[WSMDiscuss] Dalits in movement…., India in movement…. : 'The Dalit Fightback at Una is India’s Rosa Parks Moment' (Mari Marcel Thekaekara) / 'Interview: Jignesh Mevani on the Azadi Kooch, Solidarity and the Future of Dalit Politics' (Damayantee Dhar)
jai.sen at cacim.net
Wed Jul 19 21:47:22 CEST 2017
Wednesday, July 19, 2017
Dalits in movement…., India in movement….
[On July 11 last year (2016) five Dalit men were flogged in Una, in Gujarat, India, by caste Hindus for allegedly skinning a dead cow. As a reaction to the flogging, a new movement called the Dalit Asmita Yatra <https://thewire.in/58820/the-dalit-fightback-at-una-is-indias-rosa-parks-moment/> – the ‘Dalit Pride [in the sense of self-conscious, aware, conscientised] Rally’ has taken shape in Gujarat, and this year, as last year, organised a major rally that gained unprecedented momentum as it made its way through Gujarat.
[This is – and must be understood as - a part of a new, militant, rising movement among Dalits and their sympathisers in India. In May I posted three articles on another manifestation of this movement, in that case in Saharanpur, in the state of Uttar Pradesh (on May 10, ‘Ambedkar's Army : A Dalit force fights caste atrocities in Uttar Pradesh’, a film by Esha Paul and Aman Sethi, on May 14, ‘Manhunt On For Bheem Army Chief Chandrashekhar After Dalit-Cop Clashes’, and on May 24 ‘Photo Story on Bhim Army Rally in Delhi’ and ‘Violence against Dalits in Saharanpur, UP : A Report by CPI-ML (Liberation) & AISA Team that visited Saharanpur’).
[Here are two articles from the movement that has taken shape in Gujarat, and on the rally that just culminated yesterday, May 18, including an interview with Jignesh Mevani, who has emerged as the leader of the movement in Gujarat, on the future of Dalit politics :
The Dalit Fightback at Una is India’s Rosa Parks Moment
Mari Marcel Thekaekara <https://thewire.in/author/mari-marcel-thekaekara/>
Jignesh Mevani on the Azadi Kooch, Solidarity and the Future of Dalit Politics
Damayantee Dhar <https://thewire.in/author/damayantee-dhar/>
Thanks Deepani, for these links, and more !
For more details on the growing Dalit movement and to follow it, see
The Dalit Fightback at Una is India’s Rosa Parks Moment
By Mari Marcel Thekaekara <https://thewire.in/author/mari-marcel-thekaekara/> on 13/08/2016 <https://thewire.in/58820/the-dalit-fightback-at-una-is-indias-rosa-parks-moment/> • 3 Comments <https://thewire.in/58820/the-dalit-fightback-at-una-is-indias-rosa-parks-moment/#disqus_thread>
The incident in Una, has, for the first time, united all 32 Dalit sub-castes, and at the Dalit Asmita Yatra they are demanding an end to the discrimination against them.
Dalit community members shout slogans at a protest rally in Ahmadabad. Credit: PTI
The Dalits of Gujarat propose to celebrate this Independence Day with a bang. On August 15, 2016, groups of Dalits from every corner of the state will descend upon Una, where a Dalit family was publicly beaten <http://thewire.in/51219/dalit-family-stripped-beaten-as-gau-raksha-vigilantism-continues/> by gau rakshaks for skinning a dead cow – an occupation that has been ‘reserved’ for their particular sub-caste for centuries.
A protest march organised by a collective of Dalit groups began from Ahmedabad in August. In their journey they are plastering towns and villages with posters that tell exactly what independence has meant for India’s Dalits, and for the other oppressed groups of the country. For them, the celebration of freedom is a joke. The poster depicts the boys, who were thrashed in Una, in chains and it has already gone viral among Dalits, according to Manjula Pradeep, the director of Navsarjan Trust, an organisation that has worked on Dalit issues for over 30 years and its founder Martin Macwan.
Credit: Mari Marcel Thekaekara
Atrocities against Dalits are common in some part of the country and are reported by our newspapers every single day, then why did the Una incident create this unprecedented anger among the community? Why did this particular atrocity galvanise Dalits in Gujarat?
Macwan replied, “Stories and photographs never had any impact, but the videos that the gloating gau rakshaks uploaded via social media went viral. Every Dalit village, not just in Gujarat but [also] all over India, could see these young boys being brutally thrashed. People said, ‘the mob is using police dandas in broad daylight in an open place. The cops were standing around laughing, giving their lathis to be used. The men used vile, filthy abuse. It was sickening to watch.’ Our people have had enough. The youth especially is livid. They are filled with violent anger.
[Since] Kashmir has been on everyone’s TV; it makes the boys wonder, ‘Why do we stay quiet and cowed down always.’ Others fight back. Politicians, VIPs, everyone was rushing to the spot except our chief minister. As for Modi, he tweets and gives sermons everyday. But on this issue he remained silent for 25 days.”
“The silence spoke volumes apparently. I’ve said publicly on NDTV, on the behalf of the Dalit people, our message to the PM is ‘We Dalits cannot trust you. We are sick of hearing about vibrant Gujarat. I say, go to Una, see the state of the roads, hospitals, etc. in Dalit or Adivasi villages.’”
Pradeep, who is a fiery Dalit leader, said, “I’ve worked on Dalit rights for over 20 years. [I] have trained activists, both in Gujarat and other parts of India, [but] I have never seen such anger among our people. The lead has been taken by the young folk. Earlier leadership was in the hands of old men who always feared the backlash because they’ve been at the receiving end for centuries.”
“Navsarjan has worked on fighting against injustice, so, we have support and a solid base in most villages. We started over 30 years ago, training men and women to fight untouchability and violence. This is paying off. The younger generation is not afraid any longer. They are angry. Unemployment and untouchability are bad enough, but the terrible cruelty shown to those young boys was unbearable. I think each and every Dalit who saw that video felt the pain of the kids as though the blows were being inflicted on us, on our own brothers and fathers. Everywhere people are saying, ‘Enough, we will fight back even if they kill us.’”
“We have to spread the truth. There are more than 200 gau rakshak groups in Gujarat. What we want to do is get the list of all these places, and then target all their offices. Our activists have done this in one place. They got 25-30 dead cows, loaded them into a pickup truck and threw them in front of the collector’s office. This is the first time everyone, all 32 Dalit sub-castes have come together [and] united to fight the injustice. That includes Valmikis, weavers, leather workers and those who clean toilets. We are not just fighting for the leather workers. We are fighting for all Dalits and all oppressed people”.
In the thick of all of it is Nathubhai Parmar, who has worked with Navsarjan since 1997.
Parmar belongs to the leather workers’ caste that has been infuriated by the sheer injustice of the attacks. Parmar has been helping his community to fight for their rights for nearly 20 years. I have interviewed him once before when he was working on rights of sanitation workers. The anger behind his welcoming smile is intense.
Adrenalin is racing in most Dalit circles and there is electricity in the air. Parmar has brought a group of leather workers to the Navsarjan office. This is a big battle for everyone in the room, and a deeply personal one too.
Hirabhai, who has worked with animal carcasses all his life, says he knows no other trade. He recalls two separate incidents when he was beaten up, his vehicle stopped and overturned. “They smashed my windshield [and] deflated the tyres. [They] pushed me [and] slapped me around. When any animal dies they call us. We are chamars. We cannot refuse to pick up carcasses when summoned. Now they want to call us cow-killers. I have never killed a cow in my life. We go at their bidding. Jains, Rajputs, Durbars or Muslims, they all have cows and all phone us when their animals die. It’s what we have done for hundreds of years.”
Parmar’s eyes are filled with laughter. “We were fed up. They call the cow their mother, so we decided: Let them look after their mothers.” Manjibhai, Mahesh, Hirabhai and Parmar, all together got this highly unusual, but extremely effective plan going.
“We put 20-30 dead cows into a truck and unloaded them in front of the collectors office. ‘Here, take your mother and bury her.’ All over Gujarat, the community has vowed to stop cleaning up the carrion [and] it is having an enormous impact, far more than a million protest marches or hunger strikes ever could. The stink of rotting carcasses has brought home the enormity of the role Dalits have played in keeping India clean for centuries.
Gagan Sethi, a veteran community organiser, has trained thousands of activists all over the country. He has a different theory about the attacks. “Its all about economics,” he said. “In the 2002 riots, Muslim livelihoods were wiped out. They were all taken over by powerful Hindus, often [their] neighbours. It’s the jealousy factor. Now, there’s big money in disposing off bovine carcasses, it runs into crores. [It is] an industry.”
“Young Dalit boys are tech savvy. With shiny new smartphones, they can ring up Kanpur or Kohlapur to find out the highest rates for leather or bone meal. It makes the dominant caste men incandescent with rage [to see] Dalit boys racing around on bikes [and] buying pickup trucks. This is what is behind the brutal attacks. It’s a power game they are playing out. Determined to subjugate the young Dalits, whom they perceive as upstarts getting too big for their boots.”
So the old order changed, but they will not give place to the new.
It’s India’s 70th independence day. By giving the Dalit community a public apology for centuries of abuse and oppression, can it also become a defining moment for India as a country?
Never before have the Dalits risen and protested as spontaneously, or so effectively, as they have in the past weeks. Gujarat is however not the worst state for caste-based atrocities. Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan all vie for that honour. The Una incident should not be politicised, because even though every political party will jump on the bandwagon of the Dalit cause, historically, no party has ever fought for Dalits when they were in power.
This is our Rosa Parks moment. That single incident on December 1,1955 <http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/African-American_Civil_Rights_Movement_%281955-1968%29> caused African Americans to join together and protest against racism in the US. Millions of white Americans took that as a sign to stand up and be heard, to say “enough” and to shout “we are not the oppressor, we stand with the civil rights movement.”
Lakhs of students and non Dalit Indians have voiced their anger and have stood in solidarity with the Dalit boys of Gujarat. The struggle must continue. Dalits, Adivasis and other oppressed groups want real freedom.
We stand at a crossroad. Thousands of Dalits and their supporters will demand justice on August 15 when their Asmita Yatra <http://thewire.in/57707/dalit-asmita-yatra-making-of-an-uprising-that-had-been-lost-in-gujarat/> ends in Una. It’s a convergence of the Dalits of Gujarat and of NGO’s, sympathetic and opportunistic politicians and representatives from across the country. Will their voices be heard in the corridors of power?
Liked the story? We’re a non-profit. Make a donation <https://www.instamojo.com/FIJ/donations-for-the-wire/> and help pay for our journalism.
Interview: Jignesh Mevani on the Azadi Kooch, Solidarity and the Future of Dalit Politics
By Damayantee Dhar <https://thewire.in/author/damayantee-dhar/> on 18/07/2017 <https://thewire.in/158576/jignesh-mevani-azadi-kooch-dalit-politics/> • Leave a Comment <https://thewire.in/158576/jignesh-mevani-azadi-kooch-dalit-politics/#disqus_thread>
“As far Gujarat is concerned, the cases of atrocities against Dalits have increased post Una, so has the state repression.”
Jignesh Mevani and others participating in the Azadi Kooch. Credit: Damayantee Dhar
As a reaction to the flogging of five Dalit men in Una on July 11 last year, the Dalit Asmita Yatra <https://thewire.in/58820/the-dalit-fightback-at-una-is-indias-rosa-parks-moment/> – a movement that gained unprecedented momentum as it made its way around Gujarat – took shape. This was the movement that moulded Jignesh Mevani, a young lawyer and activist, into a leader of the Dalit movement.
A year later, the Azadi Kooch organised by the Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch (RDAM) is taking the legacy of the Una movement forward. As the rally makes its way to Dhanera, where it culminates on July 18, Mevani spoke to The Wire about issues ranging from the recent controversy and criticism that has surrounded him, the implications of joining hands with Patidars and Thakors, his take on Dalit movements and their drawbacks, the land issue and the journey of RDAM so far, and their immediate and more long-run goals.
A year has passed since the Dalit Asmita Yatra. Was there an impact of the movement on ground and has the condition of Dalits changed since then in Gujarat?
As far Gujarat is concerned, the cases of atrocities against Dalits have increased post Una, so has the state repression. Cases of cow vigilantism are now rampant across the nation. Data we got through an RTI filed by one of the core members of RDAM also reveal that the rate of incidents have risen in Gujarat post 2016. However, the Una movement and the agitation following the death of Rohith Vemula last year, and the mobilisation post the incident in Saharanpur this year, have given Dalits a voice that they never had before. Dalits, both in Gujarat and rest of the country, are more conscious now and are braving the odds, and coming out into the open to register their protest. That is a tremendous boost to the Dalit psyche.
RDAM was formed during the Asmita Yatra and is now organising the Azadi Kooch under its banner. How far has the organisation come in the last year?
The core team of the RDAM, who formed the organisation, has remained united and undeterred through all odds in this one year. The organisation has no financial support or backing from any NGO or political party. The organisation cannot even afford an office yet. None of the members have any prior experience in public life or activism. However, the core team has been able to sustain the momentum so far and continued to struggle through this one year, even when the consequences have included an FIR with charges for which the maximum punishment is five years in jail. In the years to come, the team also has to form an ideological foundation. Until then, the team functions as per my ideological vision. May be four or five years from now, the functioning will be more democratic. Some core members have also left the organisation because of disagreements on the process, but that happens to almost all organisations. I am more careful than before, but still not bothered much about that.
A lot controversy and criticism has been surrounding you off late. One of the criticism is around the absence of the Una flogging victims from the conference organised by the RDAM in Ahmedabad on July 11, even though the victims were in the city the same day. Why did the victims give the programme a miss?
The victims of Una have openly stated their inclinations towards the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and I don’t have any such inclination. Under such circumstances, some other Dalit organisations who are pro-BSP have completely them taken into confidence and the victims attended a programme organised one such Dalit organisation. I don’t mind if Balubhai Sarvaiyya does not share a stage with RDAM. I don’t believe in taking the victims along everywhere. The Una movement was never for just the plight of those four boys. It aimed beyond that and did manage to transcend the immediate cause.
In your speeches during the rally, you have talked about how Azadi Kooch is about a larger picture and yet it is also taking the legacy of the Una movement ahead. How is Azadi Kooch different from the Dalit Asmita Yatra?
Azadi Kooch is bigger than the Dalit Asmita Yatra. There is no denying that the Dalit Asmita Yatra was an unprecedented Dalit movement and we shall take the legacy of the movement forward. The land issue still remains at the core of the movement and so does the question of ‘Dalit asmita’. However, I don’t believe my role is just in Gujarat. In fact, in Gujarat we (Dalits) are just 7% of the state’s population. I think there is a need to create a substantial Dalit movement all over the country and that is why I have travelled extensively to different parts of the country and participated in various struggles.
But I have clarity that Gujarat cannot be neglected and I am never out of Gujarat for more than a week at a stretch. The Dalit Asmita Yatra was about core Dalit issues, but Azadi Kooch is taking up those core issues along with issues like farmers’ suicides, privatisation of health and education, price inflation, cow vigilantism and the rise of right-wing menace across the country, like in the formation of ‘anti-Romeo’ squads in UP. Azadi Kooch is a platform that will take up issues from Uttar Pradesh to Kerala. There is a lot on the list but it is viable. I want to develop a nationwide Dalit movement .
Jignesh Mevani at the Azadi Kooch march. Credit: Damayentee Dhar
Last year, the movement had a lot of support from civil society, but this year it doesn’t seem to. Why so?
It is unfortunate that the civil society of Gujarat is not participating in such a programme. The loss, however, is not ours. The civil society of Gujarat, typically, has never picked up the issue of Dalits. Last year they were together and then they went into a deep slumber. A movement does not work on such tokenism.
Also read: Delayed Due to Police Detentions, ‘Azadi Kooch’ Continues Fight for Dalit Rights <https://thewire.in/157151/dalit-protest-azadi-kooch-jignesh-mevani/>
On the one hand, you have radical leftists joining the rally and on another hand, Patidars and Thakors. Patidar and Thakors are the two communities who have come into conflict with Dalits when it comes to land issues. How was such a contradictory alliance forged? What will be the implications when people with such extreme ideological differences come together on a common platform?
Dalits and leftists, I believe, are natural allies. Dalits have been victims of both class and caste polemics. So it is no surprise that leftist organisation has joined the yatra. Though the leftist movement in our country has been limited to a mechanised fight against class and has historically never talked about caste, we (at RDAM) shall bring the issue of caste into the picture. The emancipation of Dalits is not possible without caste annihilation and like the leftists, we too believe it can only be achieved through the amalgamation of communities.
One reason to bring for bringing the Patidars and Thakors is also to bring communities together. However, I will never support them politically and for that matter this is not an alliance per say. As far as the conflict on the land issue is concerned, I don’t know if Alpesh Thakor is aware of the whole situation on the ground and Reshma Patel will hopefully never support a Patidar who is wrongfully holding possession of a piece of land allotted to a Dalit. Besides, Patidars have been at the receiving end of flak from state machinery as well. The land issue is not the only cause I am fighting for, there is a dire need for the consolidation of anti-right-wing forces. This is also an attempt towards that ultimate end.
Kanhaiya Kumar has been seen sharing the platform with you. How does the presence of a student union leader add value to the Dalit movement and what impact does he have on the core Dalit team?
Kanhaiya Kumar is a leader who has been able to capture the imagination of the masses in a big way. His presence has brought ‘Jai Bhim’ and ‘Lal Salam’ together. That is a huge impact. Besides, we also want to create a nationwide youth platform where people like him are much needed.
The participation of non-Dalits drew flak from some Dalit organisations last year during the Asmita Yatra. There is friction between different Dalit organisations, who will not come together for a common cause. Under such circumstances, how do you see Dalit consolidation happening?
This difference is mostly ideological, which I feel should not keep people from joining together, which is the need of the hour. Most Dalit movements and organisations have been confined to a microscopic vision of looking at issues. They are victim of what some may call reverse casteism. To discard someone just because he/she is from an ‘upper’ caste is as bad as ‘upper’ castes discarding Dalits. At the end, this becomes a vicious circle of the very Brahmanical practice that we want to get rid of.
This is the reason why I have been wholeheartedly ready to share the platform with all kinds of people. There are groups that will be pro-BSP, there are some who will give slogans of ‘Jai Moolnivasi’, some say they are bahujans. I would rather say forget all the differences – instead say we don’t have food to eat or have a roof over our heads. This ideological friction within groups affects the larger cause and weakens the movement. As of today, while demanding my rights I am asserting myself a a Dalit. But a time has to come when even the Dalit identity has to be given up. Finally, it has to be about the annihilation of caste and not further divisions.
A press conference during the Azadi Kooch. Credit: Damayantee Dhar
During the Una Dalit Asmita Yatra, Dalits had pledged to never pick up carcasses again and quit the skinning profession. How has quitting this profession affected Dalits and their source livelihood?
Even though Dalits pledged that during the yatra last year, as I see it only a section of Dalits have been able to hold that stand on the ground. One has to understand it is not just that they are facing issues in earning their livelihood. The decision to not pick up carcasses has also lead to the social boycott of Dalits in villages like Rantej and Par. Some have also stopped skinning dead animals because of a sense of fear. Many Dalits work as labourers now after quitting skinning as profession. Some Dalits who quit have also taken it up again. This will not yield results until a concrete design for alternative employment is in place. So in a way we come back to the land issue, which could be an alternative source of income.
The way Dalits view Ambedkar is almost as if he their God. You have been very strongly against this practice and culture amongst Dalits. How difficult has it been negate this practice, especially in rural areas?
The Indian constitution talks of about untouchability and not annihilation of caste. So I have always maintained that with great respect for the great man and his contributions, we can and will have disagreements with what Dr Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar has already given us. I tell Dalits, Babasaheb would want rational supporters and not blind believers. Such a culture of taking Ambedkar to be God is again going back to the same Brahminical Hindu culture.
Do you have electoral plans?
Electoral representation is necessary and I am open to the thought, but not so soon. In years to come I will be open to join hands with any third party.
Damayantee Dhar is a freelance journalist.
jai.sen at cacim.net <mailto:jai.sen at cacim.net>
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