By Abhishek Jha for Youth Ki Awaaz:
“In the laboratory of Hindutva, such that its echo is heard nationally, the Dalits have served a tight slap to the BJP and the Sangh,” Jignesh Mevani, the young convenor of the Una Dalit Atyachar Ladat Samiti, said on the night of August 20 at JNU’s Lohit hostel mess.
Mevani, who was in the capital recently, held three public interactions in Delhi on August 20 and 21- one each at the Press Club of India, at JNU, and at the Gandhi Peace Foundation. He is touring various parts of India before the proposed rail-blockade in Gujarat on September 15. The rail-blockade will take place if a list of demands, including the demand for five acres of land to each Dalit family in Gujarat, is not met by September 15.
Two of Mevani’s three interactions, which YKA covered, began in the same refrain. He informed his audience that earlier protests after each atrocity would fizzle out. Therefore, a group of young Dalits felt that the protests should not be limited to Una. He also spoke about the Thangadh incident in 2012, where three Dalit youth were killed in a police firing. Although the government has announced the formation of an SIT, an ongoing agitation has demanded a CBI probe, since the police have failed to investigate the case so far.
Citing the list of demands that have been placed before the government, failing which the rail-blockade will be brought into effect, he said that the movement in Gujarat wants to be as inclusive as possible and fight for all the oppressed sections of society.
Their list of demands includes the processing of around 1,20,000 applications under the Forest Rights Act of Adivasis, which he claims are pending with the government. He also called for Dalit-Muslim unity and said that the movement will welcome any progressive forces that want to join the movement.
Mevani was also critical of the Prime Minister in both his interactions. “Kahin yahi dum Bharatiya Janata Party ke gale ka fanda na ban jaye, to unhone muh khola (Afraid that this tail might become a noose for the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Prime Minister finally spoke),” he said at the Gandhi Peace Foundation.
A banner behind him carried the slogan formulated in Gujarat: “You keep the cow’s tail. Give us our land”. He also said that if the Prime Minister finds cleaning jobs a spiritual experience, he should enjoy the spiritual experience, and should give land to Dalits instead.
Earlier, he also announced his resignation from the Aam Admi Party on August 20 during his interaction at the Press Club of India. He said that he was thankful that the AAP had not tried to politicise the issue and that he had resigned to silence criticism that he was working in the movement for personal gains.
At both JNU and Gandhi Peace Foundation, he was asked several questions and received suggestions from members in the audience. A prominent question that was often repeated to him was about whether it would be correct to take the support of Left activists and movements. “We rightly criticise them too but we should be inclusive of them when they join us,” he said while replying to one such question.
Asked what for urban Dalits could be a demand equivalent to the demand for land by Dalits in Gujarat, he listed a series of demands. He said that the SC/ST sub-plan should be checked from being diverted to general schemes, the contract system in the employment of safai karamcharis should end, the reserved seats that are lying empty should be filled, and the question of minimum wages and employment should be addressed.
He was also asked why in the gathering at Una on August 15 and in the leadership Dalit women were not present in significant proportions. He replied that he was aware of this and that the Samiti was already working towards addressing this. He also said that they have stated in their demand to the government that women and widowed women be given land on a priority basis.
At the Gandhi Peace Foundation interaction, several union leaders, workers, and activists were present. Jagdish Kajla, an activist of the Bhagana Kaand Sangharsh Samiti, formed after the gangrape of four young Dalit girls in 2014, also met Mevani, and gave and sought suggestions from him.
Khushi Ram, General Secretary of the Workers Solidarity Centre (Gurgaon-Bawal) and a former employee of the Maruti Suzuki’s Manesar plant, said that the 2012 incident at the factory also began with casteist abuses hurled at a worker at the factory. He added that the workers would support the struggle of the Dalits in Gujarat.
On August 20 there were also other speakers present with Mevani at JNU. Journalist Anil Chamadia urged the students not to look at incidents of atrocities as isolated incidents but within the framework of the larger design of oppression.
He said that the structure prepared in 2002, which is known as the Gujarat model, has many forms and attacks many groups, which follows the modus operandi of social boycott and burning homes. He said the court’s language and behaviour too in the case of riots and massacres is the same, and that one needs to see the similarities.
SQR Ilyas, Editor of Afkar-e-Milli, also said that the Prime Minister asking for him to be beaten up instead of the Dalits does not behove him. He said that he should have asked for crime to be punished instead of urging people to engage in violence. He then drew similarities with Modi’s statements after the Godhra incident to say that this only signals government sanction for the violence.
Writer and activist Anand Teltumbe said that the BJP does not wish to batter Dalits just like that but instead wants them to work with it for consolidation of Hindu votes. However, he added that they have got a vocabulary to marginalise the politically active by labelling them as Maoists, Naxalites, or anti-national. This is what happened with Rohith Vemula, he pointed out. Talking about the politics of beef, he drew the history of debates on cow-protection starting from the Constituent Assembly.
The 35-year-old activist was headed to Lucknow after Delhi. He told YKA in an interview that he will be touring Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Mumbai too. Another tour in Gujarat before the deadline for the rail-bloackade is also expected.