How many of us Indians remember July 11, 2016?
The answer to this question would determine whether we are one nation of not. You can be sure that July 11 would be etched in the memory of a conscious Dalit but many of the so-called high caste people would look at you with curiosity: is it not merely a day, like any other in July?
But for Dalits, it is an important day, an occasion for them to remember that to be born a Dalit in this country or nation is in itself a curse even in the days when the ruling classes flaunt an unspeaking, smiling, sweet, cute Dalit as their prized possession for the topmost post of this country to prove so that they remain the benevolent patrons.
They can, when required produce agreeable Dalits as opposed to the ever angry, coarse shout which a Dalit is, disturbing the serene harmony that the nation of India is believed to be.
Before we put our Dalit on the highest throne of India, let us look at least a year back, if not too far in the past.
This is how July 11 was reported the next day by the media “seven members of a Dalit family in Gujarat were allegedly beaten by gau raksha (cow protection) activists for skinning a dead cow on Monday. A part of the incident, where the victims were being attacked with iron rods and sticks, was recorded on video and has been widely shared on social media.”
So strong was the resolve of the worshippers of the holy cow that “after beating up the family in the village, reports said, the accused put four of the victims in a car and drove them to Una town. There, they stripped the four men, paraded them on the streets and hit them in full public view.”
We know that the word "allegedly" is a technical requirement. The flogging and striping and parading of the members of the Sarvaiya family was a real act. Balu, his wife Kunvar, his sons Vasram and Ramesh, relatives Ashok and Bechar and Devarshi Banu are all real people. The attackers are all too real. The village Mota Samadhiyal is not an imagination of a Premchand. How did the nation of India receive this ‘news’? And how did it react? In reading the response, we can see that we do not live on one nation as we would like to believe. A large section of the so called upper caste people read it as yet another ‘unfortunate’ incident, a small one though.
In a large land like ours, this is a minor ‘incident’. We should not try to magnify it ,should not see it as a symptom of a disease which afflicts the body of this sacred nation deeply. This is how the peace loving Indians would like us to view this incident. But there is another side, from where we hear those obstinate voices who would insist that this is existential , both for the victims and the perpetrators.
Interestingly, the perpetrators do not want the act to be remembered and recalled. They get upset when reminded of it. Why? If it was an act of valour, done as a sacred duty, why should it not be recalled? Is it because they know that the holy time- space they thought was theirs in which they were acting and which was inviolable is encircled by yet another time and space which for want of a better word can only be called constitutional? And that it is impossible for them to escape this constitutional time-space? What is sacred duty in one zone becomes criminal in another.
The Dalits of India want to drag them into this constitutional time-space zone while the perpetrators and their sympathisers scream humanity. This humanity is not available to the Dalits,so they speak in the language of justice. It is interesting to see why this is not intelligible to those who claim to be casteless or who sincerely believe they are beyond the morass of caste. They keep wondering what prevents the dalits and the backwards to get rid of it. While reading the news of flogging they seek the reason. And they are appalled that even in this age of advanced technology ,the Sarvaiyas should be stuck in this primordial job of skinning of cows, even if dead. They abhor the backwardness of the skinners. Also, while rejecting the flogging and stripping, they try to understand the perpetrators. Could it be a case of mistaken identity? Were they misled by the news of killing of a cow?
So, the ‘ casteless’ contemplate while the ‘casted’ rages, in pain and anger. Is there any meeting point between the two? A difficult question, if we note the absence of any substantive sympathy or solidarity from those to whom the perpetrators belong.
Why should Jhajjar, Gohana, Khiarlanji or Una reamin only Dalit issues? Why cannot all political parties make justice for Una and dignity for Dalits their issue. Why should it be a strategic issue to be decided by the numbers of the affected , on both sides? Why should we be told that one should not expect major political parties making it an issue since dalits form only 7% of the population of Gujarat?
There is a seamlessness between institutional spaces and free social spaces in these matters. The humiliation of a student from the SC category at the AIIMS, Delhi or the suicide of Rohit Vemula at the Central University of Hyderabad or the atrocity at Una or Sahranpur form a single, whole experience for the Dalits. We try to differentiate them. But the responses in all these cases are again uniform: it is only for the Dalits to protest, others prefer to be bemused onlookers if they are not legitimizing and denying the acts.
We also need to understand and accept that these incidents are not accidents. It is not only for the dalits to point at the pathology of it. One can only hope that the 93% of Gujarat joins its 7% , even if symbolically in the Azadi Kooch which starts tomorrow from Mehsana and culminates a week after at Dhanera in Banaskantha.