Jyoti Punwani

In an exclusive interview with Mumbai Mirror, the man behind the Dalit upsurge in Una talks about the Left, Ambedkarites and the Gujarat model

Jignesh Mevani, the face of the Dalit upsurge that’s shaken Gujarat after the flogging of Dalits in Una, is determined that this struggle shouldn’t become a `typical Dalit movement’.“We have to go beyond the `Manuwad-Brahmanwad murdabad’,” explained the 35-year-old lawyer who worked with the late Mukul Sinha’s Jan Sangharsh Manch. On a two-day visit to Mumbai at the invitation of Dalit organisations, Mevani told Mumbai Mirror that he wanted the movement’s focus to be two-fold: asmita aur astitva (identity and existence). This is reflected in the two slogans he has coined: “Gai ki dum tum rakho, humein hamari zameen de do; Adani, Ambani, Essar ko zameen; Dalit, Adivasi, bhumiheen ko kyon nahin?“ (You keep the cow’s tail, give us our land; Land to Ambani, Adani, Essar, why not to Dalits, Adivasis and the landless?) The Gujarat government was supposed to distribute surplus land acquired under the Land Ceiling Act to Dalits, but while they have distributed 12 lakh acres of land to the Patels since 1960, not even an inch has been given to the Dalits, revealed Mevani.“I’m fighting this cause. The government has admitted that the distribution of land to Dalits has been a fact only on paper. They have done nothing to clear the encroachments on the distributed land.“During last month’s Dalit Asmita Yatra to Una, Mevani’s team distributed forms to Dalit villagers so that they could apply for this land. “Among our demands is that Adivasis also get land under The Forest Rights Act, 2006. We want a united front of all progressive sections: feminists, the Left, Sarvoday followers and kisan sangathans, which can together fight for all deprived sections,“ he explained.

Mevani acknowledged that many Ambedkarites did not want to associate with the Left because the latter had rarely taken up the Dalit cause.However, he appealed to them to come out of their `narrow vision’, and asked the Left to `plunge into Dalit issues’.

“If you go through the memorandums given to the Gujarat government since Independence, you will not find any mention of Dalit problems by non-Dalit parties. Yet, if the Left is supporting us now, I’m not going to reject them only because they didn’t do so earlier. Dalits need to have a class perspective. The first party founded by Dr Ambedkar was the Workers’ and Peasants’ Party, which had a red flag,“ he said, setting the two on a common ground.


`Dalit-Muslim bhai bhai’ was a slogan raised during the Asmita Yatra. “I hang my head in shame at the Dalit participation in the 2002 anti-Muslim violence,“ said Mevani.

However, there’s a contradiction here ­ the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind which came out in support of the Yatra, opposed the struggles of its own community’s women against their Personal Law.

“We can discuss this issue with them,“ said Mevani. “Right now even in our team, there is no woman. It will be a long process. Many challenges still have to be met.“

Participants of the Asmita Yatra were beaten up towards the end of the Yatra as they were returning home by gau rakshaks. “The police did nothing. Their inaction sent us a message that if we raised slogans such as `Gai ki dum tum rakho,’ they would allow these people to attack us,“ he said.

“We have to keep increasing the pressure on the government. After all, it is because of our movement that Modi finally opened his mouth and we are at least one of the reasons that Anandiben resigned as chief minister,“ he said.

Mevani’s next programme is a rail roko on September 16, a day after the deadline given by the newly-formed Dalit Adhikar Manch to the Gujarat government to distribute land to the Dalits. The Manch also plans to burn a copy of the Manusmruti (the Hindu code of conduct) outside the Jaipur High Court, where a statue of Manu has been installed.

Interestingly, Mevani doesn’t see conversion as a means of Dalit liberation. “Conversion may change a Dalit’s attitude to himself but it doesn’t change the attitude of nonDalits to Dalits.“

When asked if he was going to campaign against the BJP in Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh, where the assembly elections were due, he said, “We will expose the Gujarat model everywhere; but our aim has nothing to do with the elections. So the Congress need not get excited ­ we are planning to expose them too. Our goal is to give land to the landless, generate class consciousness and build up a young cadre.“