Skip to main content

Lesson from Una attack: Since everything has changed, now it’s about cows, violence

By Gagan Sethi* 
It has been about 40 years that I have been witnessing, engaging, intervening in cases of crass violence on the Dalit community in Gujarat.
People say nothing has changed, the situation has remained the same, it is still like the old times.
I have participated in hundreds of training programmes with Dalit men and women, helping them learn law, build confidence in their identity, cajole them to stand up to their rights, fight the fear instilled in them by their upper caste school teachers as also by cops ranging from low-level police constables to PSIs serving local police stations near villages. Many of our programmes collectively help them look at self- employment opportunities, so that they are not dependent on feudal landlords’ wages.
These programmes have also helped them build cooperatives of land, forestry, salt, fish, vegetables, so that they are economically better off. They have helped them trained for jobs in banks, service industry and compete in examinations of public prosecutors and Judicial Magistrate First Class (JMFC) with amazing results. I have witnessed well-known Dalit rights activists like Martin Macwan and Manjula Pradeep spend their life moving across the state to get Dalits, especially young boys and girls, to help build self-belief in themselves. For this, they would organize different types of cultural activities involving dance and theatre, even training them run their own enterprises.
And still they say nothing has changed! I refuse to believe it. My thesis is: Everything has changed.
If I go from Golana in 1986 to Una in 2016, I see both acts of crass physical violence on young Dalit men as shameless acts of barbarism.
So what has changed? Earlier the perpetrators brandished their upper caste identity and saw it as their right to kill, maim, insult Dalits whenever they felt the “need” to punish the latter for acts of belligerence. Today, the same perpetrators have to find newer political tactics of creating tension between OBCs and Dalits, since the direct exploitative tactic has changed. OBCs’ caste identity has been put aside, as their superiority is no longer accepted by the Dalits. Pushed to the wall, Dalits, along with Muslims, are now sought to be called cow killers and beef eaters; hence they are dubbed anti-Hindu and, therefore, anti-national. Hence, they should be taught a lesson. In the process, the OBCs are sought to be given a chance to “prove” that they too are Hindus.
The 2002 Gujarat carnage saw Dalits and tribals being pitted against Muslims. In fact, they were almost used as canon fodder. They were the ones whose names appeared in FIRs. While some got bail, others are still languishing. I guess they provided these “services” because they were seeking a share of economic gains in an effort to take over retail trade of meat and, at some places, liquor.
Dalits today are far more empowered than they were in the 1970s. Rural middle and upper caste men are far more vulnerable. Agriculture and allied industries are no longer lucrative, as cheap labour is not available. The carcass which the scavenger community cleans up is now finding markets directly, and the local upper caste middlemen are being bypassed. The mobile phone gets them access to Kanpur directly. This empowered confidence hurts.
Hence my thesis: The violence that one sees comes out of jealousy, it is an outrage at becoming economically weak. Indeed, acting as agents of political machinations is no more the only route to survive.
All the frustration of transiting from an agrarian land-based to a commercial entrepreneurship-based livelihood needs a higher level of education and mobility. To survive, one would need to display street smartness, too. This frustrates, and so either they commit suicide, or become violent. Little do they realize that in the process they are used as canon fodder by the ruling elite.
The cops, in the process, are often left in the role of being mute, impotent and almost helpless spectators, waiting for specific orders as to how to act safe. They know, they could be dismissed or suspended for dereliction of duty at the drop of a hat.
So what has not changed is the continued violence. But the motivation behind the violence has completely changed. Earlier, coming from a sense of caste superiority, there was a clear display of right to ownership of the Dalit body.
Today, the violent acts are one of helplessness of shattered ego,misdirected at Dalits and Muslims because of continuous indoctrination of the upper castes, OBCs, uneducated or literate but unemployable youth, by misinterpreting the role of the cow in Hindu society as something to be protected with all the resources. The fallacy is to protect the cow and you will prosper; you start losing out if they kill them.
I only wish they were given a tour of the Gau Shalas of Gujarat, with someone unraveling before them the state-politician-trader nexus in the whole game.
Isn’t it time that the Dalt leadership starts working with these youth from the earlier upper castes? After all, they are becoming increasingly vulnerable. Shouldn’t one help them see their state in what is described in the Frerian language “false consciousness”? In return, all that the Dalit leadership should do it to ask them to come to have a cup of tea in a scavenger’s house!

Founder, Janvikas, Ahmedabad

Comments

TRENDING

There is need to distinguish between RT-PCR positives and clinical cases of Covid-19

Insisting on the need to distinguish between RT-PCR positives and clinical cases of Covid-19, an open letter by 20 doctors and medical professionals: *** Firstly the virus has gone through the Indian population enough and is now well established as an endemic infection which shall keep causing flu like illness in only few people as most will not even develop severe symptoms. The ICMR had already called for the suspension of testing anyone not having any symptoms (Jan 2022). Children have been shown to tackle the virus much easier than adults. Children also do not pass Covid infection to others that easily as adults do to children. Schools have opened and no single outbreak or incidences of severe disease have been documented. Therefore healthy children must not be tested for Covid anymore unless the treating doctor in hospitalised cases requires it. Calling people (children or adults) with RT-PCR positive report as “cases” is faulty. A “case” is a person who has disease and presents wi

Musician and follower of Dr Ambedkar? A top voilinist has this rare combination!

Some time back, a human rights defender, Vidya Bhushan Rawat, who frequently writes for Counterview, forwarded to me a video interview with Guru Prabhakar Dhakade, calling him one of India's well known violinists.  Dhakade is based in Nagpur and has devoted his life for the Hindustani classical music. A number of his disciples have now been part of Hindi cinema world in Mumbai, says Rawat. He has performed live in various parts of the country as well as abroad. What however attracted me was Dhakade's assertions in video about Dr BR Ambedkar, India's undisputed Dalit icon. Recorded several years back at his residence and music school in Nagpur, Dhakade not only speaks candidly about issues he faced, but that he is a believer in Dr Ambedkar's philosophy. It is in this context that Dhakade narrates his problems, even as stating that he is determined to achieve his goal. A violinist and a follower of Ambedkar? This was new to me. Rarely do musicians are found to take a

Define Dalit not by caste but action, belief; include all who oppose inequality

By Ajaz Ashraf* Dalit rights leader Martin Macwan’s endeavour has been to redefine the term Dalit and delink it from caste, best exemplified by the headline to this interview. An academician of repute, he financed his studies by working as wage labour. During his college days, he joined a group of non-Dalit intellectuals, comprising a professor each from the Christian, Parsi, Muslim and upper caste Hindu communities, to work with Dalits. Their work invited a backlash. On 25 January 1986, the reactionary landlords of the Darbar community in Golana village, Anand district, gunned down four of his colleagues, wounded another 18 and set houses on fire. This prompted Macwan to establish the Navsarjan Trust, which aims to skill Dalits and expand their consciousness regarding the systemic oppression of which they are principal victims. On 25 January 2002, on the anniversary of the Golana massacre , he led a march through rural Gujarat. His experience of the march had him write a book wherein