On 15th of August, when Prime Minister Modi was unfurling the tricolour at the Red Fort, Radhika Vemula, mother of late Rohit Vemula, was doing the same honour at the heart of Una, a Saurashtra city in Gujarat in front of a massive congregation of Dalits and other activists who flocked the city to witnessed the event. It was the beginning of a new era of politics initiated from Una, a town of Somnath.
Somnath is the place which is also known for Advani's infamous Rath Yatra. The yatra began from Somnath on 25 September 1990, and passed through hundreds of villages and cities. It traveled 300 kilometers a day, and Advani often addressed six public rallies in a single day.
On the other hand, Dalit Ashmita Yatra started from Ahmedabad on 5th august under the leadership of Ahmedabad based Marxist Ambedkarites activist Jignesh Mevani which ended in Una on 70th independence day.
JNUSU's president Kanhaiyya Kumar in his speech in Una compared both the yatras and said Adavani's yatra was for divisive politics which spread hatred among communities while Jignesh's footmarch united the communities.
A new kind of Dalit activism has emerged through the action of Gujarati Dalits who are now demanding lands from the government and pledging not to do their traditional work of skinning and removing cow carcasses.
But where does this activism and protest leave the Muslims of Gujarat?
Muslim groups openly pledged their support for the Una rally and now talking about broader Dalit-Muslim networks to counter hindutva forces.
On behalf of Dalit community, Jignesh Mewani demanded 5 acres of land for each Dalit willing to leave traditionally cast indicating job and solution of 1,20,000 pending aplications of tribals regarding land distribution. But, not a single demand raised for Muslims during 10 days protest despite huge support from the Muslim community.
Farhan Saiyed of INSAF told that we are planning to discuss the Muslim issues like discrimination with Muslim localities by civic bodies, ghettosization due to Disturb Area Act and police atrocities against Muslims with Jignesh Mewani and Rahul sharma soon.
It all started with the July 11 video of flogging of four Dalit persons by members of cow protection groups in the middle of Una town on the allegation of smuggling cow. These Dalits, resident of the village Mota Samadhiyala, kept pleading that they were only removing the cow carcass as it was their traditional job but that fell on deaf ears. They were humiliated in front of the entire town in the name of cow protection. The incident triggered massive anger among the Dalits who started a protest that many scholars today believe is unprecedented in Gujarat’s history.
Atrocities in the name of cow was common for Muslims and Dalits, so Muslims came in support of Dalit Aandolan. When Dalit Maha Sammelan held in Ahmedabad on 31st July, Muslims were interested to join but could not go in sufficient number to attend the protest due to a long gap between Dalits and Muslims since 2002.
Mufti Abdul Qayyoom of Jamiat Ulema e Hind went their only to know how protest is going on and was hesitating to went inside due to the existing gap between the two communities in Gujarat. He was observing the event from parking area with 5 to 10 Muslims. At that time, a team of 20 to 25 Muslims under the banner of INSAF reached their. Most of them knew Mufti Abdul Qayyoom. So they invited him to join and started a march towards the stage which was half km away from the parking area. When the march of few Muslims moved towards the stage, few Dalits recognized Mufti Abdul Qayyoom and gave him a warm welcom and started shouting slogans Dalit Muslim Bhai Bhai and Jai Bheem Jay Meem. This march grabbed the media attention too. It can be said Dalit Muslim unity came into existence and Mufti Qayyoom played a key role for this.
Media and the people living in the Lutyens of Delhi who till now thought that there is no one to counter BJP’s cow bogey woke up to a new form of protest. Especially the act of throwing dead cows in front of the Collector Office of Surendranagar as a form of protest rocked the nation. People found those images very powerful to counter a xenophobic campaign based on cow protection started by the Hindutva groups since Modi came to power in 2014.
Modi himself talked about pink revolution in the run up to the election and asked his supporters to protect cows from smuggling. But first Dadri and then Una incident showed how goons took law in their own hands to target minorities and Dalits in the name of cow protection.
In the Ahmedabad to Una padyatra that preceded before the 15th August protest rally at Una, Kaleem Siddiqui, President of INSAF and a prominent Muslim activist from Ahmedabad joined with a banner where at one corner Dadri and on other corner Una victims were printed. He joined the padyatra as he felt that the time has come for Muslims to show their support to their Dalit brethrens in this moment of crisis.
“I took the initiative to raise awareness for this event and thankfully many people responded positively. Muslims are conscious about the fact that to counter Hindutva forces broader alliances are required. We are weak alone and more vulnerable to state’s mistreatment”, said Siddiqui alluding the Muslims in the Gujarat state.
Prominent Muslim body Jamiat-e-Ulema-Hind is also planning to take a strong step for Dalit Muslim unity in the month of September. The thing which forced prime minister Modi to break silence on atrocities in the name of cow protection but Modi failed to give any positive messageand backfired to the RSS. The statement given by the prime minister on Dalit atrocites condemn by Mevani because he was playing a dirty game and justied the atrocities on Muslims in the name of cow protection.
“We have been victim of political conspiracy in the past. Religion and caste have been abused. Political parties have only attained power by using our emotions,” Mohammed Hanif , vice-president of Jamiat-e-Ulema-Hind .
Activists like Kaleem Siddiqui are aware of the complicated history that Muslims and Dalits share in the event of communal violence.
During the anti-reservation struggle led by the upper castes against the lower caste population in the early 80s Muslims supported the lower caste people as they were their immediate neighbors. But, the 1985 Hindu Muslim riots changed this equation as more and more Dalits joined the Hindutva brigade and participated in anti-Muslim violence.
“Dalits should understand the design of Sangh Parivar who won't ever give them the respect they deserve. Though all the leadership of VHP are with the upper caste, Dalits are only used as foot soldiers of Hindutva by making them members in Bajrang Dal and attack minorities” asserts Siddiqui.
Siddiqui believes that Una incident will take the Dalits away from the Parivar who managed to control Gujarat by keeping them in Hindutva fold. Hindutva forces in Gujarat are trying for communal riots in Gujarat to break Dalit Muslim unity.
After the statement given by the prime minister on Gau Rakshak, floging cases against Muslims increased which is not covered by the national media.
A 63 year old Ilyas Mohammad Chintamani, resident of Chhota Udaipur in central Gujarat, was beaten by extremist Hindus suspecting that the victim was carrying cow meat and cow body parts in a transport vehicle. After the incident he lodged a complaint with Pandesara police station.
Last week three Muslim labourers were beaten and forced to abuse Islam. These acta may be part of conspiracy to divide the Dalit Muslim unity .
“I am optimistic about the future now. A new form of Dalit and Muslim leadership will emerge through these movements” says Siddiqui who is core member of Una Dalit Atyachar Ladat Samiti and represented the Muslim community during Una Pad Yatra.
[Auther Shaheed Roomy is Ahmedabad based activist.]