Attacks on Dalit spark moustache protests in India's Gujarat state

A Dalit teenager was reportedly stabbed by two upper caste men for sporting a moustache.

Members of the Dalit or 'untouchable' community shout slogans during a protest in the northern Indian city of AmritsarMunish Sharma/Reuters file photo

A Dalit teenager was stabbed for sporting a moustache in the western Indian state of Gujarat on Tuesday (3 October), triggering protests in the region. This was the third such attack against young Dalits in the area, reportedly carried out by upper caste men.

In late September, two Dalit men were assaulted by unidentified men from a village in Gujarat's Gandhinagar area stoking tensions. They were allegedly attacked by Rajput men, who are seen as upper castes, for sporting moustaches.

The latest incident took place when Digant Maheria, 17, was heading back from school. Two men stabbed him after an altercation. The victim has been taken to a hospital and is said to be out of danger.

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Maheria was thought to be a cousin of Piyush Parmar, 24, who was earlier attacked in the September incident. Maheria was also said to have been present when Parmar was attacked.

"The men who attacked Digant wore masks and told him that they had been given Rs 150,000 (£1,739.7) to attack those who had lodged the FIR [First Information Report]," said Maheria's uncle, Kirit Maheria, referring to the initial charges filed by the police.

Gandhinagar's Superintendent of Police, Virendrasingh Yadav, said authorities were investigating the attacks. "The boy was attacked with a blade by two men on a bike who had covered their faces. When we investigated in the village, we were surprised that those nearest to the place of the incident did not hear anyone scream. We will make sure that we investigate the matter thoroughly," he said.

Following the attacks, young Dalit men in the area have started a novel protest under the title "Mr Dalit". They have changed their profile pictures in social media such as WhatsApp and Twitter to an image of a twirled moustache with a crown.

Dalit men have also been proudly posing for photographs displaying their moustaches. Besides, pro-Dalit activists in the area have called for protests outside key government offices.

Dalits, the lowest-rung in India's rigid caste structure, were once regarded as "untouchables" and still face social discrimination in many parts of the country.

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