Attack against four Dalits for skinning cow sparks mass protests in Gujarat

A group of cow vigilantes brutally beat four men for harming sacred animal. Prime Minister Modi’s home state is now in turmoil and voters’ dissatisfaction might negative impact the BJP's campaign among low caste voters.

Ahmedabad (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A wave of protests caused by the brutal attack against some Dalits last week has increased tensions in Gujarat, the home state of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Two days of riots have left two people dead, including a policeman, and raised concerns within the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is currently involved in talks with Dalits ahead of next year’s state elections.

Protests broke out after self-styled cow vigilantes brutally attacked and beat with sticks four Dalits in the town of Una on 11 July. The four men were accused of skinning a dead cow, which is sacred in Hinduism.

A video of the beating was posted online. The cow vigilantes, mostly Hindu nationalists, have become more active since the BJP took office in 2014.

Last year, a Muslim blacksmith was lynched in Uttar Pradesh on suspicion of having slaughtered cattle.

Yesterday, many shops and private schools remained closed, a train was stopped by Dalit protestors and public transport was disrupted in parts of Gujarat.

Some Dalit groups dumped cow carcasses in front of government offices in protest.

"Dalits are very angry in Gujarat. This is the first time in three decades that Dalits have come out to protest like this," said Nirjhari Sinha, convenor of the Jan Sangarsh Manch, a voluntary civil rights group in the state. Dalits make up about 7 per cent of the population in Gujarat.

One Dalit demand is swift punishment for the offenders. "We also want a ban on such illegal cow protection (groups). This is not the first time this has happened. They have no right to beat people this way," Ms Sinha added.

Dalits, who are at the bottom of India's caste hierarchy, have been wooed by political parties, most recently by the BJP in Uttar Pradesh, one of the most politically important states, set to go to the polls next year.

The ruling party is trying to limit the damage. Modi condemned the attack in Gujarat. "The atrocities against Dalits are a social evil. We must take it up as a challenge. I urge all parties to come together to fight this," Home Minister Rajnath Singh said in Parliament

Nevertheless, tensions erupted yesterday in parliament following the Gujarat incident with opposition members shouting slogans against the Modi government, accusing the prime minister of failing to protect Dalits.

Dalits continue to endure widespread discrimination and abuse in many areas. For example, Dalit Mayawati, an MP for the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which represents disadvantaged castes, was recently involved in such a situation.

A senior Uttar Pradesh BJP leader, Dayashankar Singh, was heard on camera making abusive remarks about Mayawati, calling her worse than a prostitute for selling her support for candidates ahead of the upcoming state election.

Singh's words elicited strong criticism even within his party, which quickly expelled him.