Basant Rawat, TT, Surendranagar, July 20: Cow carcasses pockmark the streets of Surendranagar and the neighbourhood of dozen-odd bovine shelters in the Gujarat city.
Lalji Chavda, one of the 10-odd persons who used to remove the carcasses and sell the skin and bones, offers a solution: “This job should be done by those who consider cow holy. Let those members of cow protection committees dispose of dead cows if they really worship the cow.”
Dalits like Lalji have refused to lift the carcasses because a group of youths were subjected to a savage beating by cow vigilantes in full view of the public. Footage of the assault recalls floggings in slave-era America.
“Hypocrites,” mutters Lalji in derision, referring to the double standard of worshipping cows when they are alive and refusing to touch them once they are dead.
The contemptuous description is borne out soon as the owner of a dead cow virtually disowns it. Eventually, some Dalit women in the area – Surendranagar has a 12 per cent Dalit population, 5 per cent more than the state average – drag the carcass across the road, hoping the civic body will arrange its removal. It did so in another locality this morning, using a crane to lift a dead animal.
Sources say collector Udit Agrawal and the civic body received frantic calls from people who wanted dead animals to be removed. The administration pressurised sweepers to remove them. They did so grudgingly but their leader, Baldev Rathod, threw the rulebook at the officials and threatened a strike. Under a 1993 law, a sweeper’s job is defined and they are not supposed to remove dead animals.
This is what Rathod told the collector today in a memorandum threatening the strike from tomorrow, if the sweepers were forced into the job.
Unions like the Safai Kamdar Hak Rakshak Samiti and the Valmiki Samaj – representing around 1,100 sweepers – have voiced support for the Dalit groups that want to stop skinning dead cows because of the threats from vigilantes who accuse them of cow slaughter.
The protesters are demanding Rs 10 lakh as compensation for the assaulted youths, government jobs and four acres so they can switch to farming.
The “uprising” has surprised even Dalit leaders who had no inkling of the pent-up anger that is now bursting in the form of sporadic protests. As many as 17 youths have tried to commit suicide till now.
In Vadwan Mahajan Panjarapol, one of the biggest cow shelters, seven carcasses lay littered in a grotesque manner. Of the 4,000 cows in the shelter, 50-odd are sick and likely to die in a few days.
Ganpat Bhai, who used to collect dead animals from the shelter, has joined the protests. “I have been requesting Ganpat Bhai, who lives within the shelter, but he says he cannot go against the call of his community,” says Pareshlal, one of the trustees of Vadwan.