Gujarat Dalit leaders on Sunday asked the government to give them firearms in view of atrocities by Hindu activists as thousands of Dalits pledged not to lift carcasses from the streets.
The mass pledge was taken at a rally called by as many as 30 Dalit groups from across Gujarat and backed by the quasi religious body, Jamiat-e-Ulema-Hind.
Three Muslim leaders from Ahmedabad attended the rally and sat on the podium. Many Muslim activists could be seen in the rally.
The state “must provide us licensed firearms to protect ourselves since the government has failed to provide us security”, said Jignesh Mevani, convenor of the joint front of 30 Dalit organizations.
“We have had enough. We will break their hands and legs if upper caste exploiters torture us any more,” he asserted.
The government should also help Dalits learn martial arts, he felt.
Referring to the controversial 2012 police attack on Dalits that killed three persons in the Dhangad area of Surendranagar, speakers at the rally complained that nothing can be expected from a government that has not even filed a chargesheet. Family members of the three were present.
They demanded that the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act should be invoked against the culprits in the July 11 thrashing of Dalit youths by self-proclaimed cow vigilantes for skinning of dead cows in Una.
This is the first time in Gujarat that as many as 30 Dalit groups from across the state have come together to raise a plethora of issues facing the community for decades.
They have rallied under the banner of ‘Una Dalit Atyachar Ladat Samiti’ (Una Dalit Fight against Atrocities Committee), with Mevani as the convenor.
Mevani is a young lawyer who has been single-handedly fighting several court battles for the Dalits.
Although the Acher ST Depot ground here can accommodate only about 5,000 people, the venue was swelling by noon, with thousands taking up every inch of space available in the vicinity.
Organisers said the show of strength was meant to protest against what they said were growing atrocities against the community in Gujarat.
Speakers released a charter of demands for Chief Minister Anandiben Patel including action against everyone who was even tacitly involved in the July 11 incident.
They also sought alternate employment to Dalits who give up the “undignified” job of skinning dead animals and safai karmacharis engaged in the “inhuman” job of manual scavenging.
This is besides providing housing units to Dalits in the urban areas because they are even today “socially boycotted, discriminated against and exploited socially, economically and sexually in villages”.
The organisers said they kept the political parties at bay at the rally as all of them exploited them for narrow political gains.
One speaker said “bangles and ghaghras” should be couriered to Dalit MLAs and MPs to denounce their apathy towards the community’s cause.