‘We do not even talk now’: Dalits- upper castes rift widens after Una incident
After seven of a family were flogged by gau rakshaks for skinning a dead cow last year, the divide between Dalits and upper castes has increased in the region with each group blaming the other for snapping ties.india Updated: Jul 19, 2017 18:05 IST
Exactly a year ago, a video clip of seven Dalits being flogged by ‘gau rakshaks’ for skinning a dead cow in Gujarat’s Una taluka went viral, sparking national outrage. The outburst that followed the Una flogging was seen as a turning point in Dalit politics of Gujarat. After the incident, the state’s Dalits decided to boycott all traditional cattle skinning work in protest. (Arun Sharma / HT Photo)
Nitin Kothari regrets the phone call he made a year ago. Having spotted a young man holding a sharp tool and the severed head of a cow by the side of the road in Una, he rang up a friend to report the uncommon sight.
The call led to a nationwide conflagration. The friend spread the word and soon ‘gau rakshaks’ descended on the spot and seized the Dalit man and his associates with the cow carcass. They were then brutally flogged, the video of which went viral and catapulted Una to the heart of a raging debate over rising atrocities against Dalits in the country.
It was July 11, 2016.
Exactly a year later, Kothari, who runs a computer institute, wishes he never made the phone call.
He is entangled in a legal maze on being charged with involvement with the assault. But the bigger concern for him is how the incident deepened social divisions between Dalits and non-Dalits in the Gujarat town in Gir Somnath district and affected his business.
“Of the 1,200 students at my Global Computer Institute a year back, 50% to 60% belonged to the scheduled caste. Today, I do not have a single SC student,” Kothari, the accused number 1 in the police charge-sheet, told HT.
Though charged with 24 sections of the Indian Penal Code for the assault that day, Kothari is out on bail.
The divide created by the attack has not spared cow protection outfits as well.
Rahul Parmar, who stands accused of assault that day, said a Dalit member, Lalji Maru, quit his Gir Somnath Gau Rakshak Dal a day after the incident.
“We do not even talk now. There is a suspicion brewing against each other. It is not about untouchability, but the distrust that the incident has caused. Both believe that the other may not have good intentions.”
- Victims were Balu Sarvaiya, his wife Kumari Behan, daughter Vinita Sarvaiya, his two sons, Ramesh Sarvaiya, and Veshram Sarvaiya, , and two nephews Ashok and Bechar Sarvaiya.
- All were residents of Mota Samadhiyala village, 20 km from Una town in Gir Somnath district of South Gujarat.
- As many as 43, including four policemen, were charged under various sections of the Indian Penal Code.
- Of the arrested, 14 have been released on bail till now.
Parmar, an OBC and a carpenter by profession, was arrested and charged with attempted murder as he made calls to other gau rakshaks. He too got bail after three months.
Local Dalit leaders such as Keval Rathod, who first mobilised the community and got the case registered against gau rakshaks, said the social divide between Dalits and upper castes in Una had never been so wide. And it is Dalits who suffer financially when the former chose not give them work.
“After Dalits’ outrage against the flogging, many of them no longer get work at farms owned by upper-caste people. The incident has left a deeper scar on the collective social psyche,” said Rathod. “While atrocities continue to happen, the social interaction in the past one year has hit rock-bottom.”
Una-based lawyer AN Sola said: “Dalits of Una were always unaware of their rights. But amidst atrocities, they still got employment. Now even jobs are gone.”
For snapping social ties, each group blames the other. “We had a Dalit domestic help. She discontinued working at our house. She told me that her community had put pressure on her not to work at the home of one of the accused,” Kothari said.