TEN KILOMETRES from Una town in Gir-Somnath district, not far from the Gujarat coast, lies the village of Samter, home to 11 persons arrested for assaulting four Dalits who were skinning a dead cow on July 11. The village’s Dalits, who account for around 1,000 in a population of 3,500, have lived in fear of a backlash since those arrests. And the families of the arrested grumble that the assault was only one side of the story.
The chargesheet filed by the CID (Crime) Wednesday, which blames the local police for fudging details such as reporting the skinning of a cow as “beef being found”, annexes a forensic report as evidence that the cow had been killed by a lion.
The families of the 11 accused youths, all in their twenties and belonging to various upper castes, had a very different version when The Indian Express met them in Samter on August 28.
“You all know only one side of the story. Three cows were killed, which is why they were beaten up,” said Pratapsinh Gohil, whose son Jaydev has been arrested. “However,” he added, “the boys took the law into their hands which they should not have.”
“They killed the cows and were skinning them,” echoed Bhanabhai Babar, whose son Bhavesh was arrested.
A narrow lane from the middle of the village leads to “Ambedkarnagar”, the densely populated Dalit locality. Along the way are the houses of the upper caste villagers, who depend primarily on agriculture. Many of them have coconut groves in their backyards.
Mehul, 20, standing at the entrance of “Ambedkarnagar”, said a number of youths had wanted to go to Una for the Dalit sammelan on August 15 but were not allowed by the upper caste villagers. Another Dalit said, “We lived in fear from August 12 to August 15. We all wanted to attend the meet but were not allowed.”
Punjabhai Parmar, 65, has not skinned carcasses since Dalit ogranisations appealed to the community not to do so. Having carried on the profession of his father, giving it up has brought about a struggle for Parmar, a landless farm labourer. Skinning used to fetch extra about Rs 8,000 a year — about two cracasses a month at Rs 300 to Rs400.
“We are almost jobless but the past month has been really tough. We haven’t been able to get even a day’s job due to the tension that prevails between upper caste and Dalits in the village,” he said. Dalits alleged that the upper caste villagers have rarely employed them of late.
Village sarpanch Kalubhai Rathod denies there is any tension. “I condemn the flogging but our village never had any issue with Dalits. The tension arose only due to the Dalit yatra from Ahmedabad that resulted in violence,” Rathod said.
Dalits were returning from Una after the sammelan when they were attacked on the highway that passes through Samter village. “Three days before this happened, we had urged the police not to allow the yatra through the village,” sarpanch Rathod said. “The police did change the route but they did nothing after the yatra got over.”
He alleged that a group of Dalits, not from the village, had hurled abusive remarks at people on the road. This led to a major clash in which Dalits and policemen were beaten up. The sarpanch alleged that the police then ransacked houses and arrested over a dozen villagers including four women.
Maniben Govindbhai Gudaniya, 90, alleged that the police broke through the entrance of her home, caned her legs and took away her grandsons Hitesh, 36, and Paresh, 32. Vehicles and windows were damaged.
All of this has ended up isolating the Dalits further.