There are 28 cases against Kamal and 27 against Chandrashekhar. Most Bhim Army members have more than eight cases against them. “The cases are such that they require bail amounts of up to Rs.1 lakh each, which is impossible for us to pay. But we are not scared. It is not an individual fight but an ideological one,”
DRACONIAN laws such as the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and the National Security Act (NSA) and charges of sedition are increasingly being used against anyone who criticises the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government. While Adivasis fighting for their rights have always been maligned as naxalites, Dalits too are now being branded naxalites and anti-nationals.
In Uttar Pradesh, ever since Yogi Adityanath became the Chief Minister, the NSA has been slapped on political opponents, especially Muslims and Dalits. The most prominent of those arrested under this Act is of the Bhim Army leader, Chandrashekhar Azad “Ravan”.
On May 5 last year, Thakurs in Shabbirpur village of Sahranpur district in western Uttar Pradesh torched more than 50 Dalit homes and hacked people and cattle (“Targeting Dalits”, Frontline, June 9, 2017). In protest against the caste atrocities and demanding justice for the victims, Dalits organised a mahapanchayat on May 9. The police clashed with the protesters and picked up members of the Dalit outfit Bhim Army. Chandrashekhar went into hiding but was arrested on June 8 from Dalhousie. While no action was taken against the Thakurs who attacked the village, Chandrashekhar and Bhim Army cadre were arrested and charged with rioting.
Supporters of the Bhim Army feel that the government wants to “fix” the likes of Chandrashekhar, who was emerging as a strong leader against the Thakurs and the police. A vocal critique of the Adityanath government, he has been working for the rights of Dalits and their welfare. The Bhim Army has an education outreach programme under which it runs 350 schools that cater to all castes. “We also conduct blood donation camps. Why do the media never mention these activities of the Bhim Army and instead paint us as a violent group?” asked one of the Bhim Army members of Saharanpur.
Soon after Chandrashekhar’s arrest, the state machinery came down heavily on other Bhim Army members. Nearly 7,000 Dalits have been charged under various sections of the law, according to Kamal Singh Walia, Saharanpur district president of the Bhim Army. Every time the Bhim Army organises a programme, its members are charged with new crimes. Recently, when right-wing groups burnt the Constitution in Delhi, some 150 Bhim Army members presented a memorandum to the Senior Superintendent of Police in Saharanpur against the act. Ironically, the police slapped cases against those who submitted the letter, stating that Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (prohibiting assembly of more than four people in an area) was in force in the district. “Is Section 144 for entire Saharanpur or is it only for Bhim Army members of Saharanpur?” asked Kamal.
There are 28 cases against Kamal and 27 against Chandrashekhar. Most Bhim Army members have more than eight cases against them. “The cases are such that they require bail amounts of up to Rs.1 lakh each, which is impossible for us to pay. But we are not scared. It is not an individual fight but an ideological one,” Kamal told Frontline.
Kamal was incarcerated for seven months and 20 days. While he was kept in a cell with other prisoners, Chandrashekhar was kept in solitary confinement. According to Kamal, Chandrashekhar was beaten by fellow prisoners at the instance of the Thakurs. “The government can get him killed,” said Kamal, relating an incident when poison was apparently mixed in their food.
Source : Front Line, Sept 12, 2018