Low-caste Dalits in India protest against oppression

Angry youth pledge not to take away carcasses in Gujarat

Business & Politics

August 3, 2016

/ By / New Delhi

India & You

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A Dalit youth who consumed poison in protest against thrashing of men from his community in Una, Gujarat, died on Sunday, intensifying the anger of thousands of others who vowed not to take away the carcasses of dead animals till the atrocities by the self-proclaimed cow protectors stop. The protest poses one of the biggest challenges for the ruling Bhratiya Janata Party (BJP), which faces state elections in Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh next year.

Thousands of Dalits, a community considered low-caste amongst Hindus, attended on Sunday a rally in the western Indian state of Gujarat against the brutal lashing of four Dalit men who were accused of slaughtering a cow while they were in fact skinning the dead cow.

Among Hindus, cows are considered sacred and killing them is banned in many Indian states, including Gujarat. The villagers said that the animal was not slaughtered but died of natural cause. Yet, some vigilantes, proclaiming to be protectors of cows, attacked the Dalits, by tying them up to a vehicle and flogging them.

When the videos of the incident went viral on social media, it led to a strong backlash from the Dalits in Gujarat and other parts of the country. Protesters pledged not to continue the community’s age-old occupation of disposing off animal carcasses and manual cleaning of sewers, as a mark of protest.

The Dalits warned the government if the atrocities on the community did not stop, they would “show their strength” in the upcoming 2017 State Assembly polls in Gujarat.

Jignesh Mewani, a Dalit activist, addressing a protest rally of the Dalits in Ahmedabad, asked the community to fight for its rights.

“Neither the BJP nor the Congress will come to our help,” Mevani was reported saying in the rally at Una, by the BBC. “Only our united strength will help us fight the age-old oppression.”

Where it all started

The protest may have been sparked off by the Una incident, but it also reflects a deep-rooted discrimination that the Dalit community has been facing since centuries.

As a mark of their anger, the protesters started dumping animal carcasses outside government offices and several Dalits refused to continue to skin animals, leading to a big problem for the administration. Also, over 20 Dalits consumed poison as a mark of protest and two of them have lost their lives so far.

Spotting an opportunity to corner the ruling BJP, which has been governing Gujarat for the last 14 years, several opposition leaders rushed to Gujarat and vehemently condemned the attack on Dalits. They also criticised Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for remaining silent about the issue.

Congress leader Sachin Pilot alleged that such incidents have increased since BJP came to power at the Centre.

“After BJP came to power, atrocities against Dalits in the state and other parts of the country have increased. Such incidents in Gujarat and Rajasthan have exposed the double standards of BJP,” Pilot said in a statement.

Martin Macwan, founder of Navsarjan Trust, working to fight against the social and economic exploitation of Dalits in an interview with the daily newspaper, The Hindu said, “He is the chief architect, following in the footsteps of his predecessors, dividing the nation into caste and religion, pushing ahead the political concept of a majority based on religious identity.”

“The Prime Minister has been able to win the elections but has not been an icon of social change, although he claims identity as a member of the ‘OBC’. He has little option but to be silent” Martin Macwan told the newspaper.

Divided and Discriminated

As diverse India is in its culture, so are its people in terms of caste, creed and religion. Dalit’s constitute about 17 pc of the total population of the country as per 2011 census and have been facing discrimination and violation of their human rights for ages. While normally, these incidents go unnoticed, the protests this time around have brought the issue to the fore again. But analysts doubt it will make any difference to their status in the Indian society.

As Andre Beteille, one of India’s leading sociologists and writers, famously said: “Some people (the Dalits) had to do all the dirty work, so that others could continue with their notions of ritual purity.”

The political fall out of the incident and protest

The protests in the state of Gujarat led by the Dalits, have for sure put the BJP on backfoot and it could have decisive factor in the upcoming elections in the state of Gujarat and in Utter Pradesh.

The chief minister of the state Gujarat, Anandiben Patel, who has been the point of criticism due to the political protests in the state, has offered to resign after a day of Una outbreak. She explained her resignation on account of her looming 75th birthday, which is the age limit that Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, has set for ministerial posts, but political commentators are of the opinion that the crises in the state draws her more than her passing years.

Ms. Patel’s resignation is surely an attempt to divert attention and to keep the image of BJP clear for the elections, but this time it may not serve the purpose. The entire episode and the other issue in the state have surely not given a good impression of the party.

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