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‘You can’t preach self-respect to empty stomachs’

‘You can’t preach self-respect to empty stomachs’
Photo: AFP

In an interview with the Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani. By ILANGOVAN RAJASEKARAN

IN mid July 2016, a video of a few Dalit youths being beaten and paraded by a mob for skinning a dead cow in Una in Gujarat went viral and triggered a mass movement for Dalit assertion that probably had few parallels in the history of modern India.

This battle for self-respect and dignity began with a 400-kilometre march by more than three lakh Dalits from Ahmedabad to Una braving threats and intimidation from Sangh Parivar elements and daring them with slogans such as “You may keep the cow’s tail, give us our land”.

One of the architects of the movement was Jignesh Mevani, a 36-year-old lawyer-activist who has been working for long on the Dalit land rights issue in Gujarat. As convener of the Una Dalit Atyachar Ladat Samiti, he made Dalits take a pledge that they would not do jobs such as skinning dead animals that were linked to their birth in a particular community.

Mevani is going ahead with his ambitious mission of uniting Dalits and all progressive forces, including the Left, on one platform to launch a pan-India movement against the growing menace of communalism and to safeguard secularism and work towards establishing a casteless society. There are many sceptics within the Dalit community about this approach.

Taking on the Sangh Parivar in its den, Gujarat, he says, is not easy. He realises that making Dalits conscious of their right to live with dignity is a stupendous task, and his immediate objective is to defeat the caste-centric nationalistic Hindutva caucus. “If they are defeated, the fractures in society can be removed. But it is not possible unless Dalits bury their differences and join hands with progressive forces,” he says.

Mevani was recently in Chennai on an invitation from the Caste Annihilation Front (Jathi Ozhippu Munnani) and to attend a series of programmes. He spoke to Frontlineon the Gujarat model of development and why it failed, the rise of the scourge of right-wing extremism, and the deep differences within the Dalit community.

Excerpts from the interview:

The Gujarat development model that Narendra Modi is said to have scripted as Chief Minister of the State from 2001 to 2014 is now sought to be replicated at the national level. But you have criticised it as a failure. Why?

The Gujarat model is a lethal combination of neoliberalism and communalism, which syncs perfectly with Modi’s “Goebbelsian rhetoric” of development.

Courtesy: Frontline