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Protesting the flogging of a Dalit family by gau rakshaks in Una for skinning a dead cow, thousands of Dalits gathered in Ahmedabad Sunday where community leaders put the BJP-led government in Gujarat on notice ahead of the 2017 assembly polls. Seeking strong measures to check atrocities against them, leaders asked Dalits to give up disposing dead cattle and stop cleaning sewers to “send a strong message” to the state government.
They announced a march from Ahmedabad to Una between August 5 and August 15. They said they plan to gather in Una on August 15 to observe and “feel independence” there.
The Dalit Maha Sammelan in the Sabarmati area of Ahmedabad, organised by Una Dalit Atyachar Ladat Samiti (UDALS), flagged several pending Dalit issues, including justice in the Thangadh killing of three Dalit youths in 2012. Valji Rathod, father of one of the three youths killed in Thangadh of Surendranagar district, declared he would sit on a hunger strike in Gandhinagar from Monday.
Addressing the gathering, UDALS convener Jignesh Mevani, raising what he said were unresolved legal and constitutional issues of Dalits in Gujarat, said: “This government believes in Daliton ka Utpidan, Daliton ka Vinash (persecution and annihilation of Dalits) and not in Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas.”
Referring to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s statement that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was very hurt and upset over the Una incident, Mevani told the gathering: “I want to ask Rajnathji, if during his governance in Gujarat (between 2001 and 2014), did Modi visit a single Dalit family of Gujarat which faced atrocity? If the answer is yes, we will wind up our protest programme.”
“To give a strong message to the government, I urge all Dalits to discontinue the work of disposing dead animals. I also want you to take a pledge of discontinuing the work of cleaning sewer lines. We no longer wish to do this work and want the government to allot agriculture land to us, so that we can live a respectable life,” he said. “If atrocities on Dalits do not stop, we will show our strength in the 2017 assembly polls,” he said.
Mevani mentioned several issues which he said concerned Dalits: enactment of Reservation Act to fill the backlog of reserved vacancies, absence of exclusive criminal courts for trial of atrocity cases, criminal prosecution of
Una police officers for criminal negligence in the flogging case, utilisation of funds under the Scheduled Caste (SC) sub-plan and Scheduled Tribe (ST) sub-plan via enactment of a special legislation, actual allocation of surplus land to landless Dalits under provisions of the Agriculture Land Ceiling Act.
He demanded a public apology from the Gujarat government for withdrawing a book on Dr B R Ambedkar. He said criminal cases filed against Dalits recently in different parts of the state should be withdrawn.
Some family members of the victims in Thangadh and Una also addressed the gathering. Among them were Jitu Sarvaiya and Keval Rathod from Mota Samadhiyala. They are related to Balu Sarvaiya who, along with six of his family members, was flogged by gau rakshaks on July 11.
Veteran Dalit activists like Valjibhai Patel, Nitin Gurjar, Chandu Maheriya, Jayanti Makadia, Manjula Pradeep and Ratna Vora joined the gathering. Also present were Nirzari Sinha, wife of the late rights activist and lawyer Mukul Sinha, former Gujarat cadre IPS officer Rahul Sharma, folk singers Charul-Vinay and advocate Shamshad Pathan. Mufti Abdul Qayyum Mansuri, acquitted in the Akshardham terror attack case, too was there.
A number of Muslim youths also joined the gathering with the message of Dalit-Muslim unity. Some leaders of Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Hind Gujarat too were present.
In fact, the proposal to march from Ahmedabad to Una came from Rahul Sharma. “Let us have a march from Ahmedabad to Una and feel independence at Una on August 15. I am ready. This social awakening should not be limited to this sammelan,” Sharma said.
(With PTI inputs)