On Thursday, hundreds of people who converged for a memorial service for a Dalit youth killed for attending a garba event in Gujarat’s Anand district last week were simmering with anger.

Do something, they urged Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani, convenor of the Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch, who had walked in to shouts of “Jai Bhim” at the gathering at Bhadraniya village in Borsad taluka of Anand district.

Jayesh Solanki, a Dalit youth from the village, was murdered on October 1 allegedly by a group of upper caste men for participating in a garba event, part of Navratri festivities, near the village temple.

Mevani urged the crowd to calm down. “I know you are angry,” he said. “That is natural. But we need to keep control of our emotions and channelise our anger for the long haul. Let us take a pledge that we will support the family till they get justice, whatever the number of years it takes.”

He then announced the beginning of protests against atrocities against Dalits in Gujarat, which is scheduled for Assembly elections later this year.

Mevani resolved to hold a rally on October 10 from Bhadraniya village to state capital Gandhinagar, to press for a few demands. These include: setting up a Special Investigation Team under an Inspector-General rank police officer to investigate Solanki’s murder, setting up a fast-track court to look into cases of atrocities against Dalits and tribals, the provision of five acres of land for Jayesh Solanki’s family, a government job for a family member, and firm action against repeated instances of violence against members of the Dalit community in the state.

Mevani said that if these demands were not met by October 10, Dalits would stage a dharna at Indira bridge, which connects Gandhinagar with the state’s financial capital Ahmedabad.

Inter-generational caste violence?

Jayesh Solanki, 18, was the only son of Bhailalbhai Solanki, a daily-wage labourer, and Madhuben Solanki. According to reports, he was assaulted at about 4 am on October 1 by a group of men. He collapsed after his head was reportedly banged against a wall. When he was taken to hospital, he was declared to be brought dead.

The police have arrested eight Patel youth in connection with his death.

“My son did not have any quarrel with the Patel youth who killed him,” said Bhailalbhai Solanki. “They just killed my son for no reason.”

Bhailalbhai Solanki inadvertently revealed a connection between threats he faced over a decade ago and the death of his son. He said that 15 years ago he and his family were forced to leave the village after being terrorised by Patels, a powerful land-owning community. “At that time, the fathers of four of the youth who have been arrested were involved,” he said. “Now again, we are facing their terror.”

Anand district Superintendent of Police Saurabh Singh confirmed that the Solankis had to flee the village in 2002 because of a dispute with the village’s Patels.

Madhuben Solanki was overcome with emotion at the memorial service. “I have lost everything,” she repeated. “I prayed for 15 years and made many vows before Jayesh was born. Now he is gone. What do I have left now? How do I console myself?”

When upward mobility hurts

Days before Solanki’s death, two Dalit men – Piyush Parmar and Krunal Maheria – were assaulted, allegedly by members of the upper caste Rajput community in Limbodara village in Gandhinagar district, for sporting moustaches. In his complaint, Maheria told the police that the man who assaulted him told him that he could not become a Rajput by just growing a moustache. In a third reported case of similar assault, police have claimed that the reported victim has confessed to have staged the attack on himself to garner publicity, though he was also reported to have told the police that the that two earlier reports of attacks on Dalit men for sporting moustache – including one on his own cousin – were true, the Hindustan Times reported.

Gujarat Dalits show off moustaches on social media to protest attacks on them. (Photo credit: Mukesh Shah/Facebook).

Bhanuben Parmar, a social activist in the area, said that the spate of violence against Dalits in central Gujarat in recent times could be blamed on the unease of the dominant castes at the upward mobility of Dalit youth.

“Dalits have been steadily improving their, status both financially and educationally,” said Parmar. “Dalit youth are not as submissive as their fathers were. They also sport new hairstyles, wear goggles and sport stylish moustaches and clothes. This angers the dominant castes here, whether it is the landed and powerful Patels or the Darbars [Rajputs].”

Parmar added: The dominant castes here just do not like to see Dalit youth becoming so empowered. Seeing that they own mobiles, bikes, cars, and own LED TV sets, also makes them angry.”

Simmering anger

About 5,000 people had gathered at the memorial service on Thursday. Though the crowd thinned after the service, it then largely comprised of those seething with anger.

Outside, in the village, some called for revenge. “Blood for blood,” said Savitaben, a resident of Bhadraniya village. Others said they would seek justice within the law.

Mevani told the crowd: “If we react now, we will play right into the hands of those who are waiting for such an opportunity. It will serve no purpose because if violence erupts, you will be booked and jailed and our community will get a bad name.”

Jayesh Solanki’s uncle, Ujash Solanki, also a teenager, said that the family would not take the law into their own hands. “We will seek justice in the courts and keep pursuing it for as long as it takes,” he said. He said that he was hopeful of justice as Dalits were united and empowered now.

Superintendent of Police Saurabh Singh said that the investigation into the death was being handled by an officer of the rank of deputy superintendent of police. “We have stationed a police team in the village to ensure that violence does not erupt again.”

But some village youth and women expressed their apprehension that violence would return once special arrangements made by the police were withdrawn.