WHEN CHIEF Minister Anandiben Patel met him on Wednesday, Balu Sarvaiya, 46, told her he wanted justice — justice for himself, his wife Kunvar and sons Vashram, 26, and Ramesh, 23, who were beaten up, allegedly by a group of gau rakshaks, on July 11.
“I told the Chief Minister that I want justice, not financial assistance,” Sarvaiya told The Indian Express.
At his one-room house in Mota Samadhiyala village, in Una taluka of Gir Somnath district, the demand for justice has become a refrain.
“We have been skinning and disposing cattle carcasses for generations. It is our traditional occupation. Never have we been attacked for doing our work,” says Balu’s uncle, Karshan. “We are very scared. We will not touch carcasses from now on,” he adds.
“We are sons of Hindus. We can never slaughter a cow. We always start skinning a cow from the legs. They have done us great injustice by accusing us of cow slaughter,” says Balu’s brother, Mukesh. Balu himself is the proud owner of a cow.
There are 27 Dalit families in the village, according to sarpanch Praful Korat. Only three of them, including Balu, own some land. The rest work as agricultural labouers.
The families have adopted a rotational system for disposing of carcasses — each family is in charge for a week. But Balu has developed contacts in at least a dozen villages nearby. So his family has a carcass disposal service, and owns a rickshaw to transport the dead cattle.
“On an average, we dispose of three carcasses everyday,” says Vashram, from his hospital bed in Rajkot. According to the villagers, they earn about Rs 500 per carcass. Also, the cattle owner usually gives them foodgrain for disposing of the carcass.
But all this may stop now.
“We have decided to give up this profession after this incident. We will take care of our mothers (cows) and perform the last rites when they die. Let those whose mothers (cows) die, take care of them. We don’t want to do it on their behalf anymore,” says Ramesh Sarvaiya, whose nephew Ashok, 20, was among those beaten up.
“We have been cleaning their dirt so far. But we want to stop now. If we are subjected to such atrocities for doing this work, what will our children face if they continue to do the same job,” says Dhanji Sarvaiya, another relative.
Balu’s sons and two hired labourers, Ashok, 20, and Bechar, 30, were beaten up when they were reportedly skinning a dead cow in Mota Samadhiyala village.
Balu, his nephew, Devshi Babariya, and the owner of the dead cow, Naja Chora, were also beaten up when they tried to intervene. The video of the incident was circulated on social media, sparking protests by Dalits across the state.
The anger among members of the community is palpable, even in Ahmedabad where the BJP wields control.
Addressing a press conference in Surat, Kanti Randeria, a member of the Surat BJP unit, said: “After 10 days, the chief minister goes to the house of the victims. Why did she take so much time? Day after day, the attacks on Dalits are increasing in Gujarat. Over the last 15 years, there have been 15,976 attacks on Dalits.”
He claimed that at least 27 Dalit women were raped in the first four months of this year. “Since 2001, over 282 Dalits have been murdered in Gujarat. Protection should be given to Dalits,” he said.
“Social Justice Minister Ramanlal Vora should have visited them first, and not just accompanied the CM,” said another Dalit leader from the BJP who did not want to be named.
“We have demanded a ban on the Gau Raksha Dal. Those working under this banner take the law in their hands and beat up innocent people belonging to the Dalit and minority communities. We will organise dharnas and hunger strikes, and ask Dalits working in the state government to wear black bands as a sign of their protest,” said Rahul Rashtrapal, another Dalit leader, at the same press conference.
Meanwhile, the main accused who reportedly led the gau rakshaks, Prafulgiri Goswami, has claimed that he is the Gir Somnath district president of Shiv Sena. However, Jimmy Advani, Shiv Sena president for Saurashtra region, said the party has not appointed any office-bearers for the district.
— With ENS, Ahmedabad, Una