Unlike the Patidar reservation agitation that saw guiding faces like Hardik Patel and Lalji Patel, the ongoing Dalit protest in Gujarat appeared a spontaneous overflow of feelings without any prominent leader to stir it. Leading social activists attribute this to the “constant discrimination” and “atrocities” being faced by Dalits across Gujarat for a long time, more often in the recent past.
Following the July 11 incident in Una taluka of Gir Somnath district where Balu Sarvaiya and his family members were flogged by a group of “gau rakshaks” for skinning a dead cow, Dalits across the state came out on the streets in large numbers to protest.
So far, at least 17 Dalits have attempted suicide across Gujarat in protest. In Surendranagar, which has the highest Dalit concentration (12 per cent in a population of 17 lakh) and also witnessed caste conflicts, the protesters dumped carcasses of cows outside the collectorate.
“It was a dormant volcano that erupted after the Una incident. There is no leader or organiser to mobilise crowds. We only get the message and then communicate this message ahead, so the chain goes on. No one asks who sent the message,” said Natubhai Parmar from Dalit Manav Adhikar Jumbesh in Surendranagar.
Mehsana-based Kaushik Parmar, who was part of a fact-finding team of Dalit activists that visited Mota Samadhiyala village, said: “The sporadic incidents of atrocities keep happening in different parts of the state. But, when the Una incident took place and its videos went viral, people realised that the scene was not different in any part of Gujarat and they joined hands… At micro level, there could be some voluntary organisations mobilising the protesters, but overall its a spontaneous outrage.”
On July 20, when a call of Gujarat Bandh was given by various Dalit groups and spread via social media through groups like Dalit Panthers, various outfits worked on their own to ensure a successful bandh across Gujarat. People had also conducted small meetings in their areas.
The spontaneous sense of fraternity could also be seen at Mota Samadhiyala where hundreds of Dalits from across the state met Balu Sarvaiya and his family.
Khimabhai Maru, a Dalit from Chotila (Surendranagar), was one such visitor. Maru had visited the Sarvaiyas along with 10 others and spent an entire night at Mota Samadhiyala sitting on a chair. “We are here to give courage to this family and a belief that they are not alone.”
The protest was across the state barring a few tribal-dominated districts like the Dangs, but it was more vociferous in Saurashtra. Jignesh Mevani, a Dalit rights activist, said: “Saurashtra has been boiling since long. A number of gruesome incidents of atrocities happened in the region in the recent past without any concrete action by the state machinery. It was simmering and this Una incident and its videos on social media became instrumental in bringing the Dalits together.”
Valjibhai Patel, a founder member of Dalit Panthers, said: “This is a welcome change in the Dalit movement in Gujarat… But, at the same time, I am worried that this movement might die after some time. It is now required to be channelised for resolution of larger Dalit issues like enactment of the Roster Act and allocation of surplus agriculture land to landless Dalits under the provisions of the Agriculture Land Ceiling Act.”
Noted sociologist Gaurang Jani said, “I think the Patidar reservation agitation is also a crucial factor in this Dalit movement. They must have seen that the Patidar demand of inclusion in the OBC list was baseless and yet they got together on caste lines. Whereas, the Dalit issues are genuine.”
According to Jani, in absence of a leadership, the movement would die down. “However, now whenever an incident of atrocity against Dalits occur, there will be violent protests,” he added.