Taking a stand
There seems to be no end to the unrest initiated by the Dalit community in Gujarat. On Sunday, a Dalit man, who had attempted suicide to protest the flogging of four Dalit tannery workers by self-styled cow vigilantes, died. In response, members of the community organised a large congregation in Ahmedabad. At the congregation, thousands of Dalits took a pledge not to lift carcasses in protest against the attacks on Dalits by upper caste Hindu activists. The collective pledge was taken at a Dalit rally called by as many as 30 Dalit groups from across Gujarat. Over the past month, the BJP-ruled state has been witness to mass protests against the brutal assault of Dalit leather tanners by cow protection vigilantes in Una. The local police did nothing to stop or prevent the attack, according to an independent fact-finding report on the incident. The assault on the tanners was caught on camera and video went viral when one of the accused uploaded it. In a brazen disregard for the rule of law, the video showed several men stripping the victims, tying them to a vehicle and beating them up with iron pipes and wooden sticks. The incident caused a serious outrage among the lower castes, many of whom have skinned dead animals for several generations. Thousands went onto the streets, dumping cow carcasses in public places in protest. Although atrocities against lower castes are a common occurrence in the state, the sight of Dalit men being thrashed mercilessly for merely doing their job touched a raw nerve. In an obvious attempt to save face for the BJP, which has openly supported cow protection vigilante groups in the past, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh condemned the attack and said the government is committed to stopping such atrocities. These protests have come soon after the high-octane agitation for reservations in government jobs and educational institutions by the high-caste Patel community. With state elections due in just over a year from now, the raging protests are snowballing into a major worry for the state government. Although the Gujarat government has arrested a few suspects, it is fair to suggest that such attacks against Dalits are not going to end anytime soon. Cow protection vigilante groups have little fear of the law. “In 2014, 3.4 percent of crimes against Scheduled Castes in Gujarat ended in convictions, against a comparable national rate of 28.8 percent – that is, one conviction for every eight across the country,” according to an analysis by IndiaSpend. “Against scheduled castes, that conviction rate was 1.8 percent, against the national average of 37.9 percent – i.e., one conviction for every 21 across the country.” Anger against the BJP-led government comes at a time when the party is seeking to bring Dalits on board in a major way to realise its ambition of enhancing its national presence.