HOURS after the 10-day Dalit Asmita Yatra ended on Monday in Gujarat’s Una town, tension gripped the area as police fired six rounds in the air at Samter village when a mob began pelting stones to protest the participation of local Dalit residents in the event.
At least four police personnel and four others were injured in clashes at the village, about 10 km from Mota Samadhiyala where seven Dalits were flogged by a mob for skinning a dead cow on July 11.
Una police station inspector H G Vaghela told The Indian Express that he, too, was injured in the stone-pelting, apart from three women police constables. Four FIRs had been lodged at his police station since Sunday night against those either trying to stop Dalits heading to the rally or obstructing police, said Vaghela.
Prakash Parmar, a Dalit resident of Sametar, said over phone: “I have been calling local police for protection but to no avail. Today, they came only after the attack on Dalits returning from the sammelan.” Parmar said that he was a relative of the flogging victims and that his family has been facing threats from upper-caste villagers.
“Police fired six rounds in the air at Samter village to disperse the mob,” said Junagadh range IG Brajesh Jha. He said that another village Rameshwar Patiya also witnessed violence. “In both villages, police lobbed more than ten tear gas shells to disperse the mob. The situation is under control and the roads that were blocked due to the violence have been opened,” said Jha.
Earlier, the Dalit yatra, which was flagged off from Ahmedabad on August 5, ended with the warning that a “rail roko” agitation will be launched after a month if the Gujarat government did not give five acres of land to each Dalit family as an alternative for the “traditionally imposed dirty jobs” of disposing dead animals and manual scavenging.
The warning was issued by emerging Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani in Una while addressing a gathering of around 6,000 people from villages in Rajkot, Bhavnagar, Botad, Ahmedabad and Sanand, and other parts of the state.
“The BJP and the Sanghis (RSS) have since long ruled in the name of cows. The days are over now. Let’s pledge that we stop disposing of animal carcass, stop entering gutters and shun all such traditionally imposed dirty jobs on Dalits. We just want five acres of land,” Mevani said.
Referring to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s assurance of protection for Dalits, Mevani said, “If you really felt such pain, the killing of three Dalit youngsters in Thangadh, like terrorists, would not have happened.”
Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat in 2012 when police opened fire to control a mob, leading to the deaths of three men.
“This is a fight for Dalit prestige and dignity, which we haven’t been able to get. The patience is over and now we should break these arms that take aim at us,” Mevani said.
Kanhaiya Kumar, president of the JNU students union, and Radhika Vemula, the mother of Rohith Vemula, who committed suicide following his ouster from the Hyderabad University hostel, joined the last leg of the yatra, organised by members of the Dalit community and activists in the wake of the Una incident.
The final event witnessed a major commotion on stage, with Dalit leaders vying with each other to address the gathering. Initially, it was announced that only Mevani and Balu Sarvaiya, one of the victims of the Una flogging, would speak.
In his brief speech, Sarvaiya appealed for Dalit unity and said that the fight should go on till justice is delivered. He also said that this fight “should be peaceful”.
Kanhaiya Kumar, who spoke after Sarvaiya, was greeted with cheers. “Tall claims have been made from the Red Fort today. I want to tell you that this is not the country of Modi… this is a country of ordinary people. This gathering has exposed the Gujarat model. All we want is freedom from Brahmanvad (Brahmanism), Manuvad (casteism),” said Kumar.
Others who took part in the yatra, including ex-IPS officer Rahul Sharma, activist Pravin Mishra, Nirjhari Sinha of Jansangharsh Manch, and activists from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Tamil Nadu, left the event before it officially ended.
Radhika, mother of Rohith, said she came to attend the event with the aim that what happened to her should not repeat. “Everyone has equal rights,” she said.