The issue of Dalit unrest in Gujarat rocked Parliament as opposition members accused the government of being anti-Dalit. Both houses saw protests from opposition parties, even as the Modi government made statements in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha stressing that the Gujarat government had taken appropriate action to tackle the situation.
While the Rajya Sabha lost the entire day to protests and adjournments, the Lok Sabha witnessed uproar but the issue did not lead to adjournments.
In the Lok Sabha, the highlight was a video clip that showed Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi dozing off when his party members were protesting against the Home Minister’s response on the Dalit issue.
Congress President Sonia Gandhi, addressing the Congress parliamentary party on Wednesday morning had announced that the party would take up the matter.
In the Rajya Sabha as soon as the house met for the day, opposition members demanded a debate on the issue. Even as Deputy Chairman P.J. Kurien was scrutinising the notices, opposition members trooped near the Chairman’s podium raising anti-government slogans.
Clarifications came from Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Thawar Chand Gehlot who said the Gujarat government has taken action against the culprits.
The minister said an FIR had been registered and that a probe was also underway. He also regretted the suicide by a Dalit, who was one of the five who consumed poison during protests in different parts of Gujarat.
The minister added that the issue should not be “politicised”.
Later, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said a discussion on the issue will be taken up on Thursday.
The upper house was finally adjourned for the day around 3.40 pm amid protests.
In the lower house, members, including Congress floor leader Mallikarjun Kharge, tried to raise the issue more than once. However, as Speaker Sumitra Mahajan called for taking up the question hour, opposition members rushed to the well of the house.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh, making a statement during zero hour, termed as “unfortunate” the attack on Dalits at Una on July 11.
Condemning the attacks, he said Gujarat Police had acted swiftly and nine people have been arrested so far.
Lauding the role of the BJP government after the incident, he said the state government is also trying to set up a special court for speedy trial of the case.
“But the state needs to take the permission from the high court in this connection,” Singh added.
As opposition members agitated, Naqvi said a short duration discussion on the issue will be taken up on Thursday.
“There will be a discussion on the matters related to Dalits across the country tomorrow. It is not right to create a ruckus when the issue is going to be debated,” Naqvi said.
He also attacked opposition members for raising slogans against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“You are saying Prime Minister should quit… he did not become the Prime Minister because of you, he became the Prime Minister by the mandate of people,” he said.
Naqvi also said the compulsory afforestation bill which was listed for discussion was in favour of the Dalits and the Scheduled Tribes.
Kurien made several attempts to pacify the members, but the protests continued, forcing the adjournment of the house till 2.30 p.m., and then till 3 p.m.
Meanwhile, different regions of Gujarat saw sporadic protests and partial shutdowns on Wednesday to air anger over atrocities on Dalits as Chief Minister Anandiben Patel visited the village of four Dalit youth beaten up in Una town on July 11 for skinning a dead cow.
No untoward incident nor attempts at suicide by Dalits were reported from the state during the ‘Gujarat bandh’, the call for which was given by various Dalit organisations.
Many state transport buses were, however, cancelled or their routes diverted and many schools remained shut, especially in the Saurashtra region.
Shops and office establishments remained open for a while in the morning hours while demonstrations continued across the region.
In protest against last week’s thrashing of the four Dalit youths in Una town of Saurashtra, 12 youngsters across the region had attempted suicide and one of them died on Tuesday.
A head constable in Amreli too succumbed on Tuesday evening to head injuries sustained during stone-pelting by a mob.
The Chief Minister landed at the Diu airport on Wednesday morning and drove to the Mota Samadhiyala village in Una taluka of Saurashtra region to meet the families of the four Dalit youths. They broke down on seeing Anandiben at their doorsteps.
After meeting them and holding discussions, Anandiben claimed all 25 Dalit families in the village were satisfied with the government’s action in the assault case.
Besides aid, she said, the Gujarat government will provide financial help to these families for the construction of houses and toilets. A special camp will be held to ensure they get benefits of all government schemes. Dalit children studying in Class 5 and above will be enrolled in government model schools for free.
Anandiben said she had ordered the district administration to complete these tasks in a month’s time and that she will revisit the place after two months to monitor the progress.
She said police protection has been ordered for families of the four youths. They had complained of threat calls. “Such calls are being recorded and whosoever is responsible will be arrested,” Anandiben said.
Asked why the benefits of government schemes had not reached the Dalit families, the Chief Minister said it was the responsibility of the local legislators, village heads and other panchayat functionaries.
About the proposed visits of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi and other political leaders in Gujarat, Anandiben said they should not give a political colour to the whole issue.
The Chief Minister was accompanied by Social Justice Minister Ramanlal Vora, Chief Secretary G.R. Aloria and minister Jashabhai Barad, among others. She also went to the Civil Hospital in Rajkot to ask after people injured in violence subsequent to the beating incident.
The Gujarat government has ordered a CID-Crime Branch inquiry, formation of a special designated court in consultation with the high court and filing of a chargesheet in 60 days in the case of assault on the four Dalits. So far, 16 persons have been arrested.
West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee condemned the thrashing of Dalit youths in Gujarat’s Una and demanded the centre to ensure protection of Dalits.
“Incident in Una is organised crime against Dalits. This is unacceptable. I urge the Central government to treat Dalits with care and give them full protection,” said Banerjee.
The Trinamool also raised the matter in parliament seeking a discussion on the matter.
Gujarat’s Saurashtra has been on the boil since the last week’s assault on a group of Dalits by a vigilante cow protection group in Una for skinning a dead cow. (IANS)