Why Una is not a WhatsApp uprising – Times of India

A viral video may have been crucial for mobilising Dalits but Gujarat has a long history of fighting the caste chokehold
Mota Samadhiyala village, in Una block in Gujarat’s Gir-Somnath district, has now become a place-name for social terror. The video that went viral a few weeks ago, of cow-protection vigilantes beating seven Dalit men for skinning a dead cow, was recorded and spread by the gau rakshaks themselves.
But that video had big consequences. It wrenched attention to the scale of crimes against Dalits. Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel visited the victims, as did a stream of opposition leaders. “Anyone who watched the video was shaken to the core. Also, this incident comes one year before the assembly polls, so parties that remained numb to Dalit issues are now seeing their chance,” says Kaushik Parmar, an Ahmedabad-based activist who is part of the ‘Una Dalit Atyachar Ladat Samiti’, formed to keep up the pressure.
The external effects of the Una incident are clear to see — the high-profile visits, the parliamentary discussions on atrocities against Dalits. But it has done something more profound. It has mobilised Dalits across Gujarat, and around India. In Gujarat, finally many have shunned this “traditional occupation” of skinning cows, dumping carcasses outside public buildings to show their rejection of this cruel social order. “If all the 31 gau rakshaks are not caught by August 1, our agitation will start again,” says Deven Vanvi of the Saurashtra Dalit Sangathan.
This Dalit mobilisation is seemingly leaderless — there is no single instigating centre, no one person to negotiate with. It spreads through networks, and uses social media to circulate news and link faraway comrades in a common mission. Just as the Rohith Vemula suicide became a defining moment for Dalit consciousness, so has the Una violence, says Ashok Bharti, chairman of the National Confederation of Dalit organisations. “As Ambedkar said, my humiliation is my power. It is now clear to Dalits that it is time to mobilise and react. Modi’s first nightmare has begun,” he says. “The Una incident will have a ripple effect in places like Uttar Pradesh also, where this ‘traditional occupation’ and Hindutva intimidation are real issues,” says political scientist Badri Narayan.
But this assertion in the region is not a new phenomenon, a function of WhatsApp or tech-enabled connectivity or a reaction to Hindutva alone. Caste has been a chokehold, irrespective of the government in power, and Dalit groups have put up a fight for half a century. “Saurashtra was an assortment of princely states under Darbar rulers. Babasaheb Ambedkar came here in 1931 and 1939, and his comrades worked in the community for years to raise consciousness,” says Jayanti Makadia of the Gujarat Dalit Sangathan, an umbrella group of Dalit organisations, trusts, sabhas and panches. “Dalits struggled for land rights, from the ‘60s to the ‘80s, even massing into jails. From the 90s to the mid-2000s, we fought communalism, refusing to be foot soldiers against Muslims,” he says. In 2013, Junagarh enacted a large-scale Dalit conversion to Buddhism, as a message to the BJP government and the Hindu hierarchy.
The intense anti-reservation movement in Gujarat since the 1970s, central to its politics, has always turned on Dalits, Makadia says, even though they were not the beneficiaries of the later round of reservations. “The word reservation has still stuck to us like skin,” he says.
But now, every tehsil and locality has Dalit groups that come together when an event occurs, to provide legal support, mobilise and present their side to the state. “We need more efforts like BAMCEF and DS4,” says Vanvi. (The All-India Backward and Minority Communities Employees Federation and the Dalit Shoshit Samaj Sangharsh Samiti, were formed to push for Dalit interests.) After all, for all the casteism that exists, “nobody would ever dare to attempt this kind of violence in the south, where Dalits have been more politicized and radical,” says K Satyanarayana, scholar, writer and anti-caste activist.
But Dalit mobilisation has not aimed for direct political power in Gujarat, partly because their population of 7.1% does not give them the numerical clout. “But if they can unite, they can be a significant pressure group on parties,” says Narayan. While the Congress first claimed them as part of its social coalition — KHAM — the BJP has tried to incorporate them in the Hindutva project. “The problem is that some Dalit communities still prefer to share the spoils of power or other benefits rather than fighting for other Dalits,” says Makadia, referring to the vankar community that has collaborated with the Congress and then the BJP. Others, like Bharti, feel that “the quest for a political movement has distracted from the need to build social resilience among Dalits”.
In Gujarat, that resilience is sorely needed. The rate of crime against Dalits hovers above the national average, according to NCRB data, particularly murders. A recent Rajya Sabha question showed a dramatic upsurge in 2015. And yet, in 2013, only 2.5% of the registered cases of crimes against Dalits resulted in a conviction. That figure stood at 6% in 2015. There is an official backlog of 56,000 government jobs, and land rights are an ongoing struggle.
The attacks on Dalits have grown, just as their awareness and assertion on matters of land, employment, and rightful share in resources has increased. “When you know your rights, that’s when the violence happens. When you don’t accept what they say, that’s when the violence increases,” says Vanvi.
(With inputs from Premal Bal)

Source link

Leave a Reply