Yuva Bhim Sena (YBS) is one of many Dalit organisations that joined the agitation in Gujarat, following the flogging of four Dalits in Una in July. But, its members are in a dilemma now. DD Solanki, the head of the 6,000-member body, wonders what agitation leaders will do if their demands are not met.
“On August 15, they warned of a rail roko if the demand of 5 acre land for each Dalit family is not met within 40 days,” Solanki said, adding “But do they have a backup plan? ‘They’ are members of the Una Ladat Samiti led by Ahmedabad-based lawyer Jignesh Mevani, who has become the face of the protests.
Solanki, a photographer in Rajkot, and YBS share the confusion of many Dalit bodies that joined in July. However, four conventions and a 10-day march later, the agitation faces threat of derailment due to factionalism and lack of planning.
Each convention during the one-and-half month agitation raised different demands even as Dalits felt that the core issues remained untouched. As a result, neither the call to give up the traditional tannery and sweeping work found acceptance nor a threat like rail roko changed BJP’s stand.
“Though the Ahmedabad-Una march spread awareness, the demands raised on the concluding day were unreasonable,” said Martin Macwan, a senior activist and founder of Navsarjan Trust which works for upliftment of Dalits. “The demand for land should only be for tanners and not all Dalit families. We do not have data on the population of tanners in Gujarat. Besides, land reforms take time,” said Macwan.
“We will not participate in rail rook,” said Keval Rathod, a relative of the Sarviya family whose members were thrashed by scow vigilantes on July 11.
“SC, ST and OBCs first need basic amenities like free education. If the agitation continues, it will only add to the problems of Dalits.” Rathod, a convener of the Social Unity and Awareness Forum, disagrees with Macwan and Mevani: “Mevani gave a political overtone to the agitation while Navsarjan Trust is guided by upper caste activists like Gagan Shethi.”
YBS supported the Ahmedabad-Una march but now wants to focus on issues such as the arrest of Dalits. “They (NGOs and leaders) come, participate in agitations and go back,” said Solanki. “Getting land is not our priority. Our focus is to form a district wise lawyers’ committee to facilitate release of Dalit youths from jail,” he added.