It is natural for the opposition to make a hue and cry because of atrocities against four Dalit workers by self-styled protectors of cow. They tied the four tannery workers to an SUV, stripped them and flogged them with sticks in Mota Samadhiyala village in Una town of Saurashtra region. They then posted the video online in order to make this as an example. Members of the Scheduled Castes are protesting and damaging public property to show their anger and frustration.
However, it would be wrong to blame the Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled state government or the party or the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh for acts which are illegal and inhuman. Nobody has the mandate to take the law into their hands. As is the case, the Dalit men told their tormentors that they were taking off skin from the carcass of a dead cow. Even if they had slaughtered cow in a State where this is completely banned and the issue is sensitive and considered a sin, no one has the right to act as a vigilante group and deliver instant justice in the fashion of a Kangaroo court.
The act was wrong and the State Government has rightly taken action by arresting the perpetrators of the crime, ordered investigation into the crime and has decided to set-up special court to try them. The Chief Minister's office is personally looking into the case and has also announced compensation of Rs1 lakh to each victim and state-monitored treatment. It has suspended four policemen for negligence of duty.
The State has taken swift action and demonstrated the desire to get the culprits punished. In our country, the State cannot mete out punishment. This authority lies only with the court. The State has already demonstrated its keenness for speedy trial. In such a situation it would be unfair to blame the state government as having failed to do anything or acting in connivance against Dalits.
It is the swiftness of the state action and the determination to get the guilty punished that should decide whether the ruling party in that state government is sensitive to such acts of atrocities. In Bihar's Muzaffarpur district, a highly condemnable act of two Dalits being beaten and urinated upon for allegedly stealing a motorcycle took place. But mere condemnation is not enough. The state government must act swiftly and decisively. Those Opposition leaders who visited Gujarat to demonstrate solidarity with Dalits there must demonstrate their sincerity by visiting Bihar too. In their failure to do so, they would be exposed as playing politics over the incident in Gujarat.
The reaction of the Union Government to what happened in Gujarat was also quick and realistic. The Issue figured prominently in Parliament that has assembled for its Monsoon Session. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said:
"Any atrocity against Dalit, irrespective of whether it is in a BJP-ruled state or in a state ruled by any other party, is unfortunate. Such incidents are a social evil that needs to be rooted out of our country."
He also announced compensation of Rs 4 lakh each for the youth who were beaten, and said the Centre would bear the medical expenses of those injured in the protests.
One can understand the seething anger of Dalits particularly when they have suffered the humiliation for centuries in a feudal order where caste rules every relationship. This is not the situation existing only in Gujarat. In some of the other places such as Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, worst kinds of atrocities such as rape of Dalit women and burning of Dalit houses and beating of Dalit youths have taken place.
In October 2002, five Dalits were lynched in Duleena village, in Haryana's Jhajjar district. This was done by a frenzied mob for the alleged crime of cow-slaughter. Law enforcement agencies were onlookers. In May 2016, a 60-year-old Dalit man was beaten to death in Uttar Pradesh's Shamli district. Such incidents are there in plenty to demonstrate that atrocities against Dalits have been taking place in the country on a regular basis. To put the blame on one party would be far from justice.
In most cases such atrocities emanate from the social mindset. It is not without reason that in most Indian villages Dalits continue to live in Southern part because of the concept of pollution and purity. Things would change only if development becomes the focus of political campaign and all individuals are treated as citizens rather than members of a particular group or caste. The State machinery must act impartially and as per the rule book.