Gandhinagar: Balubhai Sarvaiya, one of the four young Dalits who was filmed being thrashed in Una after wrongly being accused of killing a cow, needed eight policemen to escort him to his village last evening. Because of seething caste tension in this south-western part of Gujarat.
19 people, including three policemen, were injured in clashes last evening and are now being treated at a local hospital in Una.
Yesterday, Mr Sarvaiya was among nearly 10,000 people who poured into a school’s grounds to protest against repeated attacks on Dalits in Gujarat. Together, they pledged they will no longer remove dead cows or skin them, refusing to subscribe to poorly-paid and grueling occupations thrust upon lower castes.
After the rally ended, at about 5 pm, Dalits, many of them riding motorcycles, were near the village of Samter, when they say they were attacked by upper castes, who were angered by the rally. Samter is home to nearly half of the 30 men arrested after the video went viral of Mr Sarvaiya and three others being tied to a car and beaten repeatedly.
The Dalits who were assaulted yesterday say the police did little to protect them from their attackers. But three policemen were also hospitalized, allegedly when they tried to use batons and tear gas to disperse the angry mob. 26 people have been arrested.
“It was a pre-planned attack, as all the alternate roads were also blocked by them (upper castes). We were attacked in the presence of police. When the situation went out of control, the police
fired some tear gas shells on the mob,” alleged Marvibhai Sarvaiya, who was riding a motorcycle, according to news agency Press Trust of India.
At yesterday’s rally, Dalit leaders announced that in a month, land that was set aside by the government for lower caste farmers must be handed over to them after years of stalling; if those and other rights are not delivered, they warned, they will begin a large protest.
At the start of this month, Dalits attacked buses and blocked roads in Ahmedabad to protest against the government’s alleged failure to protect them. The ruling BJP removed Anandiben as Chief Minister a few days later.
Dalits form 8% of Gujarat’s population; the rage over the Una attack has spread to Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, both of which vote soon and have large sections of Dalits.
Last weekend, Prime Minister Narendra Modi criticized cow vigilantes or “gau rakshakhs,” stating most use religion as a cover for crimes that have nothing to do with protecting the cow, which is held sacred by Hindus. The vigilantes chase trucks transporting cattle and raid slaughter houses.