Since Monday, Gujarat has seen state-wide protests against the brutal assault of four Dalit leather tanners by self-styled cow protection vigilantes in Gir Somnath district’s Una taluka on July 11. After beginning to beat up the tanners in their village, the assailants continued to thrash them right by a police station in Una town, and four police officers have been suspended for allowing the attack to go on.
But according to a fact-finding report on the incident, the police could have halted the assault even before the attackers dragged the tanners to Una town. After the self-proclaimed cow protectors forced the four Dalit men into a car in their village and were driving them to Una, they were stopped by a police vehicle on their way to the town. But instead of intervening, the police simply spoke to the assailants for a few minutes and then allowed them to continue on their way, the report says.
The report also raises a few more questions about the role of the police in the horrific events. Why, for instance, did the Una police take six hours to lodge a basic FIR about an atrocity perpetrated outside its premises? And why did the police ensure that the injured parents of the Dalit youth could not travel to hospital in Una on the night of July 11?
The sequence of events
The three-page report was compiled by a team of eight independent Dalit rights activists who formed a temporary forum called the Dalit Adhikar Manch and visited Una on July 17. The fact-finding team included Subodh Parmar, a law student from Mehsana, and activists Kirit Rathod, Kantibhai Parmar and Kaushik Parmar.
According to the report, shared with Scroll.in, the attack began in the village of Mota Samadhiyala on the morning of July 11.
Balubhai Sarvaiya, a Dalit leather tanner whose family had been in the profession of skinning dead animals for several generations, had just received two dead cows from people in neighbouring villages. Balubhai’s sons Veshram and Ramesh, along with his nephews Bechar and Ashok, began to skin the carcasses in an open spot in the village. At around 10 am, a car drove by, saw them, and drove away, only to return a few minutes later with two more cars and around 35 men armed with sticks and iron pipes.
The mob accused the four Dalit men of killing cows. Even as the tanners tried to explain that they were merely skinning animals that were already dead, the gau rakshaks (cow protectors) began to rain blows and verbal abuse on them.
By this time, a villager made a phone call to Balubhai to inform him of the developments. “We rushed to the spot and pleaded with folded hands to those men, asking them to stop beating our sons,” said Kuvarben Sarvaiya, Balubhai’s wife.
Instead, the mob continued to beat the four men for more than an hour, stripped off their shirts and forced them into one of their SUVs. “We didn’t know where they were going to take them so my husband also tried to sit in the car,” said Kuvarben. "But they hit him hard on the head and hit me on my shoulder."
Police complicity alleged
According to the fact-finding report, while driving from the village towards Una town 20 km away, the assailants’ cars were stopped by a police vehicle. A conversation ensued, in which the attackers reportedly told the police that they were taking the Dalit men to Una. “The police told the attackers that they were going to the place of the incident,” said the report. “This shows that the police was involved in this atrocity.”
In Una, the four leather tanners were tied to the back of a car that bore a sticker reading “President – Shiv Sena, District – Gir Somnath”. They were then beaten again for an hour, with the attackers recording videos of the assault. The tanners were finally left at Una police station. Once again, instead of detaining the perpetrators of the assault, the police kept the victims of the crime at the station for the next few hours. A First Information Report was not lodged until six hours after the thrashing ended, and only six men were named as the accused despite a much larger mob participating in the assault.
Back in Mota Samadhiyala, villagers had called for an ambulance to take the injured Balubhai and Kuvarben to the civic hospital in Una town. According to the report, the police interfered yet again. “The police told the ambulance driver to take them to Gir Gadhda [taluka] instead of Una town,” said the report. When the couple protested, the police “threatened them and misbehaved with them”.
Technically, says Balubhai, their village is in Una taluka and Gir Gadhda is in the opposite direction. “The police was clearly taking the side of those attackers – they stopped us from going to Una because they wanted to keep us away from what was being done to our boys,” said Balubhai.
Not a lone incident
Subodh Parmar, one of the members of the fact-finding team, claims that the Una incident is not the only atrocity against Dalits by people linked to cow protection.
“This particular incident came to light because the attackers were brazen enough to put up videos of it,” said Parmar. “But so many crimes against Dalits go unreported in Gujarat, and from what we have seen over the past few months, there have been other incidents of Dalits being attacked by people claiming to be gau rakshaks.”
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