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A Dalit Asmita Yatra was taken out in Guajrat by the Una Dalit Atyachar LadatSamiti from Ahmedabad to Una, where the obnoxious incident took place on July 8 when some Dalits were beaten for skinning dead cows, between July 31 and August 15, 2016. Symbolically, on the Independence Day the Dalits demanded that they must be freed from the task of disposal of cattle carcasses and instead they should be given land so that they may survive by doing agriculture, in any case a more respectable vocation than what they have been traditionally doing. Any landless Dalit is in any case entitled to receive land from the panchayat. Essentially the demand is to implement the provision in law for Dalit. Even in cases from around the country where Dalits have been given land titles by Panchayats they are not able to take control of their land sometimes. Encroachment over Dalit land is a fairly common problem. The police and administration tend to favour the powerful upper caste people who encroach upon the land of Dalits, just like they did in the Una incident.
Dr. B.R. Ambedkar was for nationalization of land. As land reforms have not taken place in spite of the implementation of land ceiling law and the people fear that any surplus land will be given to private corporations rather than landless labourers, it may not be a bad idea to revive the call for nationalization of land given by Dr.Ambedkar. There should be a way of more equitable use of land. This will give Dalits the opportunity to give up vocations which are inhuman.
The young convenor of the Samiti Jignesh Mevani says that he doesn’t want it to just remain a Dalit movement. He would like to invite other progressive forces to join this movement for emancipation of Dalits. He invokes Shaheed Bhagat Singh also in his speeches. There is appeal for promoting inter-caste and interfaith marriages and also to strengthen Dalit-Muslim unity as Muslims too have been at the receiving end of the cow protection campaign. In fact, so long as it was only Muslims getting killed or attacked by cow vigilante groups the Prime Minister kept quiet. It was only when the Una incident received bad publicity and threatened the electoral prospects of BJP in forthcoming elections in Punjab and UP, that Narendra Modi in quite an unexpected about turn came down heavily upon these groups.
However, the PM’s outburst doesn’t seem to have had any affect on the cow vigilante groups. Hindu Jagarana Vedike has killed Praveen Poojary, interestingly a BJP worker, who was accused of carrying cattle in a vehicle for slaughter house. So, it appears that PM’s apparent anger was more for public consumption than actually intended to stop such incidents. In any case Vishwa Hindu Parishad and other Hindutva groups have condemned PM’s accusation that 80% of cow vigilantes are anti-social elements by the night. It certianly cannot be denied that they take law into their own hands. The faith seems to be given more importance than our Constitution.
The Dalit Asmita Yatra received good response in Gujarat and has given a platform to Dalits for assertion of their rights. The method of protest they have chosen, of abandoning the cattle carcasses, reflects the agony of their profession. Earlier Dalits are known to have given up this task in 19 villages of Mehsana district of Gujarat. Unless they give up these menial jobs their children will not be able to go to schools and generation after generation they’ll remain in same tradition.
Now it is up to the class which is the consumer of leather items to worry about how they would remove the skin of dead cattle so that it may be used by leather industry. The cow vigilante groups have also protested against the use of cow leather for making various items. With the Dalits in Gujarat having resolved on a big scale not to skin dead animals, it has already become a problem for the government there. It is thinking of employing machines to perform the task and dispose of the dead body. The leather industry may be under serious threat because of the misplaced enthusiam of the cow vigilantes and a right wing government not too keen to suppress the ‘Hindu’ sentiment.
In any case, a number of humiliating tasks which are performed by Dalits including getting down into sewer lines to clean them should have been mechanised long back. Just as this Yatra was to end in Una news came in of four people dying in Madhapur in Hyderabad because of suffocation when they had entered a manhole to clean it. It is really shameful that in the era of modernisation when most inhuman tasks involving drudgery are being mechanised, we still make live human beings enter the hell which is sewer line. This is another task that the Dalits must be freed from.
It is only when the Dalits are freed from the inhuman tasks that it will give a chance to Dalit children to think about a more respectable future for themselves by adopting alternative careers after getting educated. Wherever Dalit families have got a chance they have left such humiliating professions. But the problem is that most Dalits engaged in menial tasks live in conditions of poverty which don’t allow them to unshackle from their situation. Even a Free and Compulsory Right to Education Act, which got implemented in the country in 2009, is not able to pull all their children out and get them admitted to schools. When 23 Valmiki, community which is traditionally involved in sanitation work, children were to be admitted along with another 8 Muslim children to the prestigious City Montessori School in Lucknow last year under the RTE, it opposed their entry tooth and nail. Only by a Court order 13 Valmiki children got admitted to the school in 2015. The school again wanted them out in the current academic year. The Supreme Court has reprimanded it for this. The elite class has made the life of children of sanitation workers miserable, humiliating them on every step.

By Sandeep Pandey
Vice President, Socialist Party (India)
A-893, Indira Nagar, Lucknow-226016
Ph: 0522 2347365, M: 9415022772
e-mail: ashaashram@yahoo.com

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