A day ahead of the first Budget Session of the new Gujarat Assembly, thousands of people came out to the streets in different regions of Gujarat on Sunday to protest against the delay in land allocation for Dalits in the state. The protests, which have erupted after the death of 60-year-old Dalit activist Bhanubhai Vankar, sought demands including the allotment of land to Dalits and actions against murderers of Vankar.
Vankar, a resident of Unjha town of Mehsana district, who was an active member of the Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch, had on Thursday set himself on fire at the Patan district collectorate demanding physical possession of land allotted to a Dalit family and was soon after hospitalized with critical burn injuries. He succumbed to his burn injuries on Friday night at a private hospital in Ahmedabad.
Meanwhile, the state government, who has made frantic attempts to control the protesters, detained the Dalit leader and Independent MLA from Vadgam constituency, Jignesh Mevani, on Sunday morning. He was on his way to Sarangpur to stage demonstrations. However, the police officials claimed that Mewani had misbehaved with them.
“Jignesh Mevani was pulled out of the car in an uncivilised manner, his car keys were broken and taken away by the police while on the way to a peaceful protest at Ambedkar statue in Sarangpur, Ahmedabad. The protest was organised to meet the demands of deceased Bhanuji family,” Mewani took to Twitter to expose the behaviour of police officers to a democratically elected MLA.
Newsclick tried contacting Jignesh Mewani over the phone for his response, but he was not available to comment.
The independent MLA from Vadgam constituency, north Gujarat, was taken to the police' Special Operations Group office in Juhapura area in the evening, where scores of supporters demanded his release. Besides Mevani, hundreds of protesters were detained from various places in Ahmedabad while staging demonstrations.
Road-blocks, burning of vehicle tires and slogan-shouting were witnessed on several state highways and several parts of national highways. At some places, police conducted baton charges to disperse the crowds.
Angry protests were seen in Gandhinagar, Unjha, Chanasma and Patan in north Gujarat and Morbi in Saurashtra over the death of Vankar.
Amid this, the political climate has heated up in Gujarat with the month-long Budget Session beginning on Monday and the spirited Congress bracing to corner the government on several issues. The Congress, led by young Leader of Opposition Paresh Dhanani, is in an upbeat mood after winning 77 seats in the 182-member House.
What led to widespread anger was that Vankar had resorted to self-immolation on the premises of Patan collectorate in the presence of police, ambulance and fire-fighters after a week-long notice to the authorities. He had been seeking physical and legal possession of the land allotted to Dalit families by the state government for some time. Earlier, Hemaben Vankar along with Bhanubhai Vankar had submitted a memorandum to collector “threatening” self-immolation if their case was not considered. But, the administration did not consider the “threat” seriously.
Hemaben also alleged that the authorities were hesitant to regularize the land for them though they have paid Rs 22,236 in 2013 as the transfer fee.
Ever since his death, Vankar's family has been refusing to accept the dead body and put forth a charter of seven demands before the state government.
A delegation comprising the Gandhinagar Collector, Inspector General of Police and Social Empowerment Secretary has held talks with the Dalit activists and his family of Vankar. Although the government maintained that it “accepted” the key demands of the family, the Dalits wanted a categorical assurance in writing and that the state representatives only listened to them.
Hardik Patel and OBC leader and Congress legislator Alpesh Thakor visited Vankar's family and demanded firm action and justice to the community. Dhanani also called on the family and expressed solidarity the cause of the Dalits.
(inputs from IANS)