Some 20km from Gandhinagar, two men stand in an old hall full of women. Utter seriousness prevails in the room and you can see the resolve in the eyes of the women, most of them middle-aged. The men start reading a pledge while stretching their right arm out and the ladies follow suit.
"Neither I nor any family member will lift any dead carcasses hereafter." The pledge ends with Jai Bhim, a salutation to Dr. Ambedkar.
Dalit volunteers at the venue ensure that a video of this event is taken and it is shared on Facebook and YouTube on 24 July.
This pledge was part of the organized protest that erupted across Gujarat following four Dalits getting mercilessly beaten for skinning a dead cow in Una, Geer Somanath district. And it all started with another video shared on social media on 11 July, this time by the perpetrators of the crime.
From 11 to 18 July, Dalits were using social media to do what the mainstream media thus far hadn't -- circulating the evidence of the Una atrocity.
In this horrific case of Dalit atrocity, the videotaping was done by Gau Rakshaks or cow vigilantes themselves to showcase their "bravery" and to serve as a warning to others who do not treat their holy cow with due reverence. Unfortunately, for them, their plan backfired. Instead of terrorizing Dalits, the video of the crime united them. Local Dalit leaders used this video to spread the word and organized state-wide protest. Gujarat chief secretary G R Aloria talking to the Indian Express conceded that the video uploaded on social media by the accused helped the protestors organize more Dalits. He said that social media helped the Dalit victims of Una to assert themselves.
From 11 to 18 July, when Mayawati raised this atrocity issue in the Upper house, Dalits were using social media to do what the mainstream media thus far hadn't -- circulating the evidence of the Una atrocity. Some social activists of the organization Navsarjan, who were part of huge rally in Surendranagar used WhatsApp and Facebook to mobilize Dalits for their 18 July protest rally. Here, a unique and revolutionary mode of protest was used. Dalits brought cow carcasses to the Surendra Nagar collectorate and dumped it in the premises. The activists ensured that a video was shot of them throwing the carcass while shouting, "Tumhari mata hai, tum sambhalo (It is your mother, you take care of it)."
Dalits brought cow carcasses to the Surendra Nagar collectorate and dumped it in the premises. The activists ensured that a video was shared on social media...
Prof. Vivek Kumar, sociologist and JNU professor, while talking to National Dastak said that the Dalits of Gujarat need to be saluted for this impactful act of protest. He added that despite being at the receiving end of atrocities for so long, Dalits are asserting themselves in innovative ways.
The mainstream media appears to have picked up the Una incident only after 18 July -- the day of the Surendranagar protest and Mayawati's outburst in the Upper house. Hours later, a new video by BJP vice-president Dayashankar Singh abusing Mayawati in the crudest of terms came into circulation and dominated the headlines. Was this a coincidence or part of a wider plan?
Dilip Mandal, former editor of India Today (Hindi), opined in a Facebook post that the Una incident and Dalit protests have become a huge embarrassment for the ruling party, especially since the BJP and RSS had pursued cow politics as early as the recent Bihar elections. To cover up the Gujarat Dalit unrest, the BJP-friendly media seems to have discovered Swati Singh -- wife of Dayashankar Singh. Swati, who filed an FIR herself against BSP leaders, including Mayawati, for abusing her 12-year-old daughter, remained a focus of prime-time news for the next few days. Later, a video released showed that no bad language was used by BSP's Nasimuddin Siddiqui.
Perhaps for the first time, Dalits were using social media effectively to organize and protest at such a large scale in Gujarat.
Even as the mainstream media shifted focus from Una to Swati Singh, the Dalit mass agitation in Gujarat spread across the state. Perhaps for the first time, Dalits were using social media effectively to organize and protest at such a large scale in the state. The pledge of not handling dead animals was taking this protest to next level. Dalits living hand to mouth understood that giving up the age-old profession would cost them dearly, but they were willing to do it to gain self-respect and to protect future generations from the assaults of "cow-protection" goons.
The Gujarat protest was also distinct in its focus on Dr Ambedkar as a role model and guiding light, rather than Mahatma Gandhi. Even in this home state of Gandhi, it's Dr. Ambedkar whose picture and slogans formed the core of the agitation. After all, he advocated for the annihilation of caste while Gandhi supported the varna and caste system, to different degrees, all his life.