Attack on Dalits, BJP must take blame

Attack on Dalits, BJP must take blame

The rising and spreading protests by Dalits in Gujarat against the stripping and public flogging of some of their caste men on a false charge of cow slaughter have again brought national attention on two issues. These are the illegal enforcement of the cow slaughter ban by vigilante groups and ill treatment of and atrocities on Dalits. The two issues have converged in the incident near Una town in Gujarat where some Dalit men were brutally assaulted by a cow protection gang for skinning a dead cow. The BJP and its governments are in the dock on both issues. Cow vigilantes have grown bolder and more aggressive after the party came to power at the Centre, especially in the states which it rules. These groups have taken the law into their hands by harassing and punishing people, mainly minorities and Dalits, on mere suspicion. The killing of Akhlaq in Dadri and the harassment and punishment of many
others elsewhere are evidence their high-handedness.

Governments have been indifferent, if not complicit in their actions. It should be noted that Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh condemned the attack on the Dalits and promised action against the culprits but was silent on the issue of cow slaughter as such. While an excess committed by a vigilante group comes to light, the leadership distances itself from the incident and its perpetrators. But the inspiration and the environment for the actions are created by the party only. Since it is part of the party’s ideology and is used as a polarising issue, it cannot disown it. For the same reasons, it finds it difficult to rein in the hordes that enforce the ban and harass and attack the usual suspects.

The issue is different in the case of the treatment of Dalits. The BJP has tried to shed its image of a high-caste party, to reach out to Dalits and even to appropriate Ambedkar’s legacy. But it has found itself on the wrong side of many incidents involving the lives, interests and dignity of Dalits even in the recent past. The Una incident has become more potent and politically troublesome for the party because the victims were Dalits. It has not gone unnoticed that the state chief minister visited Una only days after the incident. It is this message of indifference and the long history of discrimination and atrocities that brought the protesting Dalits to the streets in the state. Assurances and image-building attempts will not help, and it is for the BJP and its governments to ensure that equal rights of Dalits are respected and their tormentors are not spared.
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