Social activist and champion of Una March, Jignesh Mevani calls for Dalit-Muslim unity and urges youth to go beyond caste and religion, raise issues of unemployment and farmers’ suicide and save nation from becoming a Hindu rashtra in an interview with Fasiullah SM in Hyderabad.
Have you ever thought you would become a youth icon with huge following on social media?
I don’t think I am a youth icon. I am a full-time social activist. The way I became the face of Dalit movement, you journalists and media persons started calling me youth icon. To me Kanhaiya Kumar and Shehla Rashid are youth icons with far greater reach and impact. I genuinely think I am not a youth icon.
What motivated you to join the Una march and lead it from the forefront?
I have been working as an activist for past 7-8 years. And I am quite engaged in Dalit movements, particularly with Land Acts for landless Dalits. When Una happened I saw the reactions coming from various corners of Gujarat were quite scattered. There’s no force to galvanize and mobilize these scattered responses. I played that role.
When I was doing it, I had a feeling that I can give a proper shape to the movement and mobilize the people along with setting the agenda.
That’s why I came up with the slogan: “gaye ki poonch aap rakho, hame hamari zameen do” [You keep cow’s tail, give us our land]. The idea was not just to reject and discard the communal politics of Sangh Parivar and BJP, but also set my agenda.
My attempt is to make the Dalit movement inclusive, progressive and radical in content and approach. The focus should not just be on atrocities, but on what can lead to annihilation of caste.
Following the Una uprising, what’s your understanding of how a mass movement works in contemporary India?
There’s a lot of scope for mass movement. Post globalization, neo-liberal programs have created the gap between rich and poor. The poor people are terribly struggling for survival. There’s enormous scope for the mass movement, provided we are ready to shape our understanding on the basis of what they want rather than imposing our isms and ideas.
When we raised economic issues such as food, shelter, clothes, BPL card, road, gutter, electricity, and water it helped us shape the movement.
If you see the way colleges and campuses are targeted, we see lot of resistance. Lot of churning is going on. There’s also deep rooted agrarian crisis in our country. There’s lot of scope for mobilization of farmers as well. Dalits and Muslims are subjected to violence every alternate day.
If we keep making sincere attempts, we can come out with alternative politics as well.
How far you used technology in mobilizing masses?
My team, particularly Pratik Sinha, who runs TruthOfGujarat and AltNews, did a great job. He played a huge role. I am very dumb as far as technology is concerned. My friends call me e-ignorant. But now I have a huge fan following on social media. It helped me a lot.
Do Dalits have access to smartphones?
These days everybody is having a mobile. As far as Dalits are concerned, they have a notion that mainstream media is a manuvadi media. It caters only to certain sections of the society. It doesn’t raise their plight. Therefore they use social media, particularly WhatsApp skillfully as a counter attack.
In the wake of recurrent attacks on Dalits and Muslim ever since BJP came to power, do you think their youth need to collectively counter the oppression?
Undoubtedly! That’s why we say this slogan: “Gujarat Model murdabad, Dalit-Muslim ekta zindabad”. We came up with this slogan during our march from Ahmedabad to Una.
As far as Dalit-Muslim youth are concerned, there are lot new things happening. Of late I see they are tired with Congress and BJP. There’s a lot of churning among them to search for alternative politics.
The way slogan of ‘Jai Bhim, Lal Salam’ has clicked, I see there’s a unity of them.
What strategies you would suggest them for collective struggle against the oppression?
Dalit-Muslim must unite. Dalits and Muslims are untouchables. Both are treated as second class citizens. Both are struggling for survival. Both are working class. Both are excluded. Both live in sort of ghettos. There’s no point why they should not come together. Ultimate unity should be created on our existential issues, class issues and economic struggle.
Rohit Vemula and Najeeb Ahmed incidents could not bring them together. The two issues still hanging in the air. Where they have failed?
I don’t think so. Many people came together. In Ahmedabad, we demonstrated on the streets. However, the way Muslims are targeted post 2002 they are too scared. They are not coming out as Dalits are doing.
What’s your message to youth aspiring to challenge socio-political evils and bring a positive change in the society?
The only thing I want to say to the youth is – Time has come to come on the streets. There’s no other option. Otherwise we as a nation are gone. The kind of feudal and medieval forces have taken over, especially after Modi came to power, the ABVP, Sangh and BJP have become brazen and berserk. They are going to undoubtedly distort our constitution. They want to create Hindu rashtra instead of secular democracy. In this scenario if youth do not come out on streets, then we will be in serious trouble.
Youth must come out and go beyond caste and religion, raise issues of unemployment and farmers’ suicide, and talk about progressive cultural values.