21, Dec 2017 | Sushmita
Only a few moments in Indian history have had the power to unite voices across the spectrum of class, caste, religion, language and more. Some individuals become the manifestation of these moments and spread their exuberance around like star-dust. Today is a day of mixed emotions. Today is the day when Jignesh Mevani has won from the Vadgam constituency in Gujarat elections.
Exactly, two years ago, Rohith Vemula had written his first letter to Hyderabad Central University Vice Chancellor, Appa Rao Podile, asking for the freedom to commit euthanasia. A few weeks later Rohith was forced to commit suicide. In his final letter, Rohith had said, “The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. To a vote. To a number. To a thing. Never was a man treated as a mind. As a glorious thing made up of star dust.” If Rohith would have been alive today, he would be congratulating and blessing Jignesh on bringing the aspirations of thousands of people especially Dalits, Adivasis and Muslims, for a dignified life, to the forefront of the public discourse.
Teesta Setalvad, Secretary, CJP, is jubilant, “For me this is a very important occasion as a person with an unusual mix of ideas has won. Jignesh believes in the realisation of land for Dalits first, through the courts; and now backed by a rigorous struggle on the ground. Though he understands and knows caste to be a defining category of denial and exclusion, his analysis also extends to the inclusion of class and other exclusions within the spectrum. This is both
rare and crucial.” She said that the fact that, the people have given their mandate to a leader who believes in inclusive politics, is in itself telling!
Jignesh Mevani is the new symbol of hope and resistance for the country’s youth. Following his election campaign, Akhil Kumar, a journalist from The Wire said, “Jignesh Mevani is unlike Hardik Patel or Alpesh Thakor in the sense that his movement attempts to forge a unity of the oppressed and is not primarily focused on sectarian interests. A melting pot of social movements. Activists, students, social workers and political aides from various parties all
racking their brains to help an activist ease into parliamentary politics. Discussing the challenges in a nondescript hotel by the highway and rushing to cover all 130 villages by road shows, the small group of rabble-rousers is giving sleepless nights to the mighty election machine of the BJP. Inexperienced in electoral strategies and a complete outsider to the constituency, Mevani has had to brave many challenges. Hope it pays off because if there’s one person who truly deserves to be elected in Gujarat, it’s him.” Jignesh’s campaign was made successful with the help of students leaders and youth pouring in from all parts of the country.
The Rise and Rise of Jignesh Mevani
Jignesh Mevani is a 36 year old Dalit activist and lawyer from Gujarat who rose to national attention after spearheading a campaign demanding self-respect through the land question. In 2016, after the flogging incident in which cow vigilantes had tortured four people for allegedly skinning a dead cow, Jignesh mobilised Dalits in a unique uprising.
Popularising the slogan, “You keep the cow’s tail, give us our land” thousands of Dalit women and men came together to demand justice for the Una victims and pledged to give up their traditional occupation of removing cow carcasses and demanded five acres land each for the families as per the Gujarat Land Ceilings Act and the Government’s Agricultural Policy. The protest march culminated on August 15,2016 into Azaadi Kooch, resulting into the arrest of most of the vigilantes involved in the flogging.
Not only this, Jignesh showed a way to litigate in cases where Dalits have been allotted land on paper but not given physical possession of the same. Realising the challenges in adopting alternative methods of livelihood, Jignesh had said “Dalits can only be truly free with alternate, dignified, work.”
Born on December 11, 1982, in Ahmedabad district of Gujarat, Mevani did his schooling from Swastik Vidyalaya and Vishwa Vidyalay Madhaymik Shala in the district. He completed his graduation in English literature in 2003 from HK Arts College in the same city and received Diploma in Journalism and Mass Communication. He worked as a reporter for a Gujarati magazine, Abhiyan from 2004 to 2007. He also completed his Bachelor of Law degree from DT Law College, Ahmedabad in 2013.
Forging Solidarity on the Ground
It is for this reason, that in Jignesh’s own words, “It was fabulous for me that a cadre of the Congress was working for me, a cadre from a Dalit party was working for me, a cadre from the Aam Aadmi Party was here, an MLA from the CPI (ML) stayed for days and campaigned for me, Swaraj India’s Yogendra Yadav campaigned for me, and CPI’s Milind Ranade from Maharashtra was here. Many of these political parties would not have shared a stage if I had not been there.”
However, this is not the first time that such a unique conglomeration of social activists and political forces has taken place. Going beyond familial bonds, slain journalist Gauri Lankesh had adopted Jignesh Mevani as her own son, along with others such as Kanhaiya Kumar and Umar Khalid. Anguished by her murder, Jignesh had said, “I can’t believe that I won’t be able to see her again. I won’t be able to take khakhara from Gujarat for her ever again. This is
a major loss for the civil society of Karnataka. This is the murder of democracy and rationality. Down with dark devil forces who killed such a beautiful soul… Gauri you will always and always remain in my heart, in our hearts.”
Teesta Setalvad talks about another such instance, “For me, an important moment was in July 2016, just before the Azaadi Kooch yatra, when a small band of Dalits had taken out a procession in Naroda Patiya, silently expressing public remorse for the carnage of 2002. This was the first time such an acknowledgment of grief and suffering of the victims of Gujarat riot had taken place and its so rare in public life to bear witness to such a phenomenon. Women survivors of the Patiya massacre were tremendously moved. To be able to confront grief and guilt like this in public is rare. That one of the leaders with such sensitivity has been elected to an assembly seat, in Gujarat, signals a real shift for the positive , in the politics of today.”
Jignesh is the leader who believes that ideology is not an end in itself. This is an important and profound idea to absorb in a country that is seeing a sudden rise in Hindutva politics. For Jignesh, ideology is not about sticking to dogmatism but a concrete change in the lives of the people. He says,“Ultimately, in the final analysis, we have to construct a classless society. The idea of creating a classless society keeps putting enormous pressure on me every single day.”
This is a beautiful manifestation and a reaffirmation of the true principles of justice, liberty and equality as envisioned by Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar.
*Images courtesy Jignesh Mevani’s Facebook and Twitter accounts.
This story was first published on December 18th 2017 and is being re-published today, December 21st 2017.