PUDR condemns the incident of flogging, stripping and parading of seven men belonging to the chamar caste by vigilante gaurakshaks on 11 July 2016 in Mota Samadhiyala village, Una taluka, Gir Somnath District Gujarat, which has brought the Brahmanical character of Hindutva cow politics and the caste character of the state to centre stage. It has been widely reported that the assault took place just outside the police station, using the lathis of the on-duty policemen.
There is a spontaneous and widespread outburst of the people across the state against this brutal attack. People have shown their anger in different forms. We support the laudable form of protest adopted by Dalit groups first in Una on 19 July, subsequently in other districts of Gujarat, which reveals the duplicity in the ‘cow politics’ of the casteist Hindutva forces. By dumping carcasses of cows outside offices of state authorities, dalit protestors are challenging the gaurakshaks, and the police machinery that supports them, to deliver on their self-proclaimed duty of protecting their holy cow.
Vigilante gaurakshak groups, who are attacking Muslims for transporting cattle allegedly for cow slaughter or allegedly possessing or eating beef, are also targeting members of Dalit communities engaged in skinning carcasses of cattle, tanning or for eating beef. Significantly and ironically these activities are mandated as Dalits ‘traditional’ occupations within Brahmanical Hinduism, and then the same Dalits are being termed as anti-Hindu for carrying out the tasks assigned to them for legitimising the attacks by the Hindutva flag bearers. With rituals of purity and pollution at its core, Brahmanical Hinduism perpetrates structural caste-based violence through division of labour, relegating ‘polluting’ tasks of skinning, disposing carcasses to Dalits, who are already landless. Labour relations around cow and cattle involve a variety of occupations including killing cattle in slaughter houses to supply the meat, or collecting carcasses of cattle that die naturally, skinning the carcasses livelihoods. All these are structured along lines of caste community, Gauraksha and beef politics, and now, under the garb of cow protection, RSS and VHP are further perpetrating the structural violence, inherent to the Indian caste system.
The recent protests against the Una incident in Gujarat in which more than 20 Dalits attempted Suicide, many vehicles were torched, highways blocked and 1 policeman died of injuries following stone pelting is the biggest Dalit movement witnessed in the state in the last 30 years, since the community had agitated for reservation in 1985. The force of the agitation has also brought to light other recent incidents of assault on Dalits by vigilante gaurakshaks in the area and other parts of the state and country. NDTV has for instance, reported a similar assault against 7 tannery workers in Rajkula, Gujarat on 22 May by gaurakshaks alleging that the Dalits had slaughtered the cow. The attack on Dalits by these vigilante groups is not confined to Gujarat but also in other parts of the Country. In Koppa in Chikkamagaluru district, Karnataka a Dalit family was attacked by Bajrang Dal members in Koppa on 24 July, over allegedly cooking beef in their house, when there is no ban on beef in the state. Significantly the police initially arrested the victims on grounds of cruelty to animals and took action against the attackers only after protests by Dalit rights groups. In Delhi, on 24 July, Hindutva supporting ‘Singh Sena’ members inflicted physical violence and verbal abuse on Dalit groups led by Youth for Buddhist India, demonstrating against the Una incident at Jantar Mantar. On 26th July, two Muslim women were slapped abused for an hour by a vigilante mob in Mandsaur Railway Station, Madhya Pradesh for possession of Beef and have been booked for lack of permit to sell the meat. The failure of the police to protect the Dalits and Muslims and act against the aggressor gauraksha groups was the common factor in all these assaults.
The protests by Dalits in Gujarat are a strong indictment of justice system of the state which has failed to provide redress against the high rates of caste atrocity. Gujarat accounts for only 2.33% of India’s Dalit population, yet ranks in the top half of country in the incidence of crimes against Dalits. As per 2013 NCRB data, only 2.5% cases registered for crimes against Dalits secured a conviction in the state, when the national average stood at 23.8%. In 2014, this was 3.5% against a national average of 28.8%. This has only recently climbed up to 6% in 2015, but continues to be weighted heavily against the victims throughout the justice chain, from the police, prosecutors and judges. This dresses atrocities with an alarming degree of impunity, such that the gaurakshaks were emboldened to shoot and circulate videos of their own crime, ironically as a ‘warning’ to others.
The Una incident and the subsequent mass protests across the state compel us to look at caste-based hierarchies, and occupational structures around the cow, that are centrally implicated in Hindutva politics, and underlie the extreme forms of violence perpetrated by vigilante cow protectors on Dalits and Muslims. The current government’s staunch endorsement of the politics of gauraksha, manifested in the blatant impunity enjoyed by such vigilante groups, reveals a serious threat to democratic rights to life with dignity and livelihood. The protests expose the fact that those who promote the ideology of Hindutva and the rhetoric of a pan-Hindu nationalism, with the cow as its symbol, stand for a fundamentally unequal, oppressive society. And when state authorities promote these the implications for democracy are indeed very grim.
1. Strict action against the gauraksha groups and ‘samitis’ under the SC & ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, and for inciting hatred against communities
2. Action against the police personnel for dereliction of duty.
3. Discontinuing all proceedings against the victims of cow protection vigilante groups, be it for possession, transport or consumption of beef, or for cruelty to animals
Secretaries, PUDR (PEOPLE’S UNION FOR DEMOCRATIC RIGHTS)