The atrocities of alleged cow protectors in India reached a flash point July 11 when a group of Dalit youth skinning a dead cow — doing their job — in Una in Gujarat’s Gir Somnath district were brutally
beaten up by a band of vigilante gau rakshaks or cow protectors.
While many tried to call the police as the brutal beating
took place the police didn’t respond.
Action was only taken after a video showing the Dalits tied
to a car and being beaten with
iron rods and sticks went viral on
social media platforms. Gujarat’s
Chief Secretary G R Aloria later
said that it was in fact the accused
who had recorded the incident for
fun and uploaded it as a show of
bravado, The Indian Express
Though some of the accused
were arrested, the incident brought about a spontaneous and historic unity and rebellion among
the Dalits in Gujarat.
The protests that spread to several parts of Gujarat were two-pronged.
On one hand were the shutdowns and violence with roads
being blocked, stones being pelted and damage of vehicles.
On the other side was the innovative decision of some Dalits to
no longer clear away dead cows,
leaving dead bovines rotting on
the streets for the upper castes,
who call themselves cow worship-pers and protectors, to clear them
Jignesh Mewani, a social activist working for the land rights
of Dalits in Gujarat, spoke to Syed
Firdaus Ashraf/India Abroad
about the violence and the underlying issues behind the violence
What is happening in Gujarat?
Why is there so much Dalit anger?
We all know that every village in
India is affected by caste. After
the rise of Hindutva forces in
Gujarat, Manuwadi and Brahm-anvaad forces have started systematically targeting and brutalizing Dalits and Muslims.
This started happening more
often during Narendra Modi’s
regime. This issue was always on the boil and only waiting for
a trigger, which has happened now.
In Una two years ago, one Dalit boy was burned to death.
Therefore, all these things were on the boil and this has led to
the violence now.
Why blame Modi? He hasn’t been in Gujarat for two years.
It is basically about the model, the design of governance.
Dalits have been asking for justice, but there is none for them. Rajnath Singh, the home minister, said they will ask the
CID (Crime Investigation Department) to probe the Una
crime. CID has investigated several atrocities against Dalits
in Gujarat, but what has been the outcome? Zero.
The rate of conviction is 3 to 7 percent. If 100 cases were
registered for atrocities against Dalits, justice has been served
in only in 3 to 7 cases.
So, what kind of governance model is this?
Rajnath Singh also said that these cases in Una will be tried
in a special court, but in reality there is not a single special
court as per the provisions in the Scheduled Castes and Tribes
(Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, in any of the Gujarat districts.
So, there was anger in the minds of the Dalits, which has
now spilled out on the roads of Gujarat.
What harm do these ‘gau rakshak sevaks’ (cow vigilantes)
perpetrate against Dalits in Gujarat?
‘Gau Rakshak’ groups are fearless. They know that if they
use the issue of ‘gau mata,’ the police won’t touch them. They
are openly beating Dalits and circulating videos on social
media because they know that no one will touch them. They
are brutally beating Muslims and Dalits (in Gujarat) openly.
How many cases have been filed against these cow vigilantes
for atrocities against Dalits? Are there any statistics?
There are no statistics as such. However, a trend has emerged in the last four to five years that show that these cow
vigilantes, who used to target Muslims, are now even targeting Dalits.
What is the reason? Why Dalits?
It is more about politics. For four years, the BJP (Bharatiya
Janata Party) spoke of development, growth and progress,
but with the elections around the corner, they will take up the
issue of ‘gau mata.’
They will start circulating videos on social media that cows
are being slaughtered and ferried. That is their politics. They
have always been doing this.
This time, these gau rakshaks thought that they will
score politically in Una and get away easily, but this has
become a big issue now. The media too has gone after them
and has started putting pressure, otherwise the gau rakshaks
and BJP have always been targeting Muslims and Dalits.
What is the socio-economic condition of Dalits in Gujarat?
Dalits are in a pathetic condition as far as their socio-eco-
nomic condition is concerned in Gujarat.
They are all landless. Thousands of acres of land have been
allotted and granted to Dalits all over Gujarat, but that is only
on paper. Physical possession has not happened till date.
The land which has been given to Dalits is occupied by
dominant castes and that is an offence under the Scheduled
Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 and
not a single case has been registered.
There are over 100,000 sanitation workers in rural Gujarat
who are Dalits. They are not
even given minimum wages.
But, why now? Why have
Dalits come out to protest now?
Their anger has been simmering. These videos now circulating have served as an impetus
for them to come out and
protest. This has been spontaneous, not organized.
What is the population of
Dalits in Gujarat?
Dalits make up 7 percent of
the population in Gujarat. Of all
the Dalits in Gujarat, only 7 percent of them work in government jobs through reservation.
The rest work as industrial
workers in urban areas or landless farming laborers.
These landless farming laborers are compelled to skin dead
cows. Even if that is not their
choice, they are compelled to do
it. If Dalits refuse to skin the
dead cattle, then they are socially boycotted.
Dr Ambedkar stated very cl-
early that Dalits must give up
the job of skinning dead cows.
Why are they still doing this?
I’ve two points to make. Those
who do it with the purpose of
business and making money, I
would not recommend them to
get out (of the business). They
are doing it by choice.
There is a second kind of
group — some Dalits are doing
this business of caste system.
They must get out of this. Now
assume that if they want to get
out of this work, what is the
I suggest to the government of
Gujarat that they must give government land grants to the
Dalits. If this had been done earlier, many Dalits would not be in this profession.
What happens to the dead cows if Dalits refuse to skin
Dalits are compelled to do that work. If they do not do it,
they will be socially boycotted.
Does the government have any plans in place for the dead
cows and their disposal?
The government has no such plan. My suggestion to the
government is that the Dalits must get alternative employment, so that they not be compelled to do this job. And if people who are forcing them to do it, then they should be
charged under the Atrocities Act.
But who will do the work? Somebody has to skin dead cows.
Lots of people pose this question that if Dalits don’t do it,
who will? I think that society as a whole needs to think about
Secondly, you have to value the Dalit laborer’s dignity.
Thirdly, this work has to be done more professionally and if
that is done, then people from other castes and religion too
will come and do this job.
Why should only Dalits do this job?
‘GAU RAKSHAKS ARE SYSTEMATICALLY TARGETING DALITS, MUSLIMS’
Dalit protests continue to spill onto the streets of Gujarat, July 20, after the public flogging of four Dalits July 11 for skinning a cow. AMI T DAVE/REU TERS