Dalits in Gujarat make only 7% of the total population, but they are surely giving the Gujarat BJP and Narendra Modi a lot of sleepless nights. Since the flogging incident in Una, not a single BJP leader, state level or national level has been able to contain the anger of the Dalit community.
A group of Dalits were publicly flogged by self proclaimed Gau rakshaks while they were just doing their job. A lot of Dalits are engaged in the work of disposing carcasses of cattle from the streets of rural Gujarat. Getting flogged publicly for doing your job? To add insult to this injury, we have an indifferent state administration and police. Gujarati Dalit & land rights activist Jignesh Mewani led a rally of Dalits from Ahmedabad to Una, where Dalits swore to stop picking dead animal carcasses from the street of Gujarat. Now all Dalits in every village, town & district of Gujarat have refused to do this task which is important for keeping the surroundings clean.
The incident gained such a lot of attention nationally that Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi was forced to make not one but two statements in this regard. The movement, Una Dalit Atyachar Ladat Samiti (UDALS), has been underscored as a major reason for the ouster of former Chief Minister of Gujarat Anandiben Patel.
This surely doesn’t seem to be something that seasoned politicians like Narendra Modi or Amit Shah cannot handle. They surely must have handled much bigger political storms in their lives. So what is the fuss about? The primary reason for leaders of every political party to be rattled are the demands the Dalit community led by Jignesh Mewani is making.
For the record, Jignesh Mewani is a lawyer and has been a Dalit rights activist for a long time. He was a member of the Aam Admi Party and is now fully dedicated to the UDALS. Dalits have long been an oppressed caste of India, despite being numerically the largest caste in India. They have faced a lot of atrocities at the hands of the upper castes, and no Gujarati government has done anything to prevent these or improve the lives of Dalits. Jignesh infact goes on to say that the quality of lives of the Dalits has actually deteriorated under the rule of Narendra Modi. He says that Modi knew about all these, but he still chose to ignore the problems of Dalits.
He highlights the Una incident to further his point about Dalit oppression. As somebody who is extremely well read, he believes that this oppression will not end till the people get power in their hands, which will come only through land reforms. Without land there is no power and they have only one demand – “Gai ki dum aap rakho, hame hamari zameen do”, which translates to “you keep the cow’s tail, give us our land”.
What Jignesh Mewani is actually agitating for every Dalit and poor household to be given 5 acres of land. He is currently fighting for 331 families of Saroda in the district of Dholka to get 100 acres of land that has been allocated to them as per the Gujarat Governent’s Agricultural Land Ceiling Act of 1976 records. The reality is that the land is yet to be handed over to these 331 families. These details have been confirmed by the Gujarat Government in the High Court in response to a petition filed by him. This is just a tip of the iceberg. There are more than a hundred families in eight other villages of the district of Dholka who are waiting for a similar land allocation.
What Jignesh Mewani is asking for has actually been done in the not so distant 2006, when Narendra Modi was the CM of Gujarat. The late Chunibhai Vaidya had waged a year long war against the government and this resulted in 7,000 Dalit families getting 20,000 acres of land under the same ALC act. The Government of Gujarat had back then released a notification that the ALC act had failed & hence the land that was allocated under this act would now be given to businessmen. Chunibhai had questioned the Government on what basis was the notification released and the battle he fought ensured that the landless families received their due.As per the Government’s records, there are about 37,000 such families who stand to gain 1.63 lakh hectares of land.
What most national and state level politicians are worried about is that once this land is distributed, there will be a lot of claims from people of other communities demanding the same. This is something which will then not be limited to just one state, but shall then be expected by Dalits and other weaker sections of the society. Dalits, may not consist of a big chunk of votes in Gujarat, but they are a big vote bank in the country. This movement also has the potential to galvanize all the weaker sections of the society into one. This land rights movement started by Jignesh Mewani will snowball into something that no politician in the country can control.
Another grudge that Mewani has against the Gujarat Government is that it is ready to give away highly fertile agricultural land to industrialists and other business houses for throwaway prices, but not to poor people. The same Government is ready to give waste land to Dalits for agriculture and expects them to make a living out of it. Why this stepmotherly treatment to your own citizens, while the corporate get a red carpet?
Jignesh Mewani is surely rasing some tough questions for the Gujarat government in an election year. What needs to be seen is how will Narendra Modi handle this now!