council of ministers.
But just four years ago, Dalits across Gujarat were burning his effigy after Roopala quoted from a Hindu text to say, “Dhol, Pashu, Shudra aur naari; Sab Taaran ke adhikaari.”(Drums, animals, lowered castes and women were made so that they could be beaten up)
Roopala visited Balubhai Sarvaiya, one of the five Dalits publicly flogged on June 11 by a self-styled cow protection group in Una, on Sunday. This time he had a new message,”The Narendra Modi government is with the Dalit Samaj (society). We will not rest until the people who have attacked you are punished.”
The change was so drastic that it had people wondering if a horrifying video of Balubhai and his relatives being flogged like ‘animals’ melted Purshottam Roopala’s heart?
After spending a few minutes with Balubhai at his hut, Roopala and his entourage spent the next few hours at the house of the village Brahmin. The senior police and revenue officials, and the media followed him there, leaving Balubhai and the other Dalits behind. He was briefed there.
“He ate in their house not ours,” says Jeetu Sarvaiya (24) suggesting the obvious. “Have you noticed? Some of the journalists who have come from Una and Ahmedabad have also not been eating in the houses of the Dalits,” says a Dalit journalist from Rajkot.
A few minutes after Roopala left the village on Sunday, a 13-year-old Dalit girl, Disha Sarvaiya, told Gujarat parliamentary secretary and Kodinar MLA, Jethabhai Solanki, what the Dalits think of the BJP government.
Solanki, who was forced to sit through the girl’s two-page presentation, kept an impassive face as the girl ended with an ode to Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati and the slogan “Jai Bhim.”
Despite the public posturing, there is some sourness over Mayawati within the community members who were told twice that their “true leader” and “sister” will come to meet them. She cancelled both the dates.
The BSP cadre camping in the village have been pacifying them, saying Mayawati doesn’t believe in attracting media attention. The Dalits have been told that she will invite them to her home as soon as the other four victims of the Una attack are discharged from hospital.
Love for Mayawati, who raged in Parliament about Una and Rohith Vemula - is evidently greater among Dalits here. And not just because she is also Dalit but because of how some of the other leaders have behaved.
Take, for instance, Janata Dal (United) leader Sharad Yadav, who didn’t grit his teeth and sit like Jethabhai Solanki but stood up and started arguing loudly with Dalits who threw barbs at him.
Sharad Yadav came in with CPI leader D Raja on Saturday, greeted Balubhai and started assuring him of support when a Dalit in the gathering shouted out, “In your Bihar, they urinated over our people. Isn’t Nitish Kumar from your party?”
Yadav immediately stood up and said, “Who are you? Which (political) party are you from?” The man said he was a resident of Nano Samdhiyala, the next village, and Balubhai is his relative.
Rajya Sabha MP Derek O’Brien from the Trinamool Congress, who left a few hours before Sharad Yadav arrived, quickly told those gathered that his party is firmly behind Mayawati in Parliament on the issue.
They then made O’Brien say Jai Bhim before left. Although he was spared a public attack, there was some criticism later because of how he treated his party colleague who had travelled with him. O’Brien came with Trinamool Lok Sabha MP Pratima Mondal, a Dalit. But he did all the talking.
“He should have allowed her to take the lead,” says Piyush Sarvaiya whose brother was burnt alive by an upper caste mob in 2012 in a neighboring village.
“This is what Babasaheb (Ambedkar) had predicted when he demanded separate electorates for Dalits in 1932. Under the present electoral system, parties give tickets to only those Dalit leaders who are obedient and servile,” adds Piyush.
He only studied till the Class 7th and was introduced to Ambedkar’s ideas by activists who helped him with his brother’s case. He tells his relatives in Mota Samadhiyala during a clan meeting that leaders from all political parties visited him but only the Ambedkarites saw his case through.
Dalits from the surrounding villages-- many of whom are from the Sarvaiya family clan to which the victims belong-- are angry with a lot of people, national and local.
One of the few politicians who has managed charm them a little is Rahul Gandhi. “He gave me his personal mobile number,” brags one of the residents. Has he tried calling that number? “I don’t know if I can,” he sheepishly confesses.
They have loudly mocked the health workers who have come for the first time in years to sprinkle DDT and distribute chlorine; the police who have been conducting lengthy interviews; the armed guards who are on 24 hour duty; officials arriving to help them with securing BPL cards, building toilets, water lines, LPG connections.
Arvind Sarvaiya fought loudly with the officer who came with the offer to build toilets on Tuesday for the 27 Dalit families here. “First you give us land, then build toilets on that land,” he yelled as the others stood behind him in support.
The embarrassed officer couldn’t say anything to them, so he turned to us and said, “You media people are the ones creating all the trouble.”
An unusually large number of Hindu religious gurus are visiting the Dalit colony in Mota Samadhiyala. The response is mixed.
“We can’t walk into the temple in the village. That’s why the temple has come walking up to us. What a great sight,” Nanjibhai Sarvaiya sarcastically told Kothari Swamiji, visiting from a monastery in Amreli on Tuesday, even as his uncle Balubhai fell at the godman’s feet.
When another seer from Ahmedabad visited over the weekend, Ransivade, a local Dalit activist, shouted, “You are the ones who beat us and then sing hymns to soothe us.”
The Dalits are not sure if the priests and godmen will drink tea or water from them so they don’t offer them any.
The Dalits in Mota Samadhiyala have been visited by thousands of people from across, Saurashtra, Gujarat and India but they have been waiting only for three visits. Mayawati, Rohith Vemula’s mother Radhika Vemula and the four others who were attacked along with Balubhai on June 11 and admitted to a hospital in Rajkot.
The four others - Vashram Sarvaiya, Ramesh Sarvaiya, Ashok Sarvaiya and Bechar Sarvaiya - were discharged and returned to the village on Tuesday night amid celebrations. But they were rushed back to the hospital in the morning because they once again developed extreme pain. Rohith’s mother is also quite ill and has been postponing her visit. As for Mayawati, it doesn’t look like she is coming.