AS an activist with the identity of being born into a Dalit family and as one who fights for the rights of marginalised communities, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s works have moulded me and set me on the path of defending not just my rights but also the rights of those around me who are struggling to survive in an increasingly volatile and hostile environment.
Minority groups, discriminated against because of their identities – Dalits, Adivasis, Muslims, LGBTQ, etc. today find their safe spaces shrinking, their voices unheard, their right to life, free speech and livelihood threatened. The safety that Dr Ambedkar’s Constitution guaranteed to them is increasingly under threat, because the very idea of India that he captured in that document is under challenge.
An incident, with which I have been connected since September 2012 – the killing of three innocent Dalit youth by the Gujarat Police in Thangadh town without following the protocol for crowd control – comes to mind. The policemen of Thangadh Police Station lead by sub inspector (PSI) K.P. Jadeja shot one Dalit youth on September 22, 2012 at a fair. The following day, when the Dalits of Thangadh town gathered to question the authorities, four policemen led by PS I Jadeja fired without provocation into the crowd and killed two youth, aged 15 and 16 years, on the spot. The post mortem report mentioned the use of AK-47 machine guns. Till today none of the four policemen have been punished nor any legal action taken against them. The main accused is also related to the present Home Minister, Pradipsinh Jadeja. Navsarjan Trust, the organisation which has been helping these families to fight for justice and to which I belonged, has been targeted by the State Government and labelled “anti-national” by the Central Government.
The other gory attack that needs repeating is the one on four innocent Dalit youth from the leather tanning community in a small village in Una town in Gujarat. The four boys were stripped, paraded, tied down and beaten with iron rods by men from upper caste cow vigilante group for carrying the carcass of a cow. Members of the predominantly Dalit leather tanning community are sought out to remove and clean carcasses of domesticated animals – a task that no other caste will do.
We as a nation are at a critical juncture in our polity where if we do not stand up for our rights and question state impunity we will lose our image as a nation that cherishes secular values, and practices the principles of equality, liberty, fraternity and justice as enshrined in the Indian Constitution. The dream of “Annihilation of Caste” envisioned by our great leader Babasaheb Ambedkar will remain only on the paper.
The incident was filmed and circulated widely. What happened to them on that fateful day in July 2016 shook the entire nation. It brought home the disturbing truth that nothing had changed since the time Dr Ambedkar had spoken about the need to annihilate caste. Where have these cow vigilante groups appeared from? Where do they derive their power from? How do they act with such impunity against Dalits and Muslims, in particular?
When I met the affected Una youth at the Rajkot Civil Hospital, I could see the pain and trauma in their eyes. Mota Samadhiyala village, where they come from, had no street lights, no proper roads and a majority of the houses had no sanitation facilities. During our investigations into this incident, we found that the Gujarat police had not registered a First Information Report under the amended Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 2015. The FIR did not mention the attack on Kuverben, the mother of the complainant Vashrambhai. Two and a half years on and the Public Prosecutor appointed in this case has not been provided adequate facilities and support to handle the case. The affected Dalit families have been sitting on protest at Una’s Sub-Divisional Magistrate’s office for almost a month demanding land as a source of rehabilitation, which was promised to them by the former Chief Minister of Gujarat, Anandiben Patel.
Muslims and Tribals are the other marginalised communities who find themselves increasingly cornered. A majority of the Muslims in Gujarat in the urban areas, live in ghettos. In many areas across the State of Gujarat and in particular Ahmedabad, Muslims cannot buy a house in a locality dominated by Hindus.
Tribals in Gujarat too live in a world of apathy and neglect. The indifference of the government was evident when the state failed to file an affidavit years after the Navsarjan Trust filed a public interest petition against the Government of Gujarat seeking water from the Narmada canal waters for the tribal dominated Chhota Udepur district bordering Madhya Pradesh. The State government has not filed any affidavit until now. Chhota Udepur district is one of the most underdeveloped districts in the State.
Dr. B.R. Ambedkar dreamt of a just, equitable and casteless society – a society where the marginalised and the minorities would have an equal voice in the running of our democracy.
We as a nation are at a critical juncture in our polity where if we do not stand up for our rights and question state impunity we will lose our image as a nation that cherishes secular values, and practices the principles of equality, liberty, fraternity and justice as enshrined in the Indian Constitution. The dream of “Annihilation of Caste” envisioned by our great leader Babasaheb Ambedkar will remain only on the paper. The best tribute that we can pay to Baba Saheb on his birth anniversary is to unite against the communal, casteist and fascist forces.