Muslims joined thousands of Dalits in protesting against the Una incident at a mega-convention in Ahmedabad on Sunday, even as a person who consumed poison during a July 19 rally succumbed at a city hospital.
Cow protection activists had brutally assaulted four partially stripped Dalit men for skinning a dead cow at Una town on July 11, spreading shockwaves across the country. The police went into damage-control mode, arresting as many as 26 people in this connection.
Around 5,000 Dalits from places across the state gathered at Acher Depo ground in Sabarmati area, and appealed for unity in the fight against injustice and atrocities. They also pledged to stop skinning cattle carcasses and cleaning manholes as a mark of protest against the flogging incident.
Dalits in some parts of Gujarat – including Surendranagar and Mehsana districts – have already stopped skinning cattle for two weeks now, forcing local administration officials to do the work.
Targeting the Anandiben Patel government, they demanded land and provision of sixth pay commission benefits to Dalit sanitation workers. The protesters also sought the invocation of the Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Act against the accused in the Una case, and a ban on their entry into four Dalit-dominated districts of the state.
Members of the Una Ladat Samiti (ULS) – an umbrella organisation of 20 Dalit outfits – were joined by activists of the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Hind Gujarat (JeUHG), which maintained that the upper caste communities in the state were discriminating against Muslims too. “Hindu-Muslim Ekta Zindabad… Comwad Murdabad!” shouted ULS convenor Jignesh Mevani, as members of the JeUHG stood by his side.
The protest overflowed into the main road because the allotted space was waterlogged due to heavy rains the previous night. The agitators shouted ‘Jai Bhim’ slogans, and waved flags and banners.
The Una victims’ kin were joined by relatives of the Dalits killed in the Thangadh police firing incident on the main stage. “While the Una incident was shocking, I am glad that it has united the community,” said Jatin Savriya, a relative of one of the Una victims.
Three Dalit youngsters were killed in police firing following a clash with members of an upper caste community at Thangadh in September 2012.
Earlier that day, a 23-year-old Dalit who had consumed poison during a Rajkot rally died at an Ahmedabad hospital.
Yogesh Sarikhada was initially admitted to a local hospital after he took the step on July 19. “He was rushed to the Ahmedabad civil hospital from Rajkot after his condition deteriorated. He reached here at midnight on Saturday, but passed away soon after,” a police officer said.
The death is expected to further fuel Dalit agitations in the state against upper-caste communities as well as the state government, which the protesters view as unsympathetic to their cause.