In another incident of violence against Dalits in Gujarat, a 30-year-old ragpicker Mukesh Vaniya was tied up and beaten to death by heavy iron rods on Sunday in Rajkot. Five people have been arrested on charges of his murder. One of them is a minor and another a factory owner.
There are conflicting reports on why Mukesh was beaten up using iron rods. According to a report in the Hindustan Times, his wife Jaya, who was also allegedly beaten up, said, “Seeing us around the factory, they (the accused workers) inquired about our caste. When we said we are chamar (Dalit), they asked us to clear the garbage to which we refused.”
However, according to a report in The Hindu, he was beaten up since he was mistaken to be a thief.
Whatever may be the case, one aspect which has been reported same everywhere is the fact that he belonged to the Scheduled Caste community. Jignesh Mevani tweeted the video of the incident. He went on to say that this incident was even more ‘gruesome’ than that of the Una incident, where four Dalit men were flogged by self-proclaimed gau rakshaks in July 2016. He wrote on Facebook, “This is a far more gruesome incident than [that in] Una. In Una, the victims were beaten up and humiliated. Whereas, here a man lost his life amidst caste violence. The government of Gujarat has still not learned from its past mistake.”
Gujarat, like every other state in the country, has a past and present of discrimination and violence against the Dalit community. Majority of the Dalit farmers in Gujarat are landless. In as many as 16 districts of Gujarat, over 80% of farmers are classified as ‘agricultural labourers’ – farmers who work for wages on the land of others.
The Dalits are not just economically marginalised. There are also at the receiving end of violence which puts their lives at risk in Gujarat.
In March, a 21-year-old Dalit man was allegedly killed in Umrala, Gujarat by upper caste men for riding a horse in his village. In October 2017, a Dalit youth was allegedly killed for watching garba in Bhadraniya, Gujarat.
While Dalit violence is an unfortunate reality in contemporary India, Gujarat has particularly been in the news for both the violence and a spirited grassroots movement which erupted in the state two years ago.
It all began after a video went viral of four Dalit youths being thrashed by gau rakshaks after being tied to an SUV in front of a group of onlookers in Una, Gujarat. The violent incident took place on July 11, 2016. They were accused of being involved in cow slaughter, even though they were just in possession of the carcasses of a cow for skinning purposes. It is an occupation which many people belonging to the Dalit community are engaged in.
The incident was followed by large-scale protests all over central Gujarat. Dalit protesters attempted suicide, buses were torched and there were long marches. As a sign of protest, some people from the Dalit community also dumped carcasses of cows on the streets. Even though the Scheduled Caste community is just 6.74% of the total population in the state, its movement succeeded in creating enormous pressure on the Gujarat government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi was forced to condemn the actions of the gau rakshaks.
Then chief minister of Gujarat Anandiben Patel also resigned in early August, with the Dalit protests fresh in memory. Even though she never disclosed the reasons for her abrupt resignation as the Gujarat CM, it was widely believed that she was under pressure following such a huge protest which had rocked the state.
The movement which began due to the incident in Una district ended up giving rise to Jignesh Mevani. He would eventually go on to become an independent MLA from Vadgam constituency in Gujarat in December 2017. Today, after Mayawati, he is arguably the most popular Dalit politician in the country whose presence in national level politics is also felt.
Even though Jignesh Mevani has termed this incident more ‘gruesome’ than the one that transpired in Una, we have to wait and see if this results in similar kind of protests in the state. However, one thing is very clear. This generation of Dalits will not take such inhuman oppression lying down. By showing resistance on the streets to sitting in legislative assemblies, they shall do whatever the circumstances require.