The Big Story: Gujarat model?

In the run up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, of Gujarat was touted as an ideal state by its then chief minister Narendra Modi. Yet, as a number of commenters pointed out, Gujarat’s economic prosperity did little to help its people – the state’s social indicators ranged from middling to poor. This is hardly surprising given the vicious anti-Dalit prejudice present in the state.

On Sunday, this casteism was on naked display as a 40-year-old Dalit man, Mukesh Vaniya, was allegedly murdered in Rajkot district. Vaniya’s wife said that employees from a local factory asked them their caste and then when it was confirmed they were Dalits, wanted the couple to pick up garbage. When Vaniya and his wife refused, they were beaten. Vaniya was picked up, tied to a pole and assaulted brutally with metal rods for more than an hour. A video of the incident was also recorded. Vaniya died as a result of the assault.

The incident is a clear throwback to Una in 2016, where cow vigilantes had assaulted four Dalit men for skinning a cow. There too, Dalits complained that caste conventions dictated that they were often forced to pick up dead cows just like Rajkot saw the Dalit couple being forced to pick up garbage.

These are not isolated incidents. In 2010, Navsarjan, a nongovernmental organisation that has done extensive work amongst Gujarat’s Dalits, published a study noting that untouchability was widely practiced in Gujarat. Amongst 98.4% of the village surveyed, inter-caste marriages were barred. In 97.6% of villages, a Dalit touching a caste Hindu’s utensils or water pot was seen as a form of pollution. In 98% of villages, tea was either not served to Dalits or served in cups reserved specially for Dalits. Religious segregation was near-complete too: in 97% of the villages, Dalits were barred from touching articles used in religious rituals. Segregation is near total, from schools, wells to temples, as is violence against Dalits. It is clear that Article 17 of the Indian Constitution, outlawing untouchability, is a dead letter in the state of Gujarat.

This dire situation has been, for the large part, encouraged by the state’s political leadership. The government, for example, has been dragging its feet in implementing land reforms – carried out decades earlier by most other states in India. In February earlier this year, a Dalit activist, Bhanubhai Vankar set himself on fire to protest the state government’s apathy on the matter. In fact, far from implementing land reforms, the state’s BJP government has made it easier for rich farmers and industry to dispossess small holding farmers by relaxing earlier safeguards under the land revenue code.

Simultaneously, the Gujarat government has made efforts to shoot the messenger, stifling voices that speak on behalf of Dalits. Navsarjan, the state’s most credible body on Dalit issues was accused of trying to “malign Gujarat’s image” by a state minister. Even more seriously, in 2017, the Modi government cancelled the NGO’s foreign funding, forcing it to let go nearly its entire staff and putting in peril its activities in more than 3,000 villages across Gujarat.

Unlike states like Uttar Pradesh, Dalit have little political clout in Gujarat. Combine this with an actively hostile stance from the state government results in Gujarat’s Dalits leading a precarious existence, subject to apartheid and brutal violence on a regular basis.

The Big Scroll

  • In Gujarat, it took a tragedy for two Dalits to get their land titles. Many more are still waiting, reports Aarefa Johari.
  • “He will bring us justice”: Dalits in Gujarat pin their hopes on Jignesh Mevani’s big win.
  • With its foreign funding cancelled, can Gujarat’s oldest Dalit NGO, Navsarjan,survive?
  • “Your mother, you take care of it”: Shoaib Daniyal on the Dalits behind Gujarat’s stirring cow carcass protests


  • Activism in its true sense:  In Bloomberg-Quint, Alok Prasanna Kumar writes about Justice Chelameswar’s Legacy.
  • What’s beyond Bengaluru: In the Economic Times, Narendra Pani outlines the reason behind Siddaramaih’s failure in Karnataka
  • In Mint, Kunal Singh writes on the strategic stalemate in South Asia: while Pakistan hasn’t been able to fulfil its grand strategy objectives with the help of its nuclear weapons, India hasn’t found an adequate answer to Pakistan’s skilful use of sub-conventional assets


Don’t Miss

Ipsita Chakravarty reports on how Kashmiri women see themselves in a separatist movement dominated by men:

Women’s protests are not new in Kashmir. “People have forgotten the 1990s,” said Hameeda Nayeem, who teaches English at Kashmir University and is married to separatist leader Nayeem Khan. She recalled how men and women marched in large numbers to the United Nations building to demand a plebiscite, for instance. 

But many agree that women have now become more confrontational with the state. Recent images of college girls pelting stones on security forces and being detained for taking part in protests raise some old questions again. Where do women see themselves in a separatist movement whose protagonists have always been men, which has largely been defined by men? Where do women’s individual freedoms figure in the idea of azadi?