ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Cow Politics in Modi's Land

Dalit outrage in Gujarat has exposed the hypocrisy of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

The 11 July public flogging of four Dalit men with iron rods in Gujarat’s Una town for allegedly killing the cow they were skinning is an incident that would probably have disappeared in the list of atrocities that people born Dalit in this country are compelled to face virtually on a daily basis. The local newspapers might have reported it; the police, who were silent bystanders, would have dragged their feet to register a case; and the perpetrators of the crime would have walked away. The crucial difference is that this occurred in 2016, when the men beating the Dalits operated under the supreme arrogance and confidence that what they were doing was part of their righteous duty. As gau rakshaks, protectors of the cow, they had taken the cue from the party in power in the state and the centre, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), that any action taken to protect the cow was justified, even if it meant taking the law into their hands. That their arrogance finally led to their undoing, when they uploaded a video of the beating on social media, was happenstance; without that Una town would not have been in the news, politicians of all hues would not have rushed there to milk the political fallout of the incident and the Dalit victims would have returned to their wretched existence of a life where there is no hope of any justice. It would also not have exposed the extreme physical brutality that is virtually routine in the case of atrocities against Dalits.

While the attention drawn to the ghastly Una incident has resulted in six arrests and the suspension of six policemen, what was not expected was the reaction from Dalits across the state. They have come out in large numbers to protest, they have flung carcasses of dead cows in front of police stations and government offices and they are refusing to continue skinning dead cows, a task that is done exclusively by Dalits. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s hometown of Vadnagar saw a Dalit demonstration with slogans directed against him. This had never happened in all the 12 years he ruled Gujarat or since he became Prime Minister. In effect, this has blown the lid of the famed “Gujarat model” and exposed the deep caste divide that continues with Dalits leading a largely separate and marginalised existence. Even if Gujarat has not witnessed the vicious caste riots like the ones that paralysed the state in the 1980s during the anti-reservation agitations, the fissures in Gujarati society along caste lines have remained as strong as before and the criminal justice system continues to let them down. According to data assembled by the website IndiaSpend, in 2014 only 3.4% of crimes against Scheduled Castes in Gujarat led to conviction; the national average was 28.8% that year.

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