Taking the cue from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's strong condemnation of the attack on Dalits, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has finally spoken out on the issue.
"We appeal to all sections to remain aware of elements who want to disturb the environment. We expect the administration to take speedy action against such individuals and groups who break the law," RSS general secretary Suresh "Bhaiyaji" Joshi said in a statement released on Monday.
"Taking the law in one's own hands to harass Dalits is not only illegal, but also inhuman," he added.
The message came in the wake of PM Modi's dramatic declaration of anger against an upstart group of self-styled "gau rakshaks", or cow vigilantes, which has been intimidating and attacking communities that are responsible for skinning dead bovines or disposing their remains.
A strong backlash from the Dalit communities has followed a recent spate of such incidents, especially in Gujarat, where Modi was the chief minister before he took over as the prime minister after the general elections of 2014.
In July, a group of Dalit youths in Una, Gujarat, were skinning a dead cow, when they were beaten up by some men on the grounds of killing the animal. A year ago, in yet another horrifying example of "cow protection", a man in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, was lynched by a mob on the suspicion of keeping and consuming beef at his home.
Modi, who had maintained a studied silence since then, has only now spoken up, as the situation in his home state seems to be going from bad to worse. Gujarat, which is going into assembly polls next year, is a strong bastion for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Modi's expression of sympathy with Dalits in the state is perceived as a way of consolidating the BJP's support base. The party has also recently put a new chief minister, Vijay Rupani, in power, replacing Anandiben Patel, who had failed to control the atrocities on Dalits and the agitations by the aggrieved Patidar community there.
At his first ever Town Hall address recently, Modi came down heavily on the gau rakshaks, saying, "Those who want to serve cows should rather work towards stopping cows from consuming plastics." He went on to urge those who attacked his "Dalit brothers" to shoot him first.
While the top leadership of the RSS seems to have added its voice to the PM's damage control mission, a section of the outfit is displeased with what it feels to be a negative reflection on the allegiance shown by the bhakts. According to a report in the Hindustan Times, a source from the sangh parivar claimed that "The PM's words have alienated karkyakartas (workers) who devote time and resources to protect cows."
The report also quoted a message that is allegedly circulating on social media demanding an apology from Modi for his denunciation of the gau rakshaks: "Abhi Samay Hai, Maafi Mango, Waqt Nahi Barbad Karo.... Ganga KI jaldhara Budhi Ka Kachra Saaf Kardeti Hai, Gaiya Ma Hai, Bacchon Ki Har Galti Maaf Kar Deti Hai (There is still time, say sorry, don't waste time. A trickle of water from the Ganga cleanses the mind; cow is a mother and forgives all mistakes)."
The ultra-Hindutva wing of the RSS, Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), while refusing to comment on the attack on the Dalits, barely disguised its displeasure with the PM's remarks.
"We will not like to comment on the issue [of violence against Dalits]. However, cow protection has been going on since long. We will continue to work for it," VHP general secretary Dr Surendra Jain told The Hindu. The Hindu Mahasabha, another fringe Hindutva element, also reacted strongly to Modi's speech, calling him "anti-Hindu."
"Modi must apologise to Hindus, for terming 80 per cent of gau rakshaks as goondas. The BJP will see its support base shrinking in the next set of polls, after this anti-Hindu statement of the Prime Minister," said Pawan Pandit, president of the Rashtriya Gau Raksha Dal, according to The Hindu.
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