Marking one year since the public stripping and flogging of Dalits by a mob of cow-goons in Una, Gujarat, the Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch (RDAM) called for an Azaadi Kooch (March For Freedom) in Gujarat.
Activists from all over the country, including RDAM leader Jignesh Mevani, Bihar AISA Secretary Shivprakash and President Mokhtar from Bihar, and National Vice President of AISA Farhan from Delhi; CPI(ML) activists Anwar Alam from Bihar and Aslam from Delhi; and RYA Vice President Navkiran Natt, as well as former JNUSU President Kanhaiyya Kumar and Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) leader Reshma Patel, activists of the Pendu Mazdoor Union of Punjab, as well as cultural activists of the Budhan Theatre from Ahmedabad and the Jaipur Hungama Natak Dal are participating in the event.
The Azaadi Kooch, which began on 12 July, is raising its voice against continued mob lynching incidents and attacks on minorities and Dalits in the country and in Gujarat; and asserting the right of Gujarat’s Dalits to land. It is also raising issues such as farmers’ suicides, privatisation of health and education, and price rise.
Last year, following the Una flogging on the pretext of ‘cow protection’, Dalits had protested in a unique and historic manner, by refusing to perform the demeaning ‘traditional’ labour of disposing of carcasses of cows and dead animals. Instead, they had demanded land as a source of alternate, dignified survival and livelihood. Jignesh Mevani and RDAM have been pointing out that land for cultivation has been allotted to Dalits – but only on paper! Actual physical possession of the land continues to be denied to Dalits, and Dalits claiming possession face intimidation and violence from landed upper castes, and no support from the Administration. The Azaadi Kooch is raising the issue of Dalit rights to land prominently. In Azaadi Kooch meetings along the route of the March, activists of AISA and CPI(ML) from Bihar have been speaking about the challenges faced by the several decades of CPI(ML)-led struggles of the poor and oppressed for land, wages, dignity and education.
Right from the beginning, the Azaadi Kooch faced hurdles and crackdowns from the Administration as well as intimidation and violence from the Sangh Parivar. The Azaadi Kooch was flagged off at a mass meeting in Mehsana, 75 kilometres from Ahmedabad. As the march began after the mass meeting, Mehsana police detained the organizers and participants. They were released after three hours but an FIR of “unlawful assembly” was lodged against Jignesh Mevani and 13 others from the core organizing team of the Azaadi Kooch, including Subodh Parmar, the co-convenor of RDAM, Kaushik Parmar, core member of RDAM and Reshma Patel, leader of PAAS.
The police continued to deny permission for the Azaadi Kooch at every turn. And in collusion with the police, men of RSS outfits also tried to attack and intimidate participants in the march. At Fatehpur village, a man on a motorcycle tried to run over Mevani’s leg, while some others tried to follow the vehicle carrying advocate Shamshad Pathan. The pretext for the attacks was that they (the goons) claimed to be looking for JNU activist Kanhaiyya. Again, the police detained the participants on the Mehsana-Palanpur highway and brought them back in police vans to Mehsana. VHP men entered one of the police vans and demanded that Kanhaiyya be produced. When they failed to find Kanhaiyya, they zeroed in on Farhan, saying ‘We’ve seen you and heard you speak, you’re from Delhi.’ They tried to drag him away – but were prevented by the prompt intervention of other activists. How could VHP men be allowed to enter a police van that had supposedly cancelled permission for the Azaadi Kooch and detained activists for their own protection?!
Undeterred by the continuous disruption by the police and intimidation by the Sanghi goons, the Azaadi Kooch continues to spread its message of freedom, democracy, and dignity. The 7-day Azaadi Kooch culminated in a massive mass meeting at Dhanera village in Banaskantha district on 18 July.