As Gujarat Government Blinks, Dalit Leader Jignesh Mewani to Hold Talks on Demands

Jignesh Mewani has warned that the agitation will move ahead if the talks, scheduled for October 5, are found to be a "gimmick of the government".

Ahmedabad: As the state administration braced itself for the rail roko scheduled for October 1, the Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch (RDAM) released a press statement late on the night before the event, stating that the agitation had been called off after assurances from the state government to hold talks to discuss their grievances.

About one month ago, Jignesh Mewani had called the rail roko (block rail) to take the Dalit movement – sparked by the July 11, 2016 incident in Una – to the next level.

The protest was announced under the banner of the RDAM for 12 noon at the railway crossing of Maninagar, the erstwhile state assembly constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Reportedly, D.B. Vaghela, joint commissioner of police of sector-2 in Ahmedabad, two deputy commissioners of police and three assistant commissioners of police had been deployed as part of the assigned security arrangement for the event. This apart, one company of State Reserve Police Force, more than 80 GRP jawans, 125 RPF jawans along with local police were said to be present at Maninagar.

Over the past one week, the city police and Ahmedabad’s crime branch reached out Jignesh to convince him to call off the rail roko. On September 29, officials from the Railway Police Force also attempted to hold talks with the Dalit leader and asked him to call off the movement. The police continued to be present even after the movement was called off. Mewani, along with other core team members of the RDAM, held a meeting with activists from other states on the evening of October 1.

Meeting under the watchful eyes of the police. Credit: Damayantee Dhar

Meeting under the watchful eyes of the police. Credit: Damayantee Dhar

Activists in support of the rail roko have been detained multiple times in the past; Mewani’s parents were detained along with others while participating in a protest. However, the movement gained more support as notable names expressed their support: filmmaker Anand Patwardhan, Dalit rights activist Chitralekha, Rahul Sonpimpale (student leader, BAPASPA), well-known Dalit scholar and political analyst Anand Teltumbde, and Magsaysay award winners Sandip Pandey and Nikhil Dey arrived in Ahmedabad to join in the rail roko movement.

Some other activists who were also expected to join in, including student leader Kanhaiya Kumar, but did not arrive on the day.

“We have been under [a] lot [of] pressure and surveillance ever since the movement gained momentum. Yet we proactively held conversation with officials from [the] chief minister’s office and from the office of minister of state home” Mewani told reporters on October 2.

“We have resorted to take our fight to [the] street because the government has been deaf to our demands. Rail roko was not the motive, the ultimate end of the movement has always been upliftment of the Dalits of the state,” he added.

According to a PTI report, RDAM’s core team is set to meet Pradipsinh Jadeja, Gujarat home minister, on October 5. He is said to have assured RDAM that he will hear all their demands. “We received a call from the state home minister Pradipsinh Jadeja, who requested us not to go ahead with the programme, after assuring that the government will hear our demands and discuss our grievances. We decided to defer the rail roko for now,” Subodh Parmar, c0-convener of RDAM told PTI. Apart from demanding BPL cards for all people below poverty line in the state, the organisation has chartered a list of ten demands.

“We shall go to Gandhinagar on October 5 with a very liberal approach. If the government says they shall begin by accepting two of our demands, we are ready to cooperate and give government the time,” stated Mewani.

Of the 10 demands that were decided during the Asmita Yatra held in August,  the two demands that the RDAM team will push for immediate acceptance is the announcement of BPL cards and that the cases lodged against all the activists who participated in various protests over the last two months be dismissed.

Vinay mahajan, cultural artist, Indubhai Jani from Khet Vikas Parishad, Bhavar Meghvanshi from Rajasthan, Jignesh Mewani and Rohan Sonpimple from JNU at the meeting. Credit: Damayantee Dhar

Vinay mahajan, cultural artist, Indubhai Jani from Khet Vikas Parishad, Bhavar Meghvanshi from Rajasthan, Jignesh Mewani and Rohan Sonpimple from JNU at the meeting. Credit: Damayantee Dhar

RDAM’s demands

  1. Every accused of the brutal incident at Una need to be banished once they get bail and should be booked under PASA.
  1. Those who haven’t been arrested yet but can be seen in the videos beating the Dalit family and the policemen, who were not just callous but also a part of the criminal conspiracy, be booked under the Atrocities Act.
  1. All the frivolous cases that were filed against Dalits for participating in various demonstrations against the Una incident should be revoked.
  1. In September 2012, at Thangadh town of Surendranagar district, three innocent Dalit youth were killed in police firing. However, even after four years, one accused police constable is still absconding and chargesheet is yet to be filed in two of the three deaths. Instead of filing the chargesheet, police just filed a C-summary report and closed the case in a hasty manner. The absconding accused be immediately apprehended and chargesheet be filed in due course as mandated under the Atrocities Act. The trial of all the three cases should be conducted at special courts as mandated by the Act.
  1. All Dalit families who are eligible according to the revenue laws of the state should be allotted five acres of land each. All the agrarian land that has been declared as surplus under the Gujarat Agricultural Land Ceiling Act be immediately allotted to deserving Dalit families. Physical possession of the allotted land should be ensured at the earliest and offences under section 3(1)(F) and 3(1)(G) of the Atrocities Act should be registered against the encroachers for wrongfully occupying land allotted to Dalits. While allotting the land, priority should be given to Valmiki families and the ownership of the land should be given to the women of the family. Substantial agrarian infrastructure be created on such lands from scheduled castes and scheduled tribes sub-plans.
  1. Reservation Act should be formulated in Gujarat.
  1. The budget allocated to SC, ST sub-plans should not be diverted towards general purposes but be strictly spent on SC and ST people and to ensure the same a legislation should be created.
  1. All sanitation workers who are employed by the state should be made permanent and be paid according to 7th pay commission.
  1. Special courts as mandated under the Atrocities Act should be constituted in each and every district in the state of Gujarat.
  1. The RDAM stands in solidarity with other deprived classes, including tribals, and demands that the 1,20,000 pending applications of tribals under the Forest Rights Act be expedited and the land be allotted to the deserving applicants.

Mewani has stated that the movement will carry on if the government does not follow through on its assurances about hearing these demands.

“We will stage more rasta roko and agitation if this is just a gimmick of the government,” said Mewani.

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