Vashram Sarvaiya and his brothers were stripped half naked and beaten up at Mota Samadhiyala village in Gir Somnath district by the self-appointed ‘cow protectors’ who accused them of indulging in cow slaughter. (File Pic)
Vashram Sarvaiya and his brothers were stripped half naked and beaten up at Mota Samadhiyala village in Gir Somnath district by the self-appointed ‘cow protectors’ who accused them of indulging in cow slaughter. (File Pic)

Remember Una Flogging? Let’s Know What Changes the Barbaric Incident Brought in Victim’s Life

The Mooknayak delved into the recent developments in the case and the questions whether identity would be a big issue in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections; whether the Dalits becoming part of an increasingly homogeneous identity; and whether the Dalit identity getting social and political acceptance.

New Delhi: July 11, 2016, turned spotlight on Dalit identity politics across the country after seven members of the socially outcast community were brutally thrashed at Una in Gujarat by self-proclaimed ‘gau rakshaks’. Cow is considered a sacred animal in the Hindu mythology in India.

Vashram Sarvaiya and his brothers were stripped half naked and beaten up at Mota Samadhiyala village in Gir Somnath district by the self-appointed ‘cow protectors’ who accused them of indulging in cow slaughter. 

Contrary to the attackers’ claim, investigations, however, later revealed that the Dalit family was skinning the carcasses of a dead cow — which it had brought from Bediya village.

As a video of the incident went viral on social media, protests erupted throughout the state. An estimated 20,000 Dalits, including women, participated in a protest march known as the ‘Dalit Asmita Yatra’ (Dalit pride march), which was organized under the auspices of the Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch and concluded on August 15, 2016 at Una with a pledge to renounce their custom of removing cow carcasses.

The incident gave the community a strong voice in the state Assembly. Jignesh Mevani, who led the protest march, emerged as one of their prominent leaders who successfully contested the next election.

But what happened to the case. Identity is a big issue in this election year. Are Dalits becoming part of an increasing homogeneous identity? Is Dalit identity getting social and political acceptance or is it a condemnation?

For generations, people belonging to Sarvaiya’s caste have been engaged in skinning dead animals.

Vashram Sarvaiya and his brothers were stripped half naked and beaten up at Mota Samadhiyala village in Gir Somnath district by the self-appointed ‘cow protectors’ who accused them of indulging in cow slaughter. (File Pic)
Seven Years Later: Seeking Justice and Dalit Assertion in the Wake of the Una Dalit Flogging Incident

But in 2016, while doing the same, some socially ‘upper’ caste people — accusing him along with his three brothers and parents of indulging in cow slaughter — physically assaulted them black and blue and then paraded them half naked.

“While we were skinning a cow — which was killed by a wild animal — in a forest near Mota Samadhiyala village, a group of 45 cow vigilantes caught and beat us for two hours. They did not even spare my elderly father and mother who were also accompanying us,” Sarvaiya told The Mooknayak, recalling the horror that unfolded on the fateful day.

Based on a first information report (FIR) filed by him, 45 people — including four Gujarat police officials — were arrested. While the case has been under trial since August 2018, six prime accused are out on bail.

Sarvaiya and his family have now given up their traditional business of skinning dead animals. Our state as well as the Centre are being governed by the BJP (the Bharatiya Janata Party).

“Following the incident, (the then Gujarat Chief Minister) Anandiben Patel visited us and promised that we would be given government jobs along with housing plots, five-acre agricultural land and Below Poverty Line cards. In addition he had assured us that we would get justice and the perpetrators would be severely punished,” he said, adding that the promises turned out to be a mere lip service to douse down the anger and discontent among the politically significant Dalits of the state.

“Seven years have gone by, but nothing has happened to those promises,” said the activist — who is in his early 40s.

In 2018, the state government told the Gujarat Legislative Assembly that there was “no record of the promises” when Jignesh Mevani reminded the incumbents in a session of the House about the promises.

However, the flogging incident intensified the debate on the oppression of Dalits and their demand for equal rights.

“We were proud of being Hindus, but Hindus tortured us. This incident made us realise why we continue to practice such a religion where we are subjected to assaults and humiliation because of our source of livelihood,” he said, informing that he, with his entire family, left Hinduism in 2018 and adopted Buddhism — which, as he opines, “gives everyone the right to equality” and where “there is no place for discrimination”.

In search of equality, Sarvaiya’s decision to convert to Buddhism changed his life forever.

Vashram Sarvaiya and his brothers were stripped half naked and beaten up at Mota Samadhiyala village in Gir Somnath district by the self-appointed ‘cow protectors’ who accused them of indulging in cow slaughter. (File Pic)
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“We are completely done with the Hindu rituals. Earlier, we used to spend a lot on ‘hawan’ (an oblation to gods), ‘yagya’ (a Hindu ritual done in front of a sacred fire) and ‘paath’ (pious chanting or recitation of a Hindu sacred text). We used to offer ‘dakshana’ (donations) in the temple. Now, all this has ended completely. Buddhism emphasizes education — which has brought meaningful changes in our life.

But Sarvaiya, besides being an optimist, is also worried. 

“Making this diverse country a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ (Hindu nation) has become a part of public discourse, and political parties that claim themselves to be the champion of Hindus often fuel this narrative to woo the majority of political gains. But the reality is there will not be a single such village throughout the country where only Hindus live,” he said, giving out a message: “make efforts to eradicate the caste system instead of talking of talking about the illusionary ‘Hindu Rashtra’”; and “promote humanity and brotherhood where there should be no supremacy of any religion”. 

“We are inculcating these values in our children so that they can come forward in the future to protect the diversity of this great country,” he concluded.

Sarvaiya’s experience of contempt and humiliation is completely different from his fellow community members who of late are proud of their Hindu identity.

Nand Kishor Raigar — a Dalit activist from Rajsamand in Rajasthan, who is associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a right-wing Hindu nationalist organisation — rejects Sarvaiya’s allegation that the attackers belonged the Sangh’s affiliates of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal.

He claimed the VHP and the Bajrang Dal are undertaking a campaign to “protect cows”, but the private militia “do not oppress anyone”. 

“I have also heard that atrocities used to happen against the Dalits earlier, but it is no longer in practice. The Sangh (the RSS) supports the Dalits; its cadres never commit any crime against them. The Sangh considers Hindus a monolithic community irrespective of whether they are Dalits or upper caste,” he claimed.

With regard to the clamour of a Hindu state — a political ideology that favours nativism and monoculturalism, he said formation of a Hindu Rashtra does not mean that believers of other religions will be kicked out of the country.

“It promises good governance, development and prosperity for all, irrespective of one’s caste or faith. The idea of resorting to the Hindu Rashtra is completely misunderstood,” he claimed — dodging questions that the concept is in contradiction of the Constitution and has no place in a democracy.

Vashram Sarvaiya and his brothers were stripped half naked and beaten up at Mota Samadhiyala village in Gir Somnath district by the self-appointed ‘cow protectors’ who accused them of indulging in cow slaughter. (File Pic)
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Vashram Sarvaiya and his brothers were stripped half naked and beaten up at Mota Samadhiyala village in Gir Somnath district by the self-appointed ‘cow protectors’ who accused them of indulging in cow slaughter. (File Pic)
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