August 13, 2016 2:39:52 am
In the wake of recent atrocities against Dalits in Gujarat, including the Una incident in which seven members of a Dalit family were flogged by gau rakshaks for skinning a dead cow, the activists from the community are raring to stand up and be counted. Dalit activists in Surendranagar district have started an independent survey which will map how many of them have stopped skinning and disposing cattle carcasses. The survey will also count those who have taken up other jobs as well as those earning their livelihood as daily wage workers.
Refusing to buy state government’s “assurances”, the Dalit activists in Surendranagar — which has 11-12 per cent Dalit population, highest in the state — have resolved to carry out the survey which will be replicated to other districts in the state.
“A team, comprising 5-7 members, started conducting an independent survey in Surendranagar city areas on Wednesday. Once done with the urban areas, this will be carried out in other areas of the district. This will later be replicated to other districts by roping in more community members,” said Natubhai Parmar of Surendranagar’s Dalit organisation, Dalit Manav Adhikar Jumbesh.
District administration authorities claimed no such data existed. They added that there was no “official order” to conduct a survey like this. “There is no such census at present,” said Surendranagar Collector Udit Agrawal. However, he said that there have been directions issued over a fortnight back “informally” seeking an estimate of skinners in the district. “During a recent discussion, the issue — lack of an estimated data of tanners in the district — came up. So, it was decided to get a rough estimate. But all this is not on paper and only informally discussed and communicated. Nothing holds on record or has been communicated from this office,” he added.
In a population of over 17.56 lakh, the estimated number of Dalit skinners is nearly 1,000 in Surendranagar district, activists claimed. Surendranagar city alone has nearly 100 families of tanners, they said.
“Though we were assured by the district collector and the new Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment Atmaram Parmar that a survey would be soon conducted, nothing has come out of them, like similar assurances earlier. So, we decided to conduct the survey and its findings will soon be submitted to the district as well as the state government,” said Kireet Rathod from Navsarjan, another non-government organisation fighting for Dalit rights in Gujarat which is also involved in the survey.
In the last four years, Dalit Manav Adhikar Jumbesh has submitted numerous representations and held several meetings with the district administration authorities over Dalit rights, more frequently after the 2012 Thangadh firing incident and the Una flogging on July 11 this year.
The survey was one of their demands in the representation which has also been submitted to the Prime Minister, Gujarat Governor and chief minister. “The state government should conduct an economic survey of Dalits and their families involved in skinning… all these skinners should be given the permission to pick dead animals. Also, based on this survey, the state government should provide them licences and identity cards should so that they are not harassed by either police or gau rakshaks…,” it states.
The activists said that since a lot of skinners have left their work, a survey should be conducted so that they are offered economic assistance through loans, facilitating their transition into another job.
In Surendranagar, three Dalit youths were killed in police firing at Thangadh when they were protesting against the upper-caste people of the town. Four years on, their families are still waiting for justice. They have been sitting on a dharna in Gandhinagar since August 6, demanding action against all accused in the case. Recently, Dalit skinners in the district refused to continue their job as a mark of protest against the Una flogging.
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