An assault on Dalits has once again mobilised a movement in Gujarat. On October 5, hundreds of Dalits will march 37 km from the Palanpur Abu Road to Amirgadh city to protest the attack on a pregnant woman and her family for refusing to pick up a cow carcass.

Late on September 23, a group of upper caste men allegedly barged into the home of 27-year-old Nilesh Ranawasia and his wife Sangeeta, 25, who is four-months pregnant, at Karja village in Gujarat’s Banaskatha district. They beat up Ranawasia, Sangeeta, and four others from the family, two of whom were women, as they had reportedly refused to pick up a carcass from the field of one of the accused. The six were hospitalised after the incident. While three of them, including Ranawasia, have recovered, Sangeeta and two others are still undergoing treatment.

Ranawasia, in his statement to police, said that the men had hit a pregnant Sangeeta on the stomach, seriously injuring her. The police have arrested six people for the incident, all Karja residents and members of the Darbar community, considered a higher caste in Gujarat.

The October 5 Banaskatha Dalit Atyachar Virodh Sangharsh Yatra, or protest rally, is being organised by the Rashtriya Dalit Lok Manch, a local organisation in Banaskatha, which is headquartered by Palanpur city. Speaking to the media about the rally, Niraj Amrabhai Chauhan, the president of the organisation, appealed to Dalits to convert to Buddhism. “It is time that about 20,000 Dalit of Banaskatha should convert into Buddhism,” he said. “Being a Hindu has given us nothing.”

Coming together

There has been an unprecedented show of strength by Dalits in Gujarat ever since the flogging of four Dalit tanners on July 11 for skinning the carcass of a cow in Una. The incident had galvanised a movement of the community in the state. After local protests and rallies in various parts of Gujarat, the agitation reached the capital, Ahmedabad, on July 31, as 30-odd Dalit groups came together and declared that they had had enough of being exploited by upper castes.

At the rally, Dalits in the state unanimously pledged not to dispose of cow carcasses, a job caste Hindus consider beneath them. "Your mother, you take care of it" emerged as the rallying call of sorts for protests by Dalits in the state. Later, a 10-day Dalit Asmita Yatra was held from Ahmedabad to Una that culminated on August 15.

Despite this remarkable uprising by the community, assaults on Dalits continued in the state. Protesters returning from the 10-day march faced violence and hostility in their villages. On August 20, reports emerged that a 15-year-old Dalit boy from Bhavda village in Ahmedabad district had been beaten up because his father had refused to dispose of a cow carcass. And on August 23, two Dalits were assaulted in Mandala village in the state – again, for refusing to dump the body of a cow.

Quick action

With another such assault in Karja, the community has once more banded together to demand justice for the victims of the September 23 assault. “Why should a Dalit remove a carcass?” Chauhan said. “It is the job of the government and not Dalits. We get beaten when we remove carcass and we get beaten even if we don’t. Why is it always a Dalit who has to work in crematoriums? It is a Dalit who does all the menial jobs and yet the area where we live is unclean and unhygienic.”

Soon after the assault, members of the Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch – a united front for Dalits announced by Jignesh Mevani, who had emerged as the face of the community uprising in Gujarat – had visited the Palanpur Civil hospital, where the victims had been admitted. Subodh Parmar, co-convener of national front, said that on their demand, the police agreed to give protection to the victim’s family.

“The locals are very angry at the incident and they have decided to march in protest in their district,” Parmar said. “We will render our full support to the movement.”

The National Commission of Scheduled Castes on Wednesday sought a report from the collector of Banaskatha on the incident. Raju Parmar, a member of the commission, visited the village and met Ranawasia, Sangeeta and the other victims. He also asked the collector to submit within 15 days the alternative employment options for Dalits who no longer wish to pick up cow carcasses.

The district administration has released Rs 50,000 as compensation to the six victims and the state has reportedly promised Rs 2 lakh to each of the victims after the chargesheet is filed in the case.

The six who were arrested for the assault have been booked under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. Ranawasia has told the police that at least 10 people had attacked his wife and him.

The statewide movement for Dalit rights has forced the government to announce special courts in 16 districts to handle cases of atrocities on Dalits. The Banaskatha district’s atrocity court will come up in Palanpur on October 1.