Seven Dalit men have attempted suicide in Gujarat’s Rajkot district to protest a brutal assault on members of their community for allegedly killing a cow.

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Five of them — Rajesh Parmar, Ramesh Pardhi, Jagdish Rathod, Bharat Solanki and Anil Maghad — tried to end their lives by drinking poison near Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s statue in market area of Gondal town. Two others, Kishor Solanki (30) and Amrit Parmar (25), tried to commit suicide at Jamkandorna in the district. All seven men are now being treated at a hospital in Gondal.

Police said the five men in Gondal managed to consume a poisonous substance despite security personnel being present after they had threatened to take such a step.

“They were protesting the brutal assault on fellow Dalit youths in Una town of Gir Somnath district,” Inspector Vijay Chaudhary said.

The incident has snowballed into a major political issue for the Gujarat government, which announced a probe by the CID (crime) into public thrashing and stripping of Dalits and also offered compensation to victims.

Police have arrested nine persons, while four policemen, including an inspector, have been suspended for dereliction of duty. The authorities also paid Rs one lakh each to the victims.

Chief Minister Anandiben Patel announced that a “designated court will be set up to expedite the trial and chargesheet will be submitted within 60 days.”

The issue came to light when a video, purportedly showing the persons being beaten up with iron rods and sticks, went viral on Whatsapp and Facebook. In the video, some people are seen chained to a car while the accused are seen thrashing them.

Sources said the video was recorded by Pramod Giri Goswami, president of Shiv Sena unit in Gir Somnath district and head of the local cow vigilante group.

The victims, who are from Una town of Gir Somnath district, said they had bought a dead cow and was skinning the carcass when the cow vigilantes accused them of cow slaughter.

They said the assailants did not heed their pleas and started beating them up with iron pipes and sticks. After stripping and thrashing them, they were tied to an SUV and taken to the village.