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‘Following in Ambedkar’s Path’: Una Victims on Embracing Buddhism

Almost two years after four people were flogged in Gujarat’s Una, around 300 Dalits are set to convert to Buddhism.

Published
India
3 min read
‘Following in Ambedkar’s Path’: Una Victims on Embracing Buddhism
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It has been almost two years since four members of the Dalit community were flogged in Gujarat’s Una by members of the Darbar community, who accused the former of skinning live cattle. The incident sparked widespread public anger and saw the birth of a fresh wave of Dalit protests in Gujarat. It also brought Jignesh Mevani to the limelight with his ‘Chalo Una’ movement.

Two years on, Mevani has become an Independent MLA from Vadgam and the Sarvaiya family, who were assaulted by the upper castes, have decided to embrace Buddhism. On 29 April, the Sarvaiya family, along with 300 Dalit community members belonging to different Scheduled sub-castes, will congregate at the Mota Samdhiyala Village on the outskirts of Una, in Gir Somnath district, to shed the tag of Dalits and embrace Buddhism. The call for religious conversion was made by the Sarvaiyas who wish to follow Babasaheb Ambedkar’s footsteps.

The Quint met the Sarvaiya family on the eve of their religious conversion and asked them the how life has changed for them.

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No More Skinning Dead Cows

Although two years have transpired since the family was assaulted, the physical and mental trauma of the incident is yet to abate. The head of the Sarvaiya family, Balu Sarviaya, said, “Skinning dead cattle is our primary occupation. We used to collect carcasses from at least 25 villages nearby and life was going as usual, until they (Gau Rakshaks) assaulted us. Now neither are we in the same line of business nor can we take up manual labour as we have not fully recovered from our injuries. My wife and my sons’ wives do manual labour in the fields to feed us.”

It was Vadgam MLA Jignesh Mevani who got the Chalo Una movement to take an oath never to pick up and clean cattle carcass. However, when Balu Sarvaiya invited Mevani to the mass religious conversion, the latter at first assured that he will attend, only to say no later on.

Ramesh Sarvaiya points to a carcass discarded by farmers as the Dalits have stopped skinning dead cattle.
(Photo: Rahul Nair)
All followers of Babasaheb Ambedkar have sworn not to do this work ever again. We have not taken any vow, but we wholeheartedly declare that we will never do this work again.
Balu Sarvaiya, father of the Dalit men assaulted in Una on July 2016

Status of the Atrocity Case

Balubhai recalls that two years back, the then chief minister of Gujarat Anandiben Patel had told the Una victims that the case will be held in a special court immediately.

“But she just made a statement and left us. Nothing has happened so far and the case is pending. The aggressors have since got bail and are out, which we are OK with, but they are again flying high. They should not be given the bail. They should undergo the punishment so that in future such incidents don’t happen.”

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Darbar Community’s Attacks Continue

Recently, Balu’s sons Ramesh and Ashok claimed that they were again attacked by men from the Darbar community. Balu said, “I am a worried man. After the recent attacks, men from Darbar community called on our mobile phones to abuse and threaten us. These people are from our neighbouring villages. We inquired and sought the details of the caller with the help of the local police inspector. We were told that the caller’s uncle is the sarpanch of the neighbouring village. The community again called us and asked us to let go of the matter, which we begrudgingly did.”

Why Embrace Buddhism?

Balu Sarvaiya, father of the Dalit men assaulted in Una on July 2016, talks about Dalit lives in Gujarat and the importance of Buddhism.
(Photo: Rahul Nair)

According to Balubhai, he is simply following Babasaheb Ambedkar’s footsteps by embracing Buddhism. “Buddhism is a good religion with no killings. In Hinduism, as a Dalit if I keep a moustache, they will kill us. People from the upper caste community taunt us by saying why don’t we convert to Islam. I told them I am walking on the footsteps of Babasaheb Ambedkar and I want to take my community in the same direction through peace. I told them that if the time comes and we need to convert to Islam then we may. But for now we want to follow Babasaheb and Gautam Buddha.”

This is the first time religious conversion on such a large scale is happening in Gujarat.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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