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Saturday, Aug 24, 2019

Gujarat elections: Dalit anger over Una flogging still runs high

Dalits, who make up 7% of Gujarat’s population, mostly voted for the BJP in the last elections. But this time, the Una movement leader says the community is angry.

assembly-elections Updated: Nov 28, 2017 16:29 IST
Niha Masih
Niha Masih
Hindustan Times, Sanand
Ramesh Sarvaiya, one of the victims of the Una flogging, can now quote BR Ambedkar’s works and wants to carry forward the Dalit icon’s legacy by working on ending caste discrimination.
Ramesh Sarvaiya, one of the victims of the Una flogging, can now quote BR Ambedkar’s works and wants to carry forward the Dalit icon’s legacy by working on ending caste discrimination.(HT Photo)

At the age of 10, Ramesh Sarvaiya started accompanying his father to skin dead cattle. Being a Dalit, he knew he would be doing this for the rest of his life, as had many previous generations of his family. He did not like the work; the stench of death, he said, was particularly nauseating. Untouchability was rampant and the people who relied on the Sarvaiyas to do their dirty work would not even touch or drink from the same glass.

Despite all this, Ramesh says he was not prepared for what happened to him and his family last year. On July 11, 2016, Ramesh and his family were attacked by alleged cow vigilantes while skinning dead cattle. The attackers tied them to a car and thrashed them brutally, alleging they had killed the cow. The video of the public flogging went viral.

“For me, the most important thing is to get justice for what happened to us. Some people have gotten out on bail and the case is not moving forward,” Ramesh says.

The Una violence unleashed waves of criticism across the nation, especially among Dalit communities, and many Scheduled Castes in Gujarat declared they wouldn’t work anymore or clean up carcasses. The then chief minister, Anandiben Patel, already under fire for administrative failures, resigned in the wake of the Una agitation.

Read more: A year after Una, Dalit ire may not be able to dent BJP prospects in Gujarat polls

A year later, Dalit leaders say, the incident still resonates with the community. Martin Macwan of the Navsarjan Trust said, “Una awakened the Dalit youth across the state. Everyone has the video clip of the public flogging on their phones so they cannot forget it.”

Dalits make up 7% of the state’s population and in the last assembly election, mostly voted for the BJP, which won 10 of the 13 reserved seats for Scheduled Castes. But this time, the leader of the Una movement, Jignesh Mevani, says the community is angry.

“The Una incident, our constitutional demands which BJP did not even hear and its silence and apathy on violence against Dalits will have an impact this election. The people are very angry,” he told Hindustan Times.

Ashwin Jairambhai, a 21-year-old Dalit from Bediya, a village near Una, echoed that sentiment. “Most of the people in my village think a new government should come. Our livelihood was attacked and snatched from us.”

Ramesh, now 23, admits he is still angry.

But in his case, the anger has found an avenue after a stint at the Dalit Shakti Kendra in Sanand, an hour’s drive from Ahmedabad. “I got a new lease of life after coming here. I met young Dalit men and women not only from Gujarat but across the country. I could only speak Gujarati then; now am fluent in Hindi,” he says with a shy smile.

Earlier this year, Ramesh enrolled in a three-month training course for tailoring at the institute that has provided vocational training for Dalit students since 2001. Run by the Navsarjan Trust, the institute conducts residential programmes in various fields at a minimal cost.

It is here Ramesh discovered BR Ambedkar and his writings.

“I had heard his name and that he drafted the Constitution but did not know much else,” he says. Now he can quote Ambedkar’s works and wants to carry forward the Dalit icon’s legacy by working on ending caste discrimination.

Sporting a ‘jay bhim’ tattoo on his hand, an Ambedkar sticker on his wallet and a ten-rupee Ambedkar coin around his neck, Ramesh is back at the institute for another stint.

Read more: Photos: A year after Una flogging incident Dalit rights still contentious

On the morning of November 24, he woke up at 5am to help with preparations for Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi’s visit.

Gandhi had also visited the family last year after the incident and the party had given Rs 5 lakh as assistance to them.

He claims that they were promised jobs by the state government but never got any.

“Anandiben Patel had promised a special court to try our case but that didn’t happen. We were promised jobs but not even a chowkidar job has been given to us,” he said. He stops short of saying who he will cast his vote for but says BJP is not an option.

At the rally, loud shouts of “kuch nahi” rend the air as Gandhi asks the crowd what the BJP had done for Dalits in the last 22 years.

“This time the Dalits are fired up to vote against the BJP. Their (the BJP’s) seats will be halved,” said Mevani, who has grown close to the Congress and is campaigning against the BJP.

But Gujarat BJP spokesperson Bharat Pandya disagrees. “We instituted an inquiry (against the Una incident), we got the charge sheet filed in a month, provided a lawyer. We took all the required action in the Una case. The Dalits have voted for the BJP and will vote this time as well.”

First Published: Nov 27, 2017 07:33 IST

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