Ahmedabad: Prominent Muslim body Jamiat-e-Ulema-Hind has declared support for a massive public rally being organized in Ahmedabad on Sunday by around 30 different Dalit groups of Gujarat to protest against atrocities on the community, especially the July 11 flogging of four youth by cow vigilantes.
"We have announced our whole-hearted backing to the rally tomorrow and many of our members and community are likely to attend it," Nasir Ansari, general secretary of the Gujarat unit of Jamiat-e-Ulema Hind, told IANS on Friday evening.
Ansari did not speak of the numbers, but according to sources more than a thousand Muslims are expected to be present.
"We have been victims of political conspiracy in the past. Religion and caste have been abused. Political parties have only attained power by using our emotions," vice-president of Jamiat-e-Ulema-Hind Mohammed Hanif said.
Forging a joint front to fight atrocities against the Dalits after the July 11 public flogging of some Dalit youth, as many as 30 different Dalit groups from across Gujarat have for the first time come together under the banner of 'Una Dalit Atyachar Ladat Samiti' (Una Dalit Fight against Atrocities Committee) and are holding a big public rally in Ahmedabad on Sunday to launch an agitation.
The convener of the joint front Jignesh Mevani says at least 10,000 people from across Gujarat are likely to be present at the rally.
Mevani told IANS, "You might feel the number of people is much less, but this should be understood from the point of view that it is for the first time there has been such a Dalit uprising in Gujarat, and that too without support of any political party."
Even the support from the Muslims has been on their own volition. "They came and expressed their solidarity," he said.
Mevani added that Dalits and Muslims are "travelling in the same boat" in Gujarat.
Earlier, the state government was refusing permission for the rally proposed in front of the Ahmedabad District Collectorate, but amid pressure, approved it on Saturday evening with a change of the venue.
"The venue has now been moved in Sabarmati area, and we have agreed since our focus is not publicity but to speak about our problems. This is a rare opportunity for us to be able to represent our case before the people of Gujarat," Mevani said.
The Dalits have decided to stop collecting dead animals for skinning from Sunday and also stop doing sanitation work. The organisations announced that they would not collect dead animals anywhere in Gujarat and also launch a 'Jhadu down' (broom down) agitation, with persons involved with sanitation stopping work across all local government bodies.
In fact, they have already stopped it in Surendranagar and in some villages of Mehsana district.
Among the key demands of the newly-formed joint action group, expected to be raised on Sunday, would be to invoke the provisions of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, against those responsible as well as the "conspirators of the Una torture".
They also demand that any person convicted of terrorizing Dalits anywhere in the country be sent outside their respective district limits, appoint sanitation workers in Gujarat as permanent government employees and extend the benefits of Pay Commission to them, set up colonies for Dalits who have been forced to migrate from villages due to discrimination on caste basis in rural Gujarat and relocate them to posh localities of the cities.
(Darshan Desai can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)