An anti-caste, pro-land reform movement in Modi’s home state suggests a way forward for progressive forces in India.
Several weeks ago, on a drizzly monsoon morning, the bustle of a busy intersection in Mehsana, Gujarat was replaced with the quiet tension of a police lockdown. Guarding each entrance to the intersection, police officers stood warily, lathis in hand. As protesters gathered in other parts of Mehsana, they were warned not to venture to the intersection alone, since the police would find it easy to arrest those arriving in small groups.
Mehsana, a small city in western India, was meant to be the starting point of a seven-day “Azadi Kooch” or “Freedom March.” The march’s main demand was redistribution of land to Dalits, those historically at the bottom of the Hindu caste hierarchy, formerly known as “untouchables.” A rally with several nationally known political figures had been planned in Mehsana on July 12 to kick off the multiday march. Organizers had received state permission for carrying out the rally and march, but this permission had been revoked at the last minute, with government officials vaguely referring to concerns about the “law and order” situation.