Despite several attempts by the Bharatiya Janata Party to reach out to Dalits, the community is confused about their stance towards the party, admitted Lok Sabha Member Udit Raj. In an interview to Scroll.in on Tuesday, Raj, the Dalit face of the BJP, said that nobody should interfere with the eating habits of others and insisted that BJP workers cannot be considered synonymous with anti-social cow protection vigilantes.
Raj grabbed headlines on Monday after he claimed on Twitter that nine-time Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt’s beef diet had helped him become successful.
Though he later tried to clarify that he was only talking about Bolt’s ability to overcome adversity even though he came from a humble background, the tweet kicked up a storm, especially because of BJP’s antagonism over beef.
Cow slaughter is banned in most Indian states and sale and consumption of beef is also outlawed in many. Since the BJP took power at the Centre in 2014, there have been a string of attacks by cow-protection vigilantes who have targeted, in particular, Muslims and Dalits on suspicions of transporting cattle and eating beef.
One such incident – the flogging of four tanners in Una for skinning a cow carcass in July – resulted in massive protests by Dalits in Gujarat and has galvanised a movement of sorts.
Since then, there have been several outreach attempts by the party. For instance, on August 7, Prime Minister Narendra Modi denounced the attacks on Dalits and “anti-social activities” in the name of cow protection. However, Raj told Scroll.in that there is still confusion among Dalits about the party and sought to clarify their concerns. Excerpts:
What is your stand on beef consumption? Were you under pressure to change your comments on Usain Bolt?
No, I was not under any pressure. There is a very wrong assumption across this country that beef is only cow meat. The fact is it is not. The term "beef" includes various other kinds of meat, including buffalo. When we talk of beef export, much of it does not involve cow meat. The controversy is only on cow slaughter, which is illegal in many parts of the country. My stand has been simple. Nobody should interfere in the eating habits of people.
When you say do not interfere in eating habits, will you approve if someone wants to have cow meat?
Cow slaughter is banned in 24 states. If you do something illegal, the prescribed punishment will apply. There cannot be questions on whether to apply the law or not.
But consumption of beef is not illegal in many states...
That was my point. If there is nothing illegal, then there cannot be a controversy over it. It doesn't matter if it is cow meat or something else.
Dalits are protesting in many parts of the country against the BJP and cow vigilantism. Do you see the community slowly becoming anti-BJP?
They are not turning anti-BJP. But of course, there is lot of confusion among them about the party, not only on the issue of gau rakshaks (cow protectors) but also developments such as the death of Rohith Vemula.
But I hope my views clarify the apprehensions the community has. BJP workers cannot be made synonymous with anti-social elements who have disguised themselves as cow protectors. This confusion is caused by rogue elements.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he would rather have people shoot him than target Dalits. Instead of taking strong action against perpetrators of violence, is it right make such emotional statements?
When you read the prime minister's statement, please see how deeply he was touched by the plight of Dalits. In one stroke, he sent a strong signal to anti-social elements that he does not approve of their actions and would not tolerate it.
This is the stand of the BJP. His speech told the Dalit community that the prime minister stood by them. Modiji's statement also exposed those fake cow protectors who indulge in violence against Dalits using this issue.
But are words sufficient? Should it not lead to action on the ground?
The role of the Centre and the prime minister here is restricted. Law and order is a state subject. The state governments should act firmly against those using the garb of cow protection to let loose violence on Dalits. I have already requested the Centre to do all it can to take strong action.