Una taluka of the Gir Somnath district in Gujarat is notorious for the violence against the Dalits. Most of them actually are landless and work as farm labours. It is this economic dependence that keep them tied to the oppression. This model of dependence on the Savarna kept flourishing and any attempt to empower Dalits in the rural Gujarat is met with stiff resistance.
On July 11th, 2016, a mob of over 45 persons mostly belonging to the oppressive Brahmins, Patel, Darbar, Aheer castes attacked a family of Dalit community in village Mota Samadhiyala. The family was actually skinning the Caracas of a dead cow which has been the traditional occupation of Sarvaiyas of the village, about 350 kilometers from Ahmedabad city. The terrorists, who claimed that they were doing all this to ‘protect’ cows and claimed to be ‘cow protectors’ or ‘Gausevaks’, a very similar religious police in the other theocratic countries. The Thugs in the name of Hindutva blamed that these people had killed cows, which was prohibited legally and then they decided to ‘teach’ them a lesson. Vasram, Ramesh, Ashok, Bechanbhai and three others were brutally flogged in full public view and when they fell unconscious, they were tied to an SUV and dragged to the street of Una, with crowd, making videos and just standing as onlookers, many appreciating and participated in the flogging. Vashram, his brother, cousins and his parents, all were beaten up mercilessly. They fell unconscious but the people were enjoying their flogging and making videos and no one attempted to stop that. Most of the perpetrators were Brahmins, Patels, /Aheers, Kolis but most of them have got bailed. 6 accused in the jail now are Brahmins.
As the video became viral, Una incident reached all over the world and exposed the hidden apartheid that exists in India. It also revealed the dirty realities of the village in Gujarat and how the Hindutva terror agents were targeting the Dalits in the villages of Gujarat in the name of cow protection. Political leaders went there and express solidarity. Right from Rahul Gandhi to BSP leader Mayawati, all expressed solidarity with them. Even Anandi Ben Patel, the then chief minister of Gujarat visited them and promised fullest support. A new Dalit leadership also emerged from the Una flogging incident. As the Dalit groups were uniting, a young dynamic speaker Jignesh Mewani became voice of the community and attracted attention of all those who felt that the time of the youthful Dalit face who can influence Indian politics has finally emerged. The imagination of the group was that along with Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid and Chandrasekhar Azad, Jignesh Mewani will be the new force against the Hindutva. I would not like to speculate on anything except for the fact that these emerging leaders need more focus on the ground and less on ‘event management’ things.
Una’s Dalit fighters were left to fight their battle alone. No politician including Jignesh Mewani visited them ever, said Vashram, who is fighting for justice day in and out. We are frustrated with politicians as they don’t anything. Vashram wrote a letter to the President of India to deport the family out of India as they don’t know what is citizenship as they still face the huge boycott. The villagers don’t talk to them.
After much fight a special court was formed for the trial but on July 23rd, 2019, the Public Prosecutor Deependra Yadav wanted to withdrew citing lack of security to all including witnesses. 43 accused were charge sheeted in which 35 have already got bail from the Gujarat High Court emboldening them that they can do anything and law can’t really trace them. Six accused are in police custody at the moment. Prime accused was already got bail from the court while one police men accused of dereliction of duty died. Most of the accused belong to Darbar community who are the most violent against Dalits in the Saurashtra region, apart from Kolis and other landed communities.
The police filed cases against accused under sections 307 (attempt to murder), 397, Robbery, 365 Kidnapping, 342 wrongful confinement, 147 Rioting, 324 Causing hurt, 120B, criminal conspiracy. There are other sections related to Information Technology Act as the accused made video and circulated it widely. The aim of the accused was open challenge to the Dalits that if they have to live in the village, they will have to live as per the fancies of these Gau-thugs who don’t care for the constitution of India. The family of the victimized and tortured has not got any justice. The government promised five acres of land to them but nothing happened. There was many other promises particularly related to their safety yet nothing happened. Most of the goons are already on bails while false cases have been filed against Dalits who participated in the protests demanding justice for the victims. The family of the victims is actually facing all kind of harassment even to fight the case as their major demands have not been accepted. Except for the compensation, they have not got anything and in the absence of any viable employment, the family is suffering and is now frustrated with all kind of efforts to scuttle the justice. According to a report in the Indian Express on November 28th, 2018, under headline : Una Dalit seek mercy killing : write to President say Government did not fulfill promises.
“Our case is being heard by a court in Veraval. Despite our plea to the state home department, neither we nor the witnesses have been given armed police protection. Nor are police arranging any vehicles for ferrying witnesses to the court. On the other hand, the accused are getting bail. They are violating their bail conditions and indulging in other offences. Despite all this, the state government has done nothing to get bail of such people cancelled. So, the state government has failed to meet our demands. Our lives have become miserable now. We do not want to live longer and hence are seeking permission for mercy killing,” Vashram, who has studied till Class X, wrote.
Nothing happened and the suffering the family continued. They lost what they were doing earlier i.e. skinning of the dead cows which used to fetch them good money but now that too is gone. Vashram tells me that they are not capable of doing any other work as because of heavy flogging, all of them have health issues. The government did not even give them enough treatment. After the incident, the government had promised that all of them will get 5 acres of land and housing and job but nothing is there. Out of 25 families of the Dalit community in that village only 15 have been given land which does not include this family of Vashram who converted to Buddhism along with other members of the community but he says that still they are considered as untouchable in the village. The change of religion has not change the attitude of the people in his village so far.
He was not aware of Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar but after the brutal assault on them, he started reading about Dr Ambedkar and his work. Now, Vashram feel that Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar has become part of his life as he only has given them strength and confident to fight despite all kind of betrayal.
The biggest irony is that the government and the authorities working under it are supposed to protect constitution and work according to it but what is happening in Gujarat is that the officers are hand in glove with the caste forces and that is why most of those who attack the Dalits and socially boycott them remain untouched. Even if they happened to be arrested for some time, there are enough members of their fraternity in the legal profession who are ready to fight their cases and get them bail. Can you imagine, 35 out of 41 accused are already on bail. The main accused too is out on bail. What can you expect from the lower court when the high court is acting so fast? The government did not challenge the high court order in the Supreme Court? That has proved dangerous as the victim’s family are facing threat and social boycott continues. They don’t have anything to work and no money to survive now.
This absolute isolation and boycott which Gujaratis have got expert in have created a potentially dangerous situation. Vashram who is married and unemployed but determined to fight his case, has written again to the President of India ( I don’t know why so much of hope when no response came from their earlier letter written in 2018 about mercy killing) asking him to deport these victims to other country as they don’t feel they are being treated as citizens in this country.‘ We are not considered as citizen in India. Dalits are discriminated against in the Hindu Community. So, we request President Ramnath kovind to send us to a different country where we won’t face discrimination’. Vashram Sarvaiya, Victim. He is further quoted in the Quint that, ‘There has been no action taken against those who beat us up in 2016. The perpetrators are out on bail. We were promised agricultural land, plots but none of them have been kept.” He also said, “Anandiben Patel, who was the then CM of Gujarat and is now the Uttar Pradesh governor had visited us in 2016 and had promised jobs. She had said she will visit us again in a month. But neither did she come nor did she give us any jobs.”
Gujarat’s model of Dalit oppression is now being followed elsewhere too. This is the saddest aspect that the government has not been very forthcoming to support the Dalits. The biggest violence is the social violence where the government institutions are only failing and adding miseries to the victims. Una case also highlight the issues as how we jump up and look towards ‘heros’ who emerge from some campaign and then forget their own people. It is also a reality heroes come and go but the people have to fight their own battle. Politics, they say, is good for all and empower us but it is the grim reality that people are just victimized by the ambitious politicians and once the issue is used the people are left to fetch themselves. We all take the name of Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar but fact is this could not have happened if those who benefitted politically from Una incident had taken pain to be with people and fought for their rights.
More than three years have passed and nothing has happened on the justice front. The pain and anguish is too big to write here. When I met Vashram, I realized how barbaric the system is which perpetuate the oppression and does not care as if some people are born to get the pain and oppression. It is time, that Supreme Court and our national parliament if it really cares, come out against serious measures on such issues of social boycott. Una case is a blot but what is bigger blot to our system is that the victims are left to fetch themselves, they are feeling deeply disappointed and betrayed while those accused and the perpetrators of this crime are now roaming free and their release has not been challenged. It shows clearly how the government function in double speak as on the one side it claim to work for the uplift of the Dalits and on the other side, it refuses to act against the dominant casteist communities who violate law of the land. In the 70th year of our Republic, this is the biggest betrayal to the ideals of the founding fathers of our republic who worked so hard to give us modern nation but the Manuwadis are determined to convert it back to their ‘dream project’ of hierarchical society based on principles of caste system. It is a wakeup call. We must do whatever possible to expose the sinister caste forces working in Gujarat denying Dalits their dignity and self-respect. We hope our friends in Gujarat will take up this issue to the Supreme Court and fight against this bail order to terror accused of Una. During my recent visit to Ahmedabad, I had an opportunity to speak to young Vashram, who was tortured brutally along with his brothers and cousins on July 11th, 2016 in Una. Vashram is not well. He can’t do hard work as because of the flogging, he and his family now have health issues. In 2019 he sat on 56 days Dharana but the Government is not ready to give them land, not ready to listen. The dominant community here is Patel and Koli. People are trying to use OBCs against Dalits and this is the conspiracy says, Vashram. We want caste discrimination end. We want rule of the constitution. We want discrimination end here. Government must give them justice. People are roaming here and there but they have not got justice. I will follow Baba Saheb lifelong.
Initially, I did not know how to speak to a police man but now I have learnt. How can you speak to an officer, or a police? Now Ambedkarite movement has given me understanding. We have embraced Buddhism in 2017 but the Manuwadi government has not given our document. We have got certificate given by Bhartiya Baudh Mahasabha but the government is not ready to accept. People are not ready to accept us as they don’t want to get away with caste system. We embrace this in 2017 along with 300 Dalit families and that time they were threatened and attacked but the court is a slow process and it look so difficult and will take minimum two years.
Listen to my conversation with Vashram, who still is hopeful despite all the despair. We hope that he and his family will get justice.
Interview with Vashram : Part I
Interview with Vashram : Part II
By Vidya Bhushan Rawat