In developed Gujarat, Dalits can't sport moustaches, attend garbas
Social tensions and skewed economic development put the state on the boil repeatedly.
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A Dalit man was lynched in Gujarat on September 30 for attending a garba event. This comes close on the heels of two separate incidents of Dalits being beaten up for sporting moustaches, allegedly by those from upper castes.
This was followed by some Dalit youths from Gujarat putting up pictures on social media sporting moustaches, with hastags like #JativaadNaVirodhMa
The caste cauldron in Gujarat has been boiling for some time now. The state has been rocked with protests in the aftermath of Dalits being flogged for skinning a dead cow in Una last year. Before that, Hardik Patel stunned the state administration and captured the country's attention with his massive rallies demanding reservation for Patidars.
A TV grab of the assault on Dalits in Una.
The BJP, which rules both Gujarat and the Centre, has long touted the former as its poster-state for vikaas (development), with the "Gujarat model of development" used as a major plank to ask for votes ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Such social tensions in a supposedly developed state are worrisome.
Thrashing Dalits for sporting a moustache or attending Garba events is a manifestation of the traditionally advantaged classes resenting the political and social assertion of those they have been taught to believe were born inferior.
A moustache is a symbol of pride for upper caste masculinity, something a Dalit is "not worthy of". Indeed, in the recent Limbodra village incident, those who assaulted law student Krunal Maheria told him he could not become a darbar (kshatriyas), by appropriating the moustache.
Attending garba events means having leisure and using it for entertainment, again pretensions a Dalit is not supposed to aspire for.
Such incidents of upper castes hitting out against those they have been taught to see as usurpers of privileges they were born into is not uncommon in India.
But the worrying trend in Gujarat is that these are not one-off incidents, but a series of flare-ups of discontent among Patidars, OBCs and Dalits.
According to data compiled by National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC), Gujarat witnessed the maximum number of crimes against scheduled castes in 2015. From 2016 to 2017, the state has seen the rise of new leaders - Hardik Patel of the Patidars, Alpesh Thakore of the OBCs, and Jignesh Mevani of the Dalits.
What is noteworthy is that while Assembly polls in Gujarat are just months away, these men have risen to prominence through social, and not political movements. (Alpesh Thakore's father is a Congress member, but he gained popularity largely by agitating on issues such as deaddiction and education).
Such intense social dissatisfaction and discontent are results of both economics and politics. Narrow, skewed policies, which only aim to throw up big figures rather than make a real difference to the lives of its intended beneficiaries, lead to lopsided development, with gains flowing only to those in the position to lap them up, and those on the margins being left behind.
Experts have long pointed out that behind the shining Gujarat story, data reveals how the state has been lagging behind on human development indices such as Infant Mortality Rate, Sex Ratio and Child Sex Ratio.
Agrarian crisis has hit farmers, and many Patels are influential landowners. According to a report in The Wire, the Gujarat government has admitted in the Assembly that investments have not created as many jobs as expected and global recession has affected industries like diamond polishing, machine tools, casting, ceramics - major employers in Gujarat.
Amid so much dry kindling, the administration has not bothered to provide a healing touch. The response to the recent caste protests was replacing Anandiben Patel with Vijay Rupani, a caste-neutral Jain. In the aftermath of the Una protests, the CM did not bother to reach out to the Dalits.
CM Vijay Rupani has not done enough to reach out to Dalits.
Soon after taking over, Rupani repeatedly promised to look into the grievances of the Paitdars, but on Dalits, he went on record to say that the Una protests were artificially contrived because of the then upcoming UP elections.
Gujarat is a matter of pride for the BJP, its shiny, prized catch. But till the government remains obsessed with getting the caste arithmetic right, the divisions will continue to claim lives.