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Millennium Post

Dalit atrocities under BJP rule will have poll repercussions

What led you to resign from AAP?
Amidst the movement spreading its wings, the issue of atrocities on Dalits and other oppressed classes taking  centre stage, I quit AAP because I wanted to remain focused on the core issue of Dalits and their demand for land reforms. I thank the party for not politicising the Dalit Issue anytime and at any level.

After a rally from Ahmedabad to Una, you are planning a Rail Roko protest on September 15, don’t you fear a government backlash?
After the Una incident, Dalits have held rallies in over 50 Tehsils, they staged dharnas and demonstrations and on July 31 over 20 thousand people took a pledge not to pursue professions associated with caste. Again we organised a mahasamellan over our demands which are 100 per cent constitutional. If government is not ready to pay heed to our democratic and legitimate demands, we have to hold a Rail Roko protest and even we are ready to go to jails.

Is your demand of 5 Acre land allotment to each Dalit family legitimate and practically viable?
Let me explain that in Gujarat’s almost every district, every tehsil and even every village, government owns wasteland, and there is a provision in the law to distribute the wasteland among SCs and STs and OBCs. There is big scale of ‘Bhoodaan’ land remains undistributed in the state. Besides, there is a provision in the Agriculture Land Ceiling Act under which a ceiling can be filed on the Zamindar’s land and can be declared as surplus. This land can also be given to the landless. Above all, if government wants there is a provision in the Schedule caste/ Schedule tribes subplan that land can be purchased for distribution. If thousands of acres of land is being allotted to the Ambanis, Adanis and Tatas, why is it not being given to Dalits, tribals and other backward castes?

Millions of Dalits are making ends meet by pursuing these professions of skinning animals, cleanliness and other menial works, after the pledge how do you think they will survive and earn bread and butter for their families?
Dr. BR Ambedkar had  asked Dalits ‘die but not to pursue these menial jobs caste system has imposed upon us.’ So if I’m entering a gutter, disposing carcasses of and cleaning your streets and roads, this is what my class position has offered me. I want freedom from this and that’s the only reason we are demanding lands from government an now  ball is in PM Modi’s court. If they don’t allot us lands, it means they only want us to continue such works and remain same for ages to come.

Dalits will pursue other jobs and earn livelihood, they won’t die of hunger.

In some parts of India, Dalits are still denied entry in the temples. How do you address this concern?
I believe religious faith and belief is an extremely private matter. Still I would ask my fellow Dalits why do they need to go to temples. Go to Vishwavidyalaya (University). 

Have you tried to seek an audience with the Prime Minister on the issue?
I’m here in Delhi and trying my best to get PM’s appointment. When Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat, he used to call himself CM - Common Man. Now, I have come to you as the common man, sir, please give me some time. Thousands of Dalits have pledged not to work as manual scavengers - are you going to launch a Startup India for them? Are you going to give them land? Or are you going to condemn them to the same pits from which they want to rise and escape?”

Has only the Una incident where four Dalit youths were flogged, triggered the mass Dalit movement or was it simmering for a long?
Dalit upsurge at Una is an culmination of a long time oppression. Slogan of a Vibrant Gujarat is a flawed rhetoric. If one goes by the statistics, from 2002-2015, over 14000 cases of atrocities on Dalits have been registered, in 119 villages Dalits are living under police protection (life threats from cow vigilantes), over 55000 manual scavengers are still there in the state and over one lakh sanitation workers are waiting for a permanent job.  After the Una incident, Dalit across Gujarat and other parts of the country are awakening. The pledge "gai ki dum tum rakho, humey humaei zamin do" is getting multiplied by Dalits across the country.

Dalit issue is on the boil in Gujarat, you are also visiting Uttar Pradesh. Both states are going to polls next year, how big a dent do think you will make on BJP’s votebank?  
Undoubtedly, BJP is in great loss and it must face it. It’s the party under whose rule we have been flogged and humiliated most. Under Congress rule also we have been made subject to social humiliations but life threats on the name of cow protection is the invention of Modi rule. We are not much concerned over the electoral equations as our prime focus is on keeping the land reform issue at the centre of Dalit movement across India.
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