'Atrocities on Dalits get political support.'
'Dalits do the dirty jobs, yet they are tortured and humiliated publicly.'
Protesting against the attacks by cow vigilantes against scheduled caste youth in Una, Gujarat, which have deeply upset the Dalit community all over the country, Dalit writer Amrutlal Makwana on July 27 returned his Dasi Jeevan Shreshth Dalit Sahitya Kruti award presented to him by the Gujarat government in 2012-2013.
Rediff.com's Syed Firdaus Ashraf spoke to Makwana, author of the Kharapat Nu Dalit Lok Sahitya.
Why did you return the award?
I am a Dalit writer, I have always highlighted the atrocities on Dalits through my writings.
The happenings in Una, where Dalits were beaten publicly (by cow vigilante groups) hurt me. I felt, as a writer, that I must protest and highlight my anguish. Therefore, I decided to return the award.
But the attack in Una was the only instance of atrocity on Dalits in Gujarat...
This was not the only incident. The Una issue got highlighted thanks to social media.
In every village in Gujarat, Dalits are not allowed to enter temples. What is this?
There are many Dalit sarpanches in Gujarat villages, and they are being suspended on some pretext from their posts.
Have the atrocities against Dalit increased of late?
The difference today is that the atrocities on Dalits are getting political support.
Do you have any proof of this?
I will give you an example. The Dalits who were beaten up (allegedly for skinning dead cows) were tied behind cars and paraded in Una. What does this show?
The police and the administration were watching this act helplessly. No one said anything.
These four Dalit boys were later admitted to Rajkot hospital and then discharged in a hurry. When they went back to their villages these boys started vomiting blood. Now their health condition is so serious that they have been brought to Ahmedabad.
Who allowed them to be discharged from hospital?
Dalits in Gujarat are now refusing to dispose off dead cattle.
A Dalit revolution has begun in Gujarat, the outcome of which is yet to be known. Dalits do the dirty jobs, yet they are tortured and humiliated publicly. All over the world, people who dispose of dead cattle are not treated this way.
We have to change this mentality; therefore Dalits are revolting in Gujarat. India will see a Dalit revolution.
What has gone wrong in Gujarat after Narendra Modi left for New Delhi in 2014?
The role (governance) model of Modi's Gujarat was always wrong.
You come to Gujarat and see the reality. And this reality will be exposed in the 2017 Gujarat assembly elections.
What is the role of the Dalits in the cow economy?
The Dalits who stay in cities in Gujarat are either in service or small businesses.
The ones who stay in the villages are still living in bad condition. They are employed to clean dead cattle, but are, at the same time, exploited by the upper castes.
They (the Dalits) are also traditionally involved in the leather business. However, the Gau Rakshaks (cow vigilantes) are beating them up now because they are Dalits.
When I met the victims of Una they told me that these Gau Rakshaks target Muslim butchers. They extort money from them.
Gau Rakshaks run a mafia business in Gujarat. They want to create tension between Dalits and Muslims.
They want Dalits to implicate Muslims. They want Dalits to be witnesses in the cases against Muslims. That is their gameplan.
But all these are allegations. Do you have any evidence?
I am a non-political person. Whatever I know, I am telling you. I do not have proof. I am a writer and I write. I am into literature. I am only telling you what is happening in society as an observer.
There are 200 Dalit writers in Gujarat and only you seem to have been affected by the Una attacks. Why haven't other Dalit writers returned awards?
There are many Dalit writers in Gujarat who are government employees. They cannot say anything openly because they are scared of the government.
I am not a government servant. I work for a small firm in Surendranagar and earn Rs 5,000 per month.
And still you returned Rs 25,000 to the Gujarat government.
Rs 25,000 has no meaning for me if the atrocities against Dalits go on in Gujarat. I did not have Rs 25,000 with me.
I said this to my friends and believe me, my Dalit friends came together and gave me Rs 25,000 which I returned to the Gujarat government.
Don't you think you send out a wrong message and bring a bad name to Gujarat by returning your award?
You tell me, what is the Gujarat government doing to stop atrocities against Dalits?
I expressed my anguish against the government which is failing to do its duty.
I was given this award in the presence of Chief Minister Anandiben Patel.
After the Mohammed Akhlaq murder case occurred, 38 writers returned awards. Why did you not return your award then?
I did this now because this has happened in Gujarat. The Akhlaq case was far away for me. I am a small man from Gujarat.
Will it make any difference to the Gujarat government if you return the award?
Of course, it will make a difference. They will feel the pain of Dalits like I have felt.
Did anyone from the Gujarat government speak to you about not returning the award?
Nobody from the Gujarat government spoke to me. Only Gujarat BJP president Vijaybhai Rupani said such awards must not be returned. No minister has spoken to me till date.
The Dalit vote bank in Gujarat is just 7 per cent. Will the Una incident matter as much to the BJP in Gujarat?
I am very weak in politics. I don't know about all these things. I only feel that in the 2017 elections, the BJP will suffer because of the Una incident.
IMAGE: Cow vigilantes on the prowl. Photograph published only for representational purposes. Photograph: Allison Joyce/Getty Images