For the last three days, Gujarat’s Dalit community has been seething with anger over the public flogging of a group of Dalits who were skinning a dead cow in Mota Samadhiyala, a village near Una town in Saurashtra region on July 11.
Four of them were brutally beaten with steel pipes and iron rods, stripped, tied to an SUV and paraded in the main market near the local police station in Una by members of local cow vigilante group Gau Raksha Samiti (cow protection committee). The flogging was filmed, posted on Facebook as warning to other Dalits were they to repeat such acts.
The video went viral, filling the community with anger and led to an eruption of protests across the State in which more than 20 attempted suicide, dozens of vehicles were torched or vandalised, highways blocked and one policeman died of injuries sustained during stone-pelting.
What transpired at Una was only the latest atrocity on the Scheduled Castes, which form around 7.5 per cent of the population in the State.
Earlier in July, a Dalit farmer was killed by villagers when he tried to cultivate a common grazing land in a village near Porbandar. Only in April this year, a 31-year-old Dalit — Ketan Koradia, a clerk in a local court in Ahmedabad — committed suicide, alleging discrimination in the work place where he had constantly faced caste abuses.
According to leading social activist Martin Macwan, whose organisation Navsarjan Trust is the largest Dalit body and which works in 3,000 villages in the State, Dalits face rampant discrimination at all levels in Gujarat.
“Most of them [Dalits] are not allowed entry into temples in villages. They have their own crematoriums because upper castes don’t allow Dalits to be cremated in common crematoriums,” Mr. Macwan said.
In 2012, three Dalit youth were killed in police firing in Thangarh town of Surendranagar district. The State government, headed by the then Chief Minister Narendra Modi, had set up a three-member committee to inquire into the incident and submit a report. Till date, the government has not made the report public.
According to Mr. Macwan, atrocities against Dalits in Gujarat are committed “with impunity”. However, there is one difference this time.
“Social media has made the difference and for the first time after 1985, Gujarat is witnessing such a strong protest by the Dalit community in the State,” said Ashok Srimali, a leading activist in Ahmedabad.
In 1985, during the anti-reservation riots, Dalits had protested across the State for several days.