Violent protests by Dalits continued in Gujarat on Wednesday with incidents of bus burning, clashes and highway blockades being reported from Saurashtra and north Gujarat.
Protesters are demanding stern action against the cow vigilante group members who publicly flogged Dalits in Una on July 11.
Two more persons attempted suicide in Saurashtra. Almost two dozen persons have attempted to end their lives since Monday.
In Kadi town of Mehsana district, three public transport buses were torched by mobs, following which the authorities shut down the bus station. In Ahmedabad district, two group clashes were reported and the police had to use tear-gas shells to disperse the mobs, which had blocked the highway.
As many as 200 cow vigilante groups have sprung up Gujarat. They have become a law and order problem in Gujarat because of their aggression and the way they take law into their hands. So much so that the Chief Secretary G.R. Gloria told The Hindu on Thursday: “We are going to take strong action against such groups. These vigilantes are self-proclaimed gau rakshaks but in actual fact they are hooligans.”
With names such as Gau Raksha Samiti, Gau Raksha Ekta Samiti, they have percolated from taluka to even village level and the groups take law into their hands to deal with minorities or Dalits who run slaughter houses or meat businesses.
A senior government official characterised them as “local level lumpen elements who have emerged as extra-judicial forces and operate with impunity. They have become a real nuisance.”
Armed members of such groups often intercept vehicles transporting animals or raid slaughter houses where they suspect cows are being slaughtered. In the last year there have been around a dozen instances of such groups intercepting vehicles or raiding slaughter houses in Gujarat.
“I was badly beaten up by people from the Gau Samiti three months ago when my tempo carrying two buffalos was intercepted on the national highway near Vadodara. They first asked how many cows were being carried in my vehicle to slaughter house,” said 28 year old Altaf Kureshi, a driver in Ahmedabad.
“Earlier, there were only a few animal protection groups in the state and they were mostly Jains because Jainism believes in absolute non violence. But lately, such forces have come up every nook and corner of the state and their main activity is to terrorize minorities and Dalits,” said general secretary of Peoples Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) Gautam Thakker.
Plea for ban
He said he would urge the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) during his meeting on Thursday to direct the State government to shut down such vigilante groups.
The senior government official pointed out that “local policemen are complicit in the activities of these groups because they act as informers of police and also many times, they extort money from those in animal trade or in the slaughter house line.”
Kaushik Parmar, who led the fact-finding committee that visited Mota Samadhiyala village near Una — some Dalits there were beaten up there for skinning a dead cow, leading to the current upsurge — said that it was not a one-off episode. He said Dalits had been at the receiving end of the cow protection committees for many months now.
“They had become the target,” he said, adding that “there have been at least three such incidents in the past two months in the area when the Dalit community members were beaten up by these so-called cow vigilante groups. All those are related to skinning of dead cows.”
According to Dalit rights activist Martin Macwan: “Without any legal sanctity or authority, these vigilante groups, patronized and sheltered by local politicians, have become a force in the State. After minorities, they have turned their eyes on Dalits now.”