A social media campaign is taking place in Gujarat, where young people from the Dalit community are suffixing ‘Sinh’ — traditionally associated with upper castes — with their name, signalling a fight for prestige in the state.
It all started when 22-year-old tutor Maulik Jadav added ‘Sinh’ to his Facebook profile name on May 10, in a statement of “self-respect” that has irked upper caste Rajputs, resulting in a few clashes between the two communities in the state since then.
Jadav’s decision was prompted by threats issued to his Dalit friend Mahipatsinh Zala allegedly by some Darbar (Kshatriya) men who wanted the latter to drop “Sinh” from his name. The word means lion in Gujarat, cognate with the name “Singh” used in other parts of the country.
Jadav’s move first triggered a war of words on the social media and then snowballed into a clash between Dalits and Darbars on May 23 in which four people were injured. The clashes come to an end with complaint and cross-complaint by the two communities but it has left a deep impact on Dalits in the region.
Hours after the clashes, the Facebook timeline of 15-year-old local Rahul Jadav read: “I have changed my name from Rahul Jadav to Rahulsinh Jadav.”
Several other Dalit youngsters from Valthera, a village on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, and in many other villages in the state, followed his footsteps.
That has not been taken lightly by the Rajputs. In a village near Palanpur earlier this week, a 23-year-old Dalit man was forced to shave his moustache by two Rajputs after he distributed an invitation card for a religious ceremony with “Sinh” added to his name. Police arrested one of the two persons named by victim Ranjit Thakor.
Local activists reported several instances of Dalits being threatened by the upper caste Kshatriyas for using the word even though no complaint has been lodged with the police.
“I can name myself anything. No one has the right to suppress us just because we are Dalits,” Valthera sarpanch Bharat Jadav said and claimed that some 1,000 Dalits in his village has picked up the trend.
Kevalsinh Rathod, who leads the Samajik Ekta and Nyay Manch in Una, said: “Now, Dalits have started reacting to any injustice meted out to them. Una flogging two years ago brought out their suppressed anger of years.”
While the upper caste Darbar residents of Valthera refused to present their side of the story on the issue saying they “don’t want to comment on what Dalits are up to”, Karni Sena in charge of central Gujarat Dileepsinh Vaghela said, “Kshatriyas have earned the title of Sinh by fighting for the country. Others should understand and respect this. It is our identity…”
Their “rebellion” comes as the caste divide in the state refuses to cease. Dalits form about 7% of Gujarat’s population, while upper castes, excluding Patidars, account for close to 25% of over six crore people.
OBCs form the largest chunk of the population at 40% and there are around 15% tribals.
If the flogging of four Dalits youths in Una by self-styled cow vigilantes two years ago brought to national focus the atrocities against Dalits, the latest social media campaign is a manifestation of the agitation by Dalits of self-respect that the incident triggered.
In October 2017, when a Dalit youngster was thrashed near Gandhinagar for keeping a moustache, young people across the state started posting pictures of them twirling their moustache.
The Sarvaiya family of Una, which was beaten by cow vigilantes, converted to Buddhism in April saying “we decided to drop the religion whose followers had beaten us”.
Human rights activists and social expert, Manishi Jani said: “What the recent clashes indicate is that Dalits are now retaliating when others try to impose feudal system. After the Una flogging, atrocities have not stopped. But Dalits now feeling empowered and are reacting.”