Gujarat— Seven years have passed since the UNA Dalit flogging incident shocked the nation and garnered international attention. The incident, which took place in 2016 in Gujarat's Gir Somnath district, involved the brutal beating of a group of Dalit men by self-proclaimed cow vigilantes. The graphic visuals of the merciless flogging circulated widely on social media, triggering widespread protests and highlighting the pervasive atrocities and oppression faced by the Dalit community. Despite the initial uproar and promises of justice, the victims continue to grapple with an elusive pursuit for justice.
In 2016, in Una, a city and municipality lying under the Gir Somnath district, on 11th July, a group of Dalit men was brutally beaten by self-proclaimed cow vigilantes for skinning a dead cow that they had brought from the nearby Bediya Village. The accused refused to listen to the pleas of the victims and tied them to the car, mercilessly thrashing them. The flogging was captured on camera phones. The social media was in a frenzy with the images of brutal flogging of the bare-chested individuals tied to a car.
This incident gained widespread attention and led to protests across the state, highlighting the ongoing atrocities and oppression faced by the Dalit community. People took to the streets across the state and organized peaceful protests. The tanners boycotted their work as dead cows lay unpicked on the streets of Gujarat. The incident received international media coverage.
The biggest fallout of the incident was that the then Chief Minister of the state, Anandi Ben Patel, had to resign. This was in contrast to the post-Godhra riots of 2002 when the then Chief Minister of the State, Narendra Modi, remained defiant and refused to tender his resignation despite immense pressure. The resignation of Anandi Ben Patel came more than a year before the elections in the state.
The outrage forced Prime Minister Narendra Modi to condemn the "fake" Gau Sevaks. In an emotional appeal, the Prime Minister urged them "not to beat his Dalit brothers but rather that they can beat him." The VHP and RSS also condemned the attack. FIRs were filed against 40 accused. The impact of the outrage generated by the incident also influenced other cases of Dalit atrocities, and the succeeding Chief Minister, Vijay Rupani, ordered an SIT investigation into the 2012 incident in Surendra Nagar district.
In September 2016, the Gujarat CID arrested 43 accused. However, 35 of the people were released on bail. The cases were filed under IPC sections 506 (criminal intimidation) and section 114 (abettor present when the offense is committed), apart from sections of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989, and also sections 66A and 66B of the Information Technology Act. The chargesheet was filed in December 2016, and the trial could have begun in 2018.
One of the main accused, Kiran Singh Darbar, was released on bail in 2016, along with four other accused: police inspector Nirmal Singh Jhala, Nitin Kothari, Natvar Singh Mer, and then police sub-inspector Narendra Pandey. Another accused, Nagjibhai Vaniya, was granted bail in 2020. Four other main accused in the case were granted bail last year in July on the condition that they would not enter the Gir Somnath District until the victims depose before the court.
Although the event managed to generate immense sympathy for the victims, the hopes soon fizzled out as the victims continued to suffer after the violence, as the promises of a house and farmland allegedly made by the then Chief Minister and now UP governor, Anandi Ben Patel, were reneged upon by the state government on the grounds that there was no proof of such promises.
Vashram Sarvaiya, one of the seven victims, wrote to the then President, Ram Nath Kovind, seeking mercy killing, alleging that "Patel had assured us with five acres of land to each victim and a government job as per the qualification." He also said that his family had quit the leather tanning occupation and therefore lacked a means of livelihood.
Ramesh Sarvaiya and his cousin Ashok Sarvayiya, who were two of the victims, were attacked on April 25, 2018, by one of the accused, Kiransinh Darbar, who was out on bail in the case since 2016. The accused reportedly threatened the cousins to take back the case. An FIR was filed against Darbar and his friend.
Seven years after the incident, there is a perceptible rise in Dalit assertion in the state, and Dalits have converted to Buddhism in droves. One such big conversion ceremony was organized on April 14th of this year. Speaking to The Mooknayak, Jagdish from Swayam Sainik Dal, the organization that organized the massive conversion drive, agreed that the Una Incident galvanized the Dalits against atrocities but said that awareness was brought by Manyawar Kanshiram, and social media is only augmenting the reach of the awareness.