Why Dalits used carcasses of cows in Gujarat to protest

Ashok K Singh
Ashok K SinghJul 21, 2016 | 10:38

Why Dalits used carcasses of cows in Gujarat to protest

Carcasses are impure. The Hindu society created a mass of "impure" people to handle the carcasses of animals. And because they handled the carcasses they were designated even more impure.

From Buddha to Ambedkar, many great men and women rebelled to contest the hegemony of the pure against the impure. Ambedkar led more than half a million of the impure outside the fold of Hinduism in protest.


But no reformer or revolutionary ever thought of using carcasses of cows and other animals as an instrument of protest. This most ingenious way of protest in Gujarat by Dalits seeks to turn the practice of pure versus impure on its head.

The Hindu social order that treats the vast Dalit population as impure and untouchables stink even more than cow carcasses. (AP) 

Dalits have had glorious tradition of protest movements. In recent decades, two movements have stood out that have had deep impact on their social, political and cultural consciousness.

The first was what was called fight for "izzat" or dignity, which was an offshoot of the Maoist movement in south and central Bihar. And the second was what started as All India Backward and Minority Communities Employees Federation (BAMCEF) and was later born as Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

Some readers might wonder what connection the Maoist movement in Bihar had with Dalit consciousness and assertion. It indeed had and a revolutionary one.

The genesis of the Maoist or Naxalite movement in Bihar had a combination of two trends. One was the political theory and praxis that Maoists of Naxalbari in West Bengal brought to Bihar.

But they failed to make headway in the countryside creaking under the weight of extreme social, economic and cultural inequalities.


On deep introspection and close interaction with the Dalit and landless they realised that Bihar was ripe for radical transformation but not on the basis of classical Marxism and Maoism.

They noticed two serious issues agitating the Dalit and backward caste and landless masses even more than poverty and hunger.

One was search for a modicum of dignity and the other was protection against sexual exploitation of women. The two issues constituted a matter of dignity for them and they were ready to fight and die for them.

The long communist struggle for economic betterment of the poor had yielded limited results and was on the decline.

Dalit population that constituted Chamar or those who skinned carcasses to trade in leather, Dusadhs, a militant labour caste, Dom, those who carried human soil on their heads and who performed certain rites for the dead and Musahar or rat eaters wanted social dignity for them and their families.

To fight for their izzat they revolted against the upper caste and also against the dominant and landholding OBCs and took up guns under the leadership of Maoists.


Bihar countryside underwent radical social transformation as a result of their violent resistance in the 1970s and 1980s. Large-scale violence, mass killings and pitched gun battles were reported from the villages of south and central Bihar.

A culture of was resistance was born, which ensured that the Dalit men wouldn't be greeted with abuse and contempt, the Dalit women would no longer be considered a plaything and sex objects and that Dalit votes would no longer be stolen by village landlords.

There were no far-reaching changes in the landholding pattern because of the movement for dignity but the social fabric underwent a radical change.

The Kanshi Ram-Mayawati-led BSP brought about political empowerment to Dalit population in UP. With the rise of the BSP, Dalit's stake and share in political power was ensured and increased.

The struggle of Dalits in Bihar for dignity, political power of Dalits in UP dealt a jolt and emasculated the millennia-old Brahminical social order represented both by the Congress and the BJP.

The Congress as a declining force has been on the defensive even though it has not given up its dream to regain the lost power under the leadership of Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.

But it's the Hindutva forces led by the RSS that has really been worried by the loss of Brahminical hegemonic social order. With the coming of power of the NDA under a former RSS pracharak Narendra Modi, the Hindutva forces see an opportunity for their revivalist politics to assert itself.

The conflicts between Dalits and non-Dalits are not new phenomena. It's just that the conflicts have got accentuated under RSS-Modi leadership.

It's not clear who is behind the carcass-dumping Dalit protest movement in Gujarat.

One Natubhai Parmar, a Dalit rights activist of Navsarjan Trust was among the agitated crowd of over 1,500 people who dumped at least 15 truckload of cattle carcasses in front of the Surendranagar collector's office to protest against the violence perpetrated by the cow vigilante group. He said, "Atrocities against the Dalits happen but the Una incident was particularly shocking" that has angered the Dalits.

Protesting with carcasses is a unique movement, far more potent in its symbolism than any other movement seen in the past. It has potential to arouse the oppressed Dalit population against the government and the prevailing social order.

The Modi government would have serious consequences to face if the movement gathers steam. But it's a movement that is waiting to happen.

Carcasses indeed stink. The Hindu social order that treats the vast Dalit population as impure and untouchables stink even more than cow carcasses. If the Hindu society can live with the putrefying stench of the caste system, why can't it handle carcasses of cows?

Last updated: July 22, 2016 | 12:13
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