Thousands of Dalits gathered in Ahmedabad on Sunday to protest against the flogging of a Dalit family by self-styled cow vigilantes for skinning a dead cow in Una on July 11.
Community leaders urged Dalits to stop disposing animal carcasses and cleaning sewers in an attempt to "send a strong message" to the state government that the Dalit community demands strict measures to tackle violence against them. The community has put the BJP government on notice ahead of the assembly polls scheduled in 2017.
"To give a strong message to the government, I urge all Dalits to discontinue the work of disposing dead animals... (and) cleaning sewer lines. We no longer wish to do this work and want the government to allot agriculture land to us, so that we can live a respectable life... If atrocities on Dalits do not stop, we will show our strength in the 2017 assembly polls," Jignesh Mevani, the convenor of UDALS, was quoted by the Indian Express as saying.
The community will also march from Ahmedabad to Una between Aug 5 and Aug 15 to "feel independence" there. The proposal for the march came from Dalit activist and former Gujarat cadre IPS officer Rahul Sharma.
"Let us have a march from Ahmedabad to Una and feel independence at Una on August 15. I am ready. This social awakening should not be limited to this sammelan," Sharma was quoted by the daily as saying.
The Dalit Maha Sammelan, which was organised by the Una Dalit Atyachar Ladat Samiti (UDALS) in Ahmedabad's Sabarmati area, raised various pending issues. One of them was the murder of three Dalit youths in 2012 in Surendranagar district's Thangadh area. Valji Rathod, the father of one of the deceased youths, announced that he would sit on a hunger strike in Gandhinagar from Monday.
"This government believes in Daliton ka Utpidan, Daliton ka Vinash (persecution and annihilation of Dalits) and not in Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas... I want to ask Rajnathji, if during his governance in Gujarat (between 2001 and 2014), did Modi visit a single Dalit family of Gujarat which faced atrocity? If the answer is yes, we will wind up our protest programme," he was quoted by the IE as saying, while referring to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh's statement that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was upset over the Una incident.
Mevani, in his address to the crowd, raised legal and constitutional Dalit issues that have not yet been resolved such as enactment of Reservation Act to fill the backlog of reserved vacancies, absence of criminal courts for trial of cases of violence against Dalits, criminal prosecution of Una police officers for negligence in the recent case, utilisation of funds under the Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) sub-plan through enactment of a special legislation, actual allocation of surplus land to landless Dalits under the Agriculture Land Ceiling Act.
Mevani also demanded the withdrawal of criminal cases against Dalits and also an apology from the state government for withdrawal of a book on Dr. BR Ambedkar.
Family members of the Thangadh and Una incident victims also addressed the gathering. Several veteran Dalit activists and Muslim youths were also present to show support for Dalit-Muslim unity.