On 15th of August, when Prime Minister Modi was unfurling the tricolour at the Red Fort, Radhika Vemula, mother of late Rohit Vemula was doing the same honour in the heart of Una, a Saurashtra city in Gujarat in front of a massive congregation of Dalits and other activists who had flocked the city to witnessed the event.
It was a call for new era of politics which initiated from Una , a town of Somnath. Somnath is the place which is also known for Advani’s Rath yatra. The yatra began from Somnath on 25 September 1990, and passed through hundreds of villages and cities. It travelled 300 kilometres a day, and Advani often addressed six public rallies in a single day.
Dalit Ashmita Yatra started from Ahmedabad on 5th August under the leadership of Ahmedabad based Marxist Ambedkarite activist Jignesh Mevani and ended in Una on 70th Independence Day.
JNUSU’s president Kanhaiyya Kumar in his speech in Una compared both yatra and said that Adavani’s yatra had been for divisive politics which had spread hatred among communities while Jignesh’s foot march united the communities.
A new kind of Dalit activism has emerged through the action of Gujarati Dalits who are now demanding lands from the government and pledging not to do their traditional work of skinning and removing cow carcasses. But where does this activism and protest leave the Muslims of Gujarat? Muslim groups openly pledged their support for the Una rally and are now talking about broader Dalit-Muslim networks to counter Hindutva forces.
On behalf of Dalit community, Jignesh Mewani demanded 5 acre land for Dalits who are willing to leave traditional caste indicating job and also demanded action on 120000 pending applications of tribal people regarding land distribution. However no demand was raised for Muslims during the 10 day protest despite huge support from Muslim community.
Farhan Saiyed of INSAF said that they are planning to discuss Muslims issues like discrimination with Muslim localities by civic bodies, ghettosization due to disturbed area act, police atrocities against Muslims etc with Jignesh Mewani and Rahul Sharma soon.
Atrocities in the name of cow is common for Muslims and Dalits, therefore Muslims came in support of Dalit Aandolan . When Dalit Maha Sammelan was held in Ahmedabad on 31st July, Muslims were interested in join it but did not go in sufficient number to attend the protest due to the distance between Dalits and Muslims since 2002.
Mufti Abdul Qayyoom of Jamiat Ulema e Hind went their only to know how protest is going on and was hesitant in going inside due to the distance between the communities in Gujarat. He observed the event with 5 to 10 Muslims from the parking area.
At that time a team of about 25 Muslims under the banner of INSAF reached their. Most of them knew Mufti Abdul Qayyoom , and they invited him to join and started a march toward stage which was half Kilometre away from the parking area.
As the group moved towards the stage some Dalits recognized Mufti Abdul Qayyoom. The Dalits gave a warm welcome and slogans of Dalit Muslim Bhai Bhai and Jai Bheem Jay Meem resounded. This event attracted media attention too. It can be said that in the Dalit Muslim unity that came into existence Mufti Qayyoom played a key role.
Media and the people living in Lutyens Delhi who thought that there is no language to counter BJP’s cow bogey woke up to a new form of protest. Particularly the act of throwing dead cows in front of the Collector office of Surendranagar as a form of protest rocked the nation. People found those images very powerful to counter a xenophobic campaign based on cow protection started by the Hindutva groups since Modi came to power in 2014. PM Modi had talked about pink revolution in the run up to the election and had asked his supporters to protect cows from smuggling. But first Dadri and then Una incident showed how goons took law in their own hands to target minorities and Dalits in the name of cow protection.
In the Ahmedabad to Una padyatra before the 15th August protest rally at Una, Kaleem Siddiqui, President of INSAF and a prominent Muslim activist from Ahmedabad joined the padyatra. He joined the padyatra as he felt that the time has come for Muslims to show their support to their Dalit brethrens in this moment of crisis. He is very active on the social media and is calling national Muslim leadership to come forward and extend their support.
“I took the initiative to raise awareness for this event and thankfully many people responded. Muslims are conscious about the fact that to counter Hindutva forces broader alliances are required. We are weak alone and more vulnerable to State’s mistreatment” said Mr. Siddiqui alluding the Muslims in the Gujarat state.
Prominent Muslim body Jamiat-e-Ulema-Hind is planning to take a major step towards Dalit Muslim unity in the month of September.
“We have been victims of political conspiracy in the past. Religion and caste have been abused. Political parties have only attained power by using our emotions,” said Mohammed Hanif , vice-president of Jamiat-e-Ulema-Hind .
Activist like Kaleem Siddiqui are aware of the complicated history that Muslims and Dalits share. During the anti-reservation struggle led by the upper castes against the lower caste population in the early 80’s Muslims had supported the so called lower caste people. But the 1985 Hindu-Muslim riots changed this equation as more and more Dalits joined the Hindutva brigade and participated in anti-Muslim violence.
Hindutva forces in Gujarat are trying to break the new Dalit-Muslim unity. After the statement given by PM on Gau Rakshaks , atrocities in name of cow protection have increased against Muslims. A 63 year old man Ilyas Mohammad Chintamani, resident of Chhota Udaipur in central Gujarat, was beaten by a Hindu extremist group on suspicion that the victim was carrying cow meat and cow body parts in a transport vehicle. Last week three Muslim labourers were beaten and forced to abuse Islam. These incidents are not covered in the media.
“Dalits should understand the design of Sangh Parivar who won’t ever give them the respect they deserve. All the leadership of VHP are with the upper caste, Dalits are only used as foot soldiers of Hindutva by making them members in Bajrang Dal and attack minorities” asserts Mr. Siddiqui who believes that Una incident will drive the Dalits away from the parivar which managed to control Gujarat by keeping them in Hindutva fold.
“I am optimistic about the future now. A new form of Dalit and Muslim leadership will emerge through these movements” said Siddiqui who is a core member of Una Dalit Atyachar Ladat Samiti and represented the Muslim community during Una Pad Yatra.
Author is an Ahmadabad based activist.