Protests continue in India's Gujarat over attack on Dalit men
People from the Dalit community block a road during a protest in the city of Ahmedabad.? Photograph: (Reuters)
The public outrage over the recent flogging of youngsters from the Dalit community (placed at the bottom of India's caste system) by self-appointed cow vigilantes in Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's home state of Gujarat refused to die down, a day after the Gujarat shutdown call. The reports of protests and violence from across the state kept on trickling in on Thursday too.
Home minister Rajnath Singh condemned the attack in Gujarat and said Modi was committed to the protection of the Dalits. Rajnath informed that four police officials have been suspended in connection with the thrashing of dalits youngsters.
Opposition lawmakers disrupted Parliament on Wednesday to protest against the floggings in Gujarat and demanded Modi apologise to the victims.
"The recent shocking incident in Gujarat where four Dalit youths were savagely beaten and humiliated publicly is just one example of the social terror this government condones," Sonia Gandhi, president of the opposition Congress party told supporters, Indian media reported.
Critics say Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party's Hindu nationalist agenda empowers hardline activists to believe they can take matters into their hands and target minority groups like Dalits and Muslims involved in the cattle trade.
Tensions mount ahead of Dalit rally on Friday
Amid torching of buses and stone-throwing, police had to lob teargas shells at several places and impose prohibitory orders against assembly of four or more persons.
A group of unidentified persons burnt three state transport buses in Mehsana district, about an hour`s drive from state`s capital Gandhinagar as well as commercial hub Ahmedabad. Blocking of buses on national highways, especially at Katariya village near Limbdi, connecting the Saurashtra region to central and south Gujarat, forced authorities to suspend services between Rajkot and Ahmedabad.
The four members of the Dalit community were last week tied to a car, stripped and flogged with sticks by self-styled hardline Hindu cow protectors who then published a video of the attack as a "warning" to others.
Tempers wore thin in the Saurashtra region with people coming out in hordes to protest against the July 11 atrocities in Una.
The district collector of Surendranagar announced imposition of prohibitory orders, ahead of rally by Dalits community on Friday to protest the Una incident.
Meanwhile, the Dholka town of Ahmedabad district saw a mob pelt stones at police, who fired teargas to disperse the crowd. The situation worsened as police allegedly entered houses of protestors, beat them and detained them.
As many as 50 men were detained in a police station, which was later put under siege by women, who used utensils and rolling pins to seek immediate release of the detainees. A couple of women protesters fainted during the protest.
In Surat, a group of protesters crowded the railway track at Udhna junction and disrupted train services before police dispersed them.
Besides Saurashtra, rallies by Dalit community were also held in Vadodara and Patna cities.
The beatings sparked the most serious protests by Dalits in years in Gujarat, with seven youths trying to kill themselves in protest by taking pesticide in different parts of the state, an act that further inflamed tempers.
Cows are revered in Hinduism and their slaughter is banned in most states, including Gujarat, where Modi ruled as chief minister for a decade and spearheaded a 2011 ban.
Dalits in the state, however, said they earn their livelihood from skinning cows that die naturally, buffaloes and other animals, and vowed to fight anyone trying to stop them from doing so.
Police are investigating whether the flogged men killed the cow or whether it was already dead.
Dalits are at the bottom of India's ages-old social hierarchy, making them vulnerable to attacks perpetrated by self-styled cow-protecting vigilantes.
Several people accused of eating beef have also been attacked, including a Muslim man who was last year beaten to death by a mob in a town near New Delhi.