Dalit Anger: UP, Gujarat Feel The Heat
Mumbai citizens issue statement for Chandrasekhar's immediate release
SAHARANPUR/NEW DELHI: Thousands of activists of the Bhim Army gathered in Saharanpur to demand the release of their chief Chandrashekhar ‘Azad’ from jail.
The demand gathers new urgency in the face of Chandrashekhar’s recent statements to the youth leaders who met him recently that the “BJP government is going to kill me.” In jail since June 8, 2017 Chandrashekhar has been beaten, and injured. And despite getting bail on all the serious charges thrown at him by the Yogi Adtyanath government secured bail from the Allahabad High Court only to have the National Security Act slapped on him.
Fiery speeches demanding his immediate release amidst slogans marked the rally in Saharanpur today, with the activists having gathered from different parts of the state. In solidarity citizens and civil society organisation of Mumbai issued a statement demanding Chandrashekhar’s immediate release. “The continued incarceration and harassment of Chandrashekar and his organization is a shameful indictment of the manner in which judicial processes are being subverted. The violent crackdown on the legitimate work of the Bhim Army bodes ill for our democracy, which ought to encourage all those who fight economic and social oppression,’ the statement signed (see full text below) by prominent citizens read.
Bhim Army emerged from the districts as an organisation fighting for the education rights of Dalits, who live in undescribable conditions even today in western UP. The organisation worked to empower Dalit women, to make them financially independent, and attracted not just attention but huge support. This was turned by Chandrashekhar into positive action when he intervened along with the Bhim Army activists to prevent a major communal incident in Saharanpur, and exposing the right wing groups and leaders trying to stoke the fires. The state government responded by cracking down on the Bhim Army, and later arresting Chandrashekhar who is clearly seen as a major threat by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. The NSA is a clear admission that the state is determined to keep the Dalit leader incarcerated, and as he has now said, there is threat to his life.
The Saharanpur rally focused on this and warned of a major stir across the state and the country, unless Chandrashekhar was released. Echoes of this were felt in Gujarat, on another issue of immolation, with MLA Jignesh Mevani being stopped by the police a day after he along with Hardik Patel and Alpesh Thakor addressed a large meeting to protest against the death of Dalit activist Bhanubhai Vankar on Friday. BJP legislators were stopped from visiting Vankar’s family by angry crowds, with demonstrations in different parts of Gujarat.
“"The Chief Minister (Vijay Rupani) should drown himself in the Narmada river. Gujarat does not belong to Rupani's father," Mevani said while leading the protests on the Ahmedabad-Gandhinagar highway. Patel and Thakor, now Congress MLA, visited the family and demanded firm action for Vankar who had immolated himself at the Patan district collectorate demanding physical possession of land allotted to a Dalit family. Land for Dalits, was a key demand of Mevani in his run up to the polls as this is a major issue in Gujarat where land is allocated, but possession not given. The state government claims to have agreed to the demands of the family, but no one is convinced.
Vankar, 60, had arrived at the Patan Collectors office with the Dalit family but when he could get no response he doused himself in kerosene and set himself on fire. His family refused to accept the dead body, and today Mevani was stopped by the cops, the keys of his vehicle snatched and broken, and he was pushed into a police vehicle and taken away. The fact that he is an elected representative of the people, a legislator cut no ice with the cops who were clearly acting under the state government’s instructions.
Mevani made it clear that the state should issue a notification to initiate similar processes for landless Dalits across 33 districts of Gujarat. He said that the fight will continue until this is done.
Full text of the Mumbai statement:
Free Chandrashekhar 'Azad'
Bhim Army Zindabad,
We, the undersigned citizens and civil society organisations of Mumbai, express our solidarity with the members of Bhim Army who have been working for the rights of Dalits in Sahranpur, Uttar Pradesh for the last two years. They have been advocating education for Dalits and running successful evening schools for them, besides raising a voice against atrocities. Apart from empowering young Dalit women to study and become financially independent, the organisation helps economically marginalized Dalits to study and on occasion supports medical expenses of patients during emergencies.
Despite garnering tremendous support across Saharanpur district and parts of Shamli and Muzaffarnagar and parts of Uttarakhand, they have been demonized and targeted by the state government. The district administration and its dependent local media have accused the organization of being ‘Naxalites’ and ‘terrorists’ along with a range of other unsubstantiated allegations. Several activists and senior leaders of the organization were forced to go underground.
Prominent activists and leaders of Bhim Army, including its founder Chandrashekhar Azad ‘Ravan’ have been hounded with false cases lodged against them. Almost 40 activists were arrested and tortured in jail.
Chandrashekhar was arrested while underground on June 8, 2017. While all other activists and senior leaders of the organization eventually got bail, Chandrashekhar continues to languish in Jail.
Bail granted but Jail continues!
Chandrashekhar faced serious charges including rioting, armed with deadly weapons, unlawful assembly, attempt to murder, assaulting public servants, trespassing and breach in peace. None of these claims of the State administration stood in the Court.
On 2ndNovember, 2017 the Allahbad High Court granted him bail on all the charges. However, the very next day, in a shocking development the state government slapped NSA (National Security Act) on Chandrashekhar. Since then, Chandrashekhar has been in Saharanpur jail where his health also rapidly deteriorated when he didn’t receive adequate medical attention and his condition became critical. Finally, due to public pressure he was sent to Meerut for medical treatment. On 27thJanuary, 2018, NSA on Chandrashekhar was extended by another 3 months.
The continued incarceration and harassment of Chandrashekar and his organization is a shameful indictment of the manner in which judicial processes are being subverted. The violent crackdown on the legitimate work of the Bhim Army bodes ill for our democracy, which ought to encourage all those who fight economic and social oppression.
We demand that Chandrashekhar is released and false charges against him and other members of Bhim Army be dropped forthwith.
Teesta Setalvad, Citizens for Justice and Peace
Prakash Reddy, CPI
Vivek Monteiro, CITU
Milind Ranade, Kachra Vahatuk Union
Sandhya Gokhale, Bombay, Forum Against Oppression of Women
Ram Puniyani, All India Secular Forum
Kamayani Bali Mahabal