The Dalit march from Ahmedabad to Una has emerged as an important social revolt of the Dalits in Gujarat.This mass up-surgence is challenging the very base of the caste system. It is questioning the logic of division of work based on clean and unclean tasks among upper castes and Dalits respectively. On the basis of this division of labor, traditionally Dalits were expected to perform “unclean” tasks such as disposing of dead cattle, cleaning of drains, disposing of faces from dry toilets and open drains, disposing waste and tending to funeral pyres. Upper castes are considered to be natural inheritors of “clean” tasks.Based on this division between ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ tasks, practice of untouchability prevails in different forms. The different forms of untouchability has been recorded by Navsarjan an organization working on human rights issues of Dalits in Gujarat.
The policies followed in post independent India has hardly targeted at breaking the economic base of this structure. Only a Social movement which not only challenges the social discrimination and inequities based on caste, but goes beyond it to set agendas to break the base of the economic structure was required. Hence agendas beyond social discrimination and better representation in employment and education were a need of the hour. The Dalit protests in Una have to some extent tried to accommodate such agendas.
The trigger for the movement was the violence inflicted on four Dalits in Una by Gau Rakshaks. This was a humiliating act and deeply hurt the self respect and dignity of Dalits. What emerged as a result was the current protest. In this march, Dalits swore not to dispose of Dead cattle or undertake sanitation work. The dead cows have been left to rot only to be taken care by upper caste.
In this march covering 350 kilometers Dalits from all walks of life joined the protest movement. Social activists from other movements also joined the protests. Muslims too extended their support.
While the movement at its starthad its base in caste atrocities and caste based oppression, the movement has potential to go beyond the agenda of social discrimination and atrocities. It is creating new set of demands as reflected in the slogans “Keep cow’s tail with you, give us our land”; “Keep your communal agenda with yourself, provide us with progressive land reforms”; “provide us five acres of land”. The protests also provided a Dalit critique of Gujarat model as reflected in the statement of Jignesh Mevani, convener of Una Dalit Atyachar Ladat Samiti“People are in distress out of your Gujarat model”. The protests openly opposed communal agenda and called for land distributionto the landless. By rejecting communal agenda, it clearly sent out a message that Dalits cannot be treated as instruments for implementing communal agenda. Dalits by vowing not to take up unclean tasks and calling for land reforms are setting the agenda for achieving greater social and economic equality.
The Dalit protests are only further exposing the hollowness of ‘Gujarat model’. It only shows how the myth of ‘vibrant Gujarat’ meant little for Dalits. This was a model built up by forces of social reaction that were out to push fascist agenda. With the reality of Hindutva exposed, Dalits are moving away from saffron forces. The movement is creating a growing unity of Muslims and Dalits in their fight against Hindutva agenda. The accommodation of some of the radical agendas like land distribution provides it further strength. From a movement to fight caste atrocities it needs to grow further into a movement for social transformation.
T. Navin works with an NGO as a Researcher. He did his M. Phil from Jawaharlal Nehru University.