In sync with the objective of conveying his message to a national audience, lawyer-turned-activist Jignesh Mevani chose to speak in Hindi at the Dalit Mahasabha in Una on Monday.
This marked the culmination of the 10-day ‘Dalit Asmita Yatra (Dalit march for self respect)’ that began in Ahmedabad on August 5.
His 15-minute speech left the gathering of around 15,000 members of the Dalit community charged. The crowd responded with a thunderous applause when Mevani summarised the ongoing unrest in Gujarat as a slap to the Right-wing.
Mevani, the convenor of the Una Dalit Atyachar Ladai Samiti, has been at the forefront of Dalit protests in Gujarat that were prompted by the flogging of Dalit youth in Una taluka’s Mota Samidhayala village over skinning a dead cow.
At the public gathering, Dalits took an oath not to remove animal carcasses, the traditional job of thousands of Dalits across the country.
During the yatra, Mevani regularly made attempts to seek support of the minority. He told HT that Dalits, according to him, have to take Muslims along if they want the government to take them seriously.
At Monday’s gathering he continued his pitch to Muslims and highlighted inter-caste issues in Gujarat and elsewhere in the country. “If I had two sisters, I would want one to get married to a valmiki (scheduled caste) and the other to a Muslim,” he said.
Members of the Muslim organisation Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind were present at the event.
Leaders of the Dalit movement in Gujarat have been emphasising that theirs is an inclusive movement. Mevani signalled this at the mahasabha when he appealed to tribals, trade unions and students to join him in future protests.
The gathering boosted the morale of agitators who have announced a rail blockade after a month if their demands are not met, but the latter half of the mahasabha did not go according to script.
JNUSU leader Kanhaiya Kumar, who is out on bail, was originally not supposed to address the audience but did on public demand. Kumar raised the “azaadi” slogan, enthralling the audience.
Right after Rohith Vemula’s mother Radhika Vemula concluded her speech, the organisers left the venue. There was confusion among the audience on whether the event was over or not. Jignesh Mevani later told HT that some local leaders were at the stage and were trying to speak from the dais against the wish of the organisers. “The movement is apolitical and we did not wish to be seen with members of any political party,” he said.
After the event, around 100 members of the Dalit community left the venue for the Una police station, demanding protection on the way back to their villages. They said they did not feel safe while crossing Samter village, where members of the predominant Darbar caste were constantly pressuring them not to attend the public meeting in Una.
“They have been threatening us. They did not want us to attend the mahasabha,” said Kishorbhai Dhakra of Rajula village. At least 10 men from Samter are currently behind bars for thrashing the Dalit men.
Kishorbhai and other people left for their villages after police accepted their demand of providing protection and establishing police pickets in their villages.
There were reports of Darbar community members attacking a bike rally of Dalit youth on Saturday. Members of the rally left the Mota Samadhiyala village after meeting Una victims and were crossing Samter village on Rajula Somnath highway when they were attacked.