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Material issues are at the heart of Dalit politics, says Mewani

Jignesh Mewani

Jignesh Mewani  

Our movement is pitching for an alternative model of development based on land reforms, he says

Jignesh Mewani has become the face of Dalit assertion in Gujarat after leading the protests following the Una incident last July, in which a group of Dalits were brutally assaulted by cow protection vigilantes.

Mr. Mewani, who is a leader of the Una Dalit Atyachar Ladhai Samiti, recently led a rasta roko agitation in Ahmedabad demanding that the government give physical possession of the land already allotted to Dalits. The State administration relented and has started mapping the land around Saroda village in Ahmedabad district’s Dholka tehsil, in preparation for handing over around 220 bighas of land to 115 Dalit families of this village.

‘Reasonable demand’

Speaking exclusively to The Hindu, Mr. Mewani argued that his movement’s main demand that every landless Dalit should be given 5 acres of land was reasonable as “every zilla and tehsil has government wasteland” and which could be recovered through the implementation of the Gujarat Land Ceiling Act. Besides, the SC/ST sub-plan provided for the government to buy land and distribute it to landless SC/STs.

He said his movement was “pitching for an alternative model of development, based on land reforms, where productivity and wealth gains will be made by redistributing land to those who will work on it themselves, land to the tiller.” The State administration’s move to start mapping land around Saroda village was a huge victory for the movement, he claimed. Hitherto, “Gujarat had a unique model of carrying land reforms only on paper,” he said. His movement would organise a rail roko in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency of Maninagar in Ahmedabad on October 1 to press for the land distribution demand.

Biggest challenge

Asked what was the biggest challenge facing Dalit politics today, Mr. Mewani said Dalit assertion should have progressed beyond anti-casteist sloganeering and that it was “bogged down in identity politics.” The need was to “combine identity politics with a material basis — to fight for social justice as well as economic justice.” In this regard, he said the movement considered the Left as an ally.

“Even if we are not able to create a classless society … we ought to aim for a society that has less disparity … Material issues are the heart of Dalit politics. With our slogan, “you keep the cow’s tail, give us our land,” we are discarding the communal agenda of the Sangh Parivar and are raising material issues — one could call it a Left perspective,” he said. While critiquing the Left for its shortcomings, he would welcome Leftist activists to his movement, he said, adding, “more the Left keeps raising Dalit issues, the more Dalits will begin to trust the Left.”

It was necessary for Dalits to counter saffron politics as well and the “political project of Dalit-Muslim” unity was one way to do so, he said, emphasising the need for inter-caste and inter-religious marriages to be common among Dalits. His movement was seeking to build a broad coalition against the Sangh Parivar and a gathering of OBCs, Adivasis, Dalits, Muslims and trade unionists was being planned for September 27 in the State, he said.

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Printable version | Jun 1, 2020 3:21:41 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/Material-issues-are-at-the-heart-of-Dalit-politics-says-Mewani/article14643119.ece

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