The ongoing agitation by the Dalits, also known as "untouchables", in India's western state of Gujarat claimed its first victim from the community when one of the more than 20 youths who had attempted suicide died today even as thousands of protesters converged at a rally here in which the state's right-of-centre BJP government came under attack.
The state's Dalit leaders, while asking their community to give up the work of disposing dead cattle to "send a message" to the government, also warned that if atrocities on the community do not stop they will "show their strength" in the 2017 Gujarat state elections.
Yogesh Hirabhai Solanki, 25, was rushed to Ahmedabad civil hospital from Rajkot at midnight last night after his condition deteriorated but he passed away soon after, police said.
Solanki had attempted suicide along with two others at Parabari village in Dhoraji taluka of Rajkot on July 19 during the statewide protests against the thrashing of Dalits in the city of Una. The Dalits had been beaten for skinning a dead cow -- the Hindus think of the cow as holy -- on July 11.
A policeman was killed in Amreli town on July 19 when Dalit protesters pelted stones at a police station.
As part of their continuing protests over the assault on their community members, thousands of Dalits attended a mass gathering in the Sabarmati area here.
At the rally, Dalit leaders also demanded firm steps to curb atrocities on the community.
The leaders also announced a plan to organise a march from here to Una town in the Gir-Somnath district from August 5 as a mark of protest.
Addressing the gathering, Dalit leader and convener Jignesh Mevani put forward a slew of demands before the state government and asked his community to take a pledge to stay away from their traditional vocation of disposing the carcasses of dead cattle.
"To give a strong message to the government, I urge all Dalits to discontinue the work of disposing dead animals.
"I also want you to take a pledge of discontinuing the work of cleaning sewer lines. We no longer wish to do this work and want government to allot agriculture land to us, so that we can live a respectable life," said Mevani.
"If atrocities on Dalits does not stop, Dalits will show their strength in the 2017 assembly polls," he asserted, targeting the BJP government in the state.
He put forward a series of demands and asked the Government to come to the table for talks, just like it did with the Patel quota leaders.
"We want everyone who thrashed Dalits in Una to be arrested under PASA. If they come out on bail, Government must extern them from five districts," he said. PASA is a stringent law dealing with anti-social activities.
Other demands include withdrawal of cases filed against Dalits during recent protests, speedy probe in the 2012 Thangadh police firing (in which 3 Dalits were killed), allotment of five acres of land for community members who wish to discontinue their traditional vocations, and martial arts training to scheduled caste members for purposes of self-defence.
"This agitation will continue till government accepts our demands. If government can sit with Patels and accept their demands, it should do the same with Dalits and call them for a meeting," said Mevani.