A year has passed since the incident where four Dalit youth were flogged in Una, a town in the Gir Somnath district of Gujarat. A video recording of the incident was circulated on social media, which drew the attention of the state towards Mota Samadhiyala – a nondescript village near Una, the home of all the victims.
The incident happened on July 11 last year when a group of cow vigilantes barged into the house of Balu Sarvaiya, a Dalit whose primary occupation was skinning dead cattle. The cow vigilantes assaulted seven members of the Sarvaiya family, including Balu, his wife Kunvar, his sons Vasram and Ramesh, and relatives Ashok and Bechar. Devarshi Banu who had come to the family’s rescue was also beaten up. Later, the mob tied Ramesh, Vasram, Ashok and Bechar to a car, and stripped, flogged and marched them half naked for about 25 kilometres to Una.
One year later, Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani, who became the face of the protest movement in the wake of the incident, has rolled up his sleeve for another massive protest to commemorate a year of the Dalit Asmita Yatra. The seven-day yatra, called Azadi Kooch, will commence from Mehsana on July 12 and culminate at Dhanera in Banaskantha district on July 18.
“The legacy of the Dalit Asmita Yatra [a ten-day march from Ahmedabad to Una that was organised last year to protest the incident] needs to be remembered. This movement shall rejuvenate the momentum of the Dalit movement in the state,” said Mevani.
Balu, one of the seven victims who shared the stage with Mevani and other leaders and activists last year in Una, is unsure if he will join the Azadi Kooch under the banner of Rashtriya Adhikar Manch this year.
“Leaders come and go but nobody ever stood by us,” said Balu.
“Why call us after 12 months?” he asked.
The incident changed the lives of the Sarvaiya family. Memories of that fateful day still haunt them and the injuries from the assault refuse to heal.
“My ear pains almost all the time and I need to see a doctor at least once in a week. Doctors say the ear drum of my left year has been perforated. My legs have been so badly injured that they still pain and I can’t walk properly. Our family used to earn a living from skinning dead cattle. Ever since the incident, we stopped skinning cows. I could work as labourer but with my injuries, that’s not possible,” said 25-year-old Vasram.
Vasram, who was married three years ago, quit studies to help his father earn, “We are a big family. I chose to quit studies after I passed the class X examinations to help my father earn our livelihood. But since the attack happened, my life has been juggling between the hospital and home.”
“Jigneshbhai jaise aye thhe, waise hi chale gaye. Sab andolan karte hai, hamara kya hua usse? Shuru me neta log aye, ab wo bhi ana band kar diya (Jignesh Mevani came and went away. Everyone is organising movements, what difference did it make for us? After the initial days, even the politicians stopped visiting us),” he retorted.
Bechar, 28, is Balu’s relative and a resident of Gir Gadhada town in the Gir Somnath district. He had come in search of a job, finally settling for skinning cattle for Rs 100 a day.
His legs and head were brutally injured in the attack. A year later, he can neither stand on his own for long nor is he mentally stable. He has also developed speech problems.
Being illiterate, cattle skinning was all he had done in his life to earn for his family. Since he has been incapable of working due to his injuries, his wife has been working as a labourer to earn for her husband and two children. She takes her husband to the fields where she works as he can’t be left alone.
“But her income barely sustains the family. Proper treatment is a far dream,” said Vasram.
Ashok, Vasram’s cousin, is the youngest victim of the incident. The 17-year-old is still traumatised and has sustained the worst injuries. The young boy has been left with a rupture in his stomach due to the assault. He suffers from chronic diarrhoea, constant stomach pain and has mostly been bedridden since the incident.
“The treatment availed so far has not been of much help. Ashok has been affected the worst. At times, he would wake up in middle of night screaming and shaking,” said Jitu, Ashok’s brother who was not at home on that fateful day.
Balu and his wife Kunwar were beaten too. Balu received seven stitches on his head.
Kunwar, who had come to the rescue of her sons and husband, was thrashed, her sari was pulled away and she was threatened with sexual violence.
Ramesh is the only victim to have recovered physically. He underwent vocational training for three months in Dalit Shakti Kendra, a training institute run by Navsarjan Trust in Sanand.
“He has learned to stitch clothes and works as a tailor now. The course is designed to impart basic literacy and teach things like the process of filing an FIR to empower the youth both socially and economically,” said Martin Macwan who heads Navsarjan Trust.
Banu, the only victim who is not from the Sarvaiya family, hails from Bediya village from where the Sarvaiyas had brought the dead cow.
“He tried to save us that day but they [cow vigilantes] beat him too. They let him go later as he does not belong to our family,” Vasram recalled.
Banu currently works as a diamond polisher in Surat.
With the men in the Sarvaiya family unable to work, their livelihood has been badly affected. An addition to their woe has been the medical bills. For a year now, the family has been living on the Rs 14 lakh they received as compensation from the Gujarat government, BSP leader Mayawati and the Centre.
“After we got Ramesh married recently, we have Rs 4 lakh left with us now. I don’t know how my family will sustain after this money is spent,” Balu says.
“There is no justice. Nobody even bothered to ask how we were doing for a year except for a few local Dalit activists who helped us file the FIR and later through the ordeal of the case,” he adds.
Noticeably, as the incident took centre stage, Anandiben Patel, the chief minister of Gujarat at the time, had visited the victims in the hospital in Rajkot and had announced that a special designated court will be set up to expedite the case and that it shall be deposed within 60 days. A year has passed, but the court has not been set up nor has the case been transferred to the nearest atrocity court in Junagadh.
In the interim, the case is being heard in the court of additional sessions judge S.P. Tamang in Una. After the sessions court in Una had denied bail, the accused approached the Gujarat high court. Twelve out of the 46 accused have received bail so far.
“Two people who were the conspirators have got bail on the grounds that they were not present at the spot of the incident. Some of the accused are students. They sought bail on the ground that their education is getting disrupted,” stated Jayanti Makadia, a Dalit activist who heads the Gujarat Dalit Sangathan, an organisation formed in 1995.
Makadia, who has been providing legal aid to the Sarvaiya family, added, “The government had assured the case shall be deposed in 60 days. A year later, the 12 accused have been granted bail. The others have filed applications for bail and will likely be granted soon. Under such circumstances, how does one hope for justice in this system?”