By Pratik Sinha*
A 14 member delegation from Jan Sangharsh Manch visited the Governor of Gujarat, Om Prakash Kohli on Friday the 22nd of July, 2016, to submit a memorandum with a list of demands with respect to the increasing atrocities on Dalits and minorities in Gujarat and especially regarding the recent events in Una town of Gir-Somnath district where a group of Gau Rakshaks (cow vigilantes) brutally beat up Dalit youth when they were skinning a dead cow and the subsequent inaction of the local police authorities as well as the diabolic role played by the village sarpanch. Jan Sangharsh Manch (JSM), through its sister organization Gujarat Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU), works with sanitation workers who work as contractors in Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC).
The sanitation workers, majority of whom are Dalits, had expressed deep distress regarding the recent events in Una. In order to take forward their grievances, JSM decided to make a representation before the Governor of Gujarat. The team that met the Governor consisted of 6 members of JSM and 8 contract workers from AMC.
In the 40 minute meeting that we had with the Governor, we presented before him various issues that we believe has led to the sort of unrest that we are witnessing in the state of Gujarat and that Una was only a trigger which opened up a floodgate. Upon handing over the memorandum to the Governor, he assured us that our demands will be forwarded to the Government along with a covering letter from him and that he will also forward all our oral arguments in his letter.
For most part of the meeting, the Governor insisted that the demands that we put forward should be in the purview of law since the Government can only act within the four boundaries of law. He also asked us to persuade Dalits to not commit suicide! We told him that the suicide attempts cannot just be explained by this single incident in Una but is as a result of increased social, political and economic oppression of Dalits.
We told him that Dalits have lost faith in the Government and see suicide as a form of protest. We also told him how Gujarat has an extremely low conviction rate in the Atrocities Act, an act specifically meant to prevent atrocities against scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. This has also dwindled the faith in the Judiciary. We also told him many industries like the brick and kiln industry which employs a lot of Dalits still follows the minimum wage guidelines of 2009 while other industries follow the new 2014 guidelines which shows a clear discrimination against Dalits in Gujarat.
The Dalit workers from AMC also pointed out to the Governor as to how they have been working for years on contract basis, and even though they work at the cost of their health, Government refuses to follow the principle of equal work, equal pay and pay the contract workers much depressed wages as compared to the permanent workers.
As far as the question of law is concerned, we pointed it out to him that in case of Una, nothing at all happened in the realm of law. The Gau Rakshaks acted as if they have the power of police, the police instead of arresting the accused arrested the victims and the sarpanch, being the head of the village, failed to live upto his duties and sided with the accused. However, neither the sarpanch nor any of the police men involved have been booked so far and many accused who were part of the mob are still roaming free and that the entire episode showed that it was a complete failure of law and order.
The list of demands that we made are as follows:
1. The organized cow protectors who take law in their hands should be prohibited and strict action must be taken against them.
2. That certain offenders who have still not been charged by the police be nabbed and prosecuted immediately.
3. For protection of minorities and Dalits against the atrocities by such organizations, necessary amendments be carried out in relevant statutes.
4. Appropriate criminal case must be initiated against police of the police station who arrested the victims instead of the culprits in the Una case.
5. General circular should be issued directing all police officers of all police stations to take strict action against persons taking law in their own hand while acting as vigilantes.
6. Appropriate action should be taken against village level government servants and elected sarpanch for failure to report this incident to the police and in fact actively conniving with the accused.
The delegation comprised of following people: Nirjhari Sinha, Pratik Sinha, MP Deomurari, SH Iyer, Ramesh Shrivastav, Asim Shaikh from Jan Sangharsh Manch
Hiten Makwana, Gunvant Khatri, Prakash Vala, Jagdish Bhimjibhai, Maheshbhai Mangalbhai, Alpesh Shah and Alpesh Purabla. Jashwant Solanki was from the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation.