Una flogging: Seven years later, Dalit victims still wait for promised land, jobs
The family has made several representations to the social justice department, who turned them away, citing the lack of a written record of the promises made by the then CM Anandiben Patel
Seven years after the horrific 2016 Una flogging incident in Gujarat that shook the nation, seven Dalits, who were the victims of the upper caste violence, are yet to receive the land and jobs promised by the then Anandiben Patel-led BJP government.
Ashok Sarvaiya, one of the seven Dalit victims, said in his petition filed before a trial court in Gujarat, “Though our family has received a portion of the ex-gratia from the social justice department, the agrarian land and government jobs promised to us has not been delivered.”
The family has made several representations to the social justice department, who turned them away, citing the lack of a written record of the promises made by the then CM.
On their plight, Sarvaiya told The Federal, “We don’t live in our village anymore for safety reasons. Neither can we go back to our traditional work of skinning dead cows. We’ve been surviving on money doled out by various political parties and help from some NGOs.”
Furthermore, he said that Anandiben Patel, then chief minister who visited them in Una, had assured to give them land and jobs but that has not been fulfilled.
Public flogging by a cow vigilante group
It has been seven years since four men of the Sarvaiya family were publicly flogged on July 11, 2016, for skinning a dead cow in Gir Somnath district’s Una town. While three others of the family were attacked in Mota Samadhiyala village in Una.
The family was accused of cow slaughter and attacked by a cow vigilante group (gau rakshaks) comprising men of the upper caste Darbar community. After the attack, the group forced four men of the Sarvaiya family to get into a car. They were taken to Una town, semi-stripped and tied to the back of the car to be paraded around the town while being thrashed.
Advocate Govind Parmar, the lawyer, who is representing the victims told The Federal that the Anandiben Patel government had promised five acres of land for each victim and government jobs as per their qualification. But, the social justice department of the state has been turning them down on the grounds that there is no written record of these promises.
After waiting for seven years, Ashok Sarvaiya, one of the victims, has filed a statement before the trial court in Veraval taluka (Gir Somnath district), said Parmar, adding that he is also representing the other victims as well.
Not the first time
This is not the first time that the Una flogging incident victims have called out the BJP government for going back on their promises.
In November 2018, the family wrote a letter to the then-President Ram Nath Kovind seeking euthanasia. “We can no longer practice cow skinning, the work passed on to us for generations. We have not been able to go back to our village home fearing safety. The government is yet to provide us with security, land and jobs as promised,” Vashram Sarvaiya, who had written the letter on behalf of his family had stated.
The family had then sat on indefinite hunger strike in front of the home of a BJP MP Kirit Solanki. After some days, a home guard personnel was deployed at the family’s rented home in Una town prompting them to take back their indefinite strike.
However, despite police protection, Ramesh Sarvaiya and his cousin Ashok Sarvaiya, two of the seven victims in the flogging incident, were attacked in April 2018 by the prime accused out on bail. Subsequently, an FIR was lodged against the prime accused Kiransinh Darbar and his friend in the Una police station.
The course of the case in the last seven years
In December 2016, a chargesheet was filed in the Una flogging case and forty-three men were listed as the accused, out of which 34, including Kiransinh Darbar, one of the six prime accused in the case were charged under sections IPC 307 (attempt to murder), IPC 397 (robbery), IPC 365 (kidnapping), IPC 355 (assault to dishonour a person), IPC 342 (wrongful confinement), 147 (rioting), 324 (causing hurt by weapon) and 120B (criminal conspiracy).
They were also charged under sections 3(1)(e), (r), (s), (u), 3(2), 5(a), 3(1)(d) of Prevention of Atrocities Act and 66A and 66B of Information and Technology Act for circulating the recording of the incident.
However, with the exception of the four prime accused, the rest were granted bail by the Gujarat high court on the grounds that it will be a long trial. As the trial of the case began more than two years later in August 2018, lawyers had to contend with witnesses turning hostile.
Security concerns and a long trial
Dipendra Yadav, the public prosecutor in the case, wrote to authorities demanding an office for himself to prepare the witnesses, and to provide security for witnesses, but he failed to get any response. After which, in October 2018, the Sarvaiya family met state home department officials to submit a memorandum demanding the family is provided with security personnel while travelling as well. They complained that the home guard personnel deployed at their residence was not sufficient.
The family had requested to fast-track the court case as it had gone into a series of adjournments within first two months of the trial. “The memorandum also stated the need for working facilities and security for public prosecutor Dipendra Yadav, lest he was forced to quit,” said Vashram Sarvaiya, one of the four men who was flogged.
In response, the state did provide security personnel for the public prosecutor but did not respond to the other requests, including the issue of security concerns of the Sarvaiya family and the witnesses.
Advocate Dipendra Yadav told The Federal that he has been provided with security but he doesn’t have an office space provided by the government. He travels about 100 km every week from his residence in Junagarh district to the Veraval special court in Gir Somnath district. In the absence of an office, he has been preparing the witnesses in the lobby or in open spaces which is risky.
“Besides, the witnesses have to be provided with security. Over the years of the trial, there have been instances when the accused who are out on bail have driven the witnesses in their own car to court,” pointed out Parmar.
In defence of the accused
In 2022, arguing for bail of the four prime accused who were arrested in 2016, lawyer BM Mansukhiya told the Gujarat high court, “The cow vigilantes thought that the men were from the minority community. It was never their intention to hurt them if they knew they were Dalits instead.”
However, the court denied the four prime accused bail on the ground that they had initiated and set the tone of the incident, while the crowd had just followed them.
The public flogging of the Dalit men by vigilantes for skinning a dead cow had sparked a state-wide outrage in 2016. In the wake of the massive protests across Gujarat and neighbouring states of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, several political leaders like Congress’s Rahul Gandhi and BSP’s Mayawati had paid the family a visit while they were admitted in the district hospital.