Ahmedabad:The Gujarat Police arrested four people for allegedly beating a 30-year-old Dalit man, a rag-picker, to death on Sunday in Rajkot district, suspecting him to be a thief.
A video of the incident that has gone viral on social media shows two people taking turns to beat up the victim with sticks. The man died while being taken to a hospital in Rajkot.
In the last few years, several incidents of atrocities against Dalits have come to light in Gujarat.
In July 2016, four Dalits were publicly flogged over the alleged skinning of a dead cow. In March this year, a Dalit youth was killed in Bhavnagar, apparently for owning a horse, and last year a Dalit youth was attacked, allegedly for sporting a moustache.
In this latest incident at Rajkot, the rag-picker was killed allegedly after he got into a row with factory owners for picking scrap near the unit in Rajkot.
“The victim, Mukesh Vaniya, belongs to the Dalit community and the four accused who have been arrested are from the Patel community. We have registered a case of murder and atrocity against those arrested, but it does not appear to be a deliberate caste-based act of violence," deputy superintendent of police D.M. Chauhan said over the phone.
Of the four arrested, three are owners of the factory while the fourth is an employee, said Chauhan. A case has also been registered against a fifth accused, who is a minor and has been detained.
Vaniya, a rag-picker, had come from Limbdi along with his family to Shahpar in Rajkot district recently in search of work, according to details available with the district police. The family ventured close to a factory while searching for scrap material in the industrial area of Shahpar. The owners and employees of the factory mistook Vaniya and his family as thieves and five people beat them up, according to the complaint filed with the police.
State legislator Jignesh Mevani said in a tweet that the victim’s wife too was also brutally beaten up. The police made the arrests based on the video footage. CCTV cameras installed at the factory have also been seized by police for further investigation.
Mevani said in his social media post that the incident is far more gruesome than the attack on four Dalit men in June 2016 when they were publically flogged by self-styled cow protectors belonging to the upper caste, over the issue of skinning of a dead cow. The issue had created a political outrage across the country.
“This is the fourth such case in last two months where a Dalit has been murdered in Gujarat because of caste differences in the society. A few days ago, a Dalit man was thrown in a well near Botad and killed. Few months ago a Dalit youth was killed in Bhavngar for buying a horse. I have been in touch with the victim’s family and know that they were receiving threats from upper caste people because his son rode a horse. Recently an RTI activist and sarpanch (village head) in Rajkot was murdered," said Martin Mackwan, a well-known Dalit rights activist and founder of the Navsarjan Trust.
The police in their investigation of the Bhavnagar youth have however said that the youth was killed for ‘eve-teasing’ an upper caste women.
“The Rajkot incident should not be seen in isolation as it shows that there is complete breakdown of law and order in Gujarat. The Supreme Court verdict that dilutes the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, or SC/ST Act, is also to be blamed for the rising atrocities against Dalits and poor people of this country," said Mackwan.
In February this year, Bhanubhai Vankar, a 61-year-old Dalit activist, died after setting himself ablaze outside the collector’s office in Patan. Vanker was fighting for the land rights of two Dalit labourers and his death had led to protests in various part of the state.
Caste differences in India are getting stronger every day and social media plays a very negative role in dividing youths on caste lines, said Mackwan.
“Organisations that are being created today are back to caste and sub-caste system. The state government, instead of just launching schemes, has to start programmes to remove untouchability and caste division. Yesterday’s Rajkot incident also shows how the rich treat the poor in our country," said Mackwan.