Thousands protest against attack on 'low-caste' Indians

Members of India's Muslim community üjoin the Dalits in their protest against the attacks by cow protection vigilantes. Dalits have also stopped their commonly tasked duties of removing the corpses of dead cows from the streets of India.

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Members of the Dalit caste community attend a protest rally against an attack on Dalit caste members in the Gujarat town of Una, in Ahmedabad on July 31, 2016.

Thousands of "low-caste" Dalits, who were formerly known as "untouchables," protested in western India on Sunday against an attack on their members by cow protection vigilantes.

Police surrounded the protesters in Ahmedabad, the main city in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's home state of Gujarat, to prevent any violence, as anger among Dalits mounts over the attack.

Members of India's Mulim community also joined the rally, alleging they have also faced "discrimination from the upper caste communities in the state", according to a report published on the Hindustan Times website.

Protest organiser Jignesh Mevani said Dalit youths were trying to kill themselves to protest against attacks against their caste, which lies at the bottom of India's complex and entrenched social hierarchy system.

"Neither the BJP Congress will come to our help," Mevani said of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and main opposition party.

"Only our united strength will help us fight the age-old oppression," the Dalit activist told the crowd which police put at 5,000-strong.

Thousands of members from the Dalit community took a pledge not to skin cattle to protest the recent beating of Dalit youths by so called Gau Rakshaks in the Una region of Gujarat state.

Other media outlets put the estimated figures between 10,000 and 25,000.

Violent protests erupted last month after video footage emerged of an attack on four Dalit villagers who were taking a dead cow to be skinned.

Cows freely roam on the streets of India and are considered sacred by Hindus. Killing cows is banned in Gujarat, but the villagers said the animal had died of natural causes.

Dalits are commonly tasked with removing the corpses of dead cows from the streets of India, where the animals often roam freely.

“I urge you all to give up disposing of dead animals and cleaning sewerage lines. We will not do such works and face assault and flogging,” Mevani was quoted saying by The Hindu website.

A stray dog feasts upon a dead cow on the outskirts of Bhuvaldi village of India's Ahmedabad district.

Dalit leaders told the rally that a 24-year-old man who drank poison to protest against the attack died in hospital on Sunday.

A senior hospital official in Ahmedabad confirmed the death to AFP.

Mevani said such suicides were signs of deep despair among low-caste Indians after years of discrimination and violence by those from higher castes who often went unpunished.

Activist and member of Dalit community, Jignesh Mevani addresses a protest rally against an attack on Dalit caste members in the Gujarat town of Una, in Ahmedabad on July 31, 2016.

"This is the failure of the Gujarat development model wherein youths have to consume poison to demand their rights," Mevani said. "We will demand that the government must allot us agriculture land so that we can lead a respectable life."

The video of the attack showed the four half-naked men tied to a car as the activists took turns to thrash them with belts and batons at a crowded marketplace.

Two more Dalits were beaten up after they tried to save the other four.

Later during the month another video was issued on social media, which showed Muslim women being beaten up in the presence on policemen, over allegations of carrying beef.

The recent incidents were followed by an angry wave of comments on social media with the hashtag #DalitLivesMatter trending on twitter.

Although India is a secular country, the country has banned the slaughter of cows in most states ever since Hindu nationalist premier Modi won power in 2014.

Cows are considered holy by many, but not all, Hindus, who form a majority of India's population of 1.2 billion. Beef is eaten by Muslims and Christians, as well as many lower-caste Hindus.

The murder of a Muslim man over rumours he consumed beef had fueled a fierce debate over India's rising intolerance toward religious minorities in September 2015.

After Mohammed Akhlaq was lynched in his home near New Delhi last week, politicians from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's party, ministers among them, had made statements seemingly in defense of the Hindu mob that killed him.

Prime Minister Modi's silence over the recent attack and his delayed response on previous similiar instances have been highlighted by his opponents and critics as a factor in what they say is an increasingly intolerant in India.

TRTWorld and agencies