Ravan’s release may intensify Dalit stir

Dalit leader Chandrashekhar Azad alias Ravan, who was imprisoned in June 2017 after being charged under the National Security Act in connection with the Saharanpur caste violence case, is finally out of jail and planning future course of action, writes. MUDIT MATHUR reports

The Uttar Pradesh (UP) government preferred to revoke its decision to avoid the test of judicial scrutiny before the apex court where the unlawful detention of Chandrashekhar Azad @ ‘Ravan’ had become unsustainable and arbitrary action aimed at settling score with political adversaries.

Azad was emerging as a champion of Dalit resurgence under his newly formed outfit Bhim Army. His counter-influence had become perennial headache for saffron forces as he was instrumental to reestablish Dalit-Muslims unity with an aim to defuse evil designs of communal polarisation in the most sensitive western UP, particularly Saharanpur and its surrounding areas.

In Uttar Pradesh, ever since BJP came to power, an unprecedented onslaught on the political rivals has been witnessed in the dictatorial behaviour of its administrative machinery, especially targeting group leaders of Muslims and Dalits by misusing draconian laws of preventive detention to muzzle dissent. The most prominent of those arrested under National Security Act (NSA) is the Bhim Army leader, Chandrashekhar Azad @ ‘Ravan.’

Supreme Court took cognizance of such detention issuing notice to state government and District Magistrate, Saharanpur on 10th August, 2018, while admitting the petition challenging detention of Chandrashekar @ Ravan (founder of BHIM Army) under NSA. As soon as the notice was served upon the state government and District Magistrate, Saharanpur on 21.08.2018 to justify its decision to put him behind the bars for about a year in prison under preventive detention on the ground of security threat to national interests and integrity, the government found it to be in a tight spot as there was no substantially credible evidence to support the charges before the apex court.

So perplexed state government revoked its decision and withdrew NSA charges before the upcoming hearing date on 20th September before chief justice court. Yogi government issued notification on September 13, 2018 withdrawing NSA from Chandrashekhar @ Ravan and hastily released him at midnight from the Saharanpur Jail.

In a jam packed court room when human rights lawyer and senior advocate Colin Gonsalves assisted by Shreeji Bhavsar stood to argue the merits of the case, state’s counsel Sanjay Tyagi passed on the notification to the bench informing that the petitioner Chandrashekhar had already been set free from prison as government had decided to withdraw the charges against him under NSA. The Bench comprising chief justice Dipak Mishra, Justice A.M. Khanwilkar and Justice DY Chandrachud took the revocation order on the records of the case and disposed of the matter becoming infructuous in view of the steps taken by the government.

During an interview with “Tehelka” the counsel for Azad, Shreeji Bhavsar said, “The Uttar Pradesh Government had planned to malign the image of Chandrashekhar as criminal, extremist or insurgent and therefore registered false and fabricated cases against him. When Chandrashekar secured bail through due judicial process in all such cases either by the Trial Court or High Court of Allahabad as there were apparent malafides and abuse of the power on the face of records. The government arbitrarily blocked his release by detaining him further by slapping NSA and kept him behind the bars for such a long time under unlawful preventive detention.”

Reacting sharply on his dramatic mid-night release from prison, Shreeji said, “Fearing final hearing and anticipating rebuke from the apex court, the U.P. government got revoked NSA from Chandrashekhar, which clearly shows that draconian law, NSA was selectively imposed upon Chandrashekhar with oblique political motives and revoking NSA by the government and releasing him from Saharanpur Jail in the midnight is a proof that he had been a victim of political persecution.”

Chandrashekhar approached the Supreme Court against the final order and judgment of the Allahabad High Court wherein his Habeas Corpus Writ Petition stood dismissed. He was under judicial custody from 08.06.17 in connection with five cases registered against him. As soon as he got bail in all these cases his release was obstructed by detaining him under the provisions of NSA. He had challenged the order of the District Magistrate Saharanpur dated 2.11.2017 slapping NSA on him and subsequent orders of state government dated 21.12.2017 and dated 23.01.2018 whereby the period of detention was extended from 3 months to six months.

The background of atrocities on weaker section of Dalits started on May 5th, 2017 on the occasion of “Maharana Pratap Jayanti” at around 10:00-10:30 A.M. About 100-200 members of Rajput Sabha were taking out the procession in village Shabbirpur and were shouting slogans “Maharana Pratap Zindabad” and “Ambedkar Murdabad” just opposite to the Ravidas Mandir. Some people including Shiv Kumar Pradhan and other villagers who were present at the spot, objected saying, “you cannot shout slogans insulting Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar.” Some small scuffle between the people of both communities took place.

Thereafter, the members of Rajput Sabha went to village Simlana 7-8 KM far from Shabbirpur village, where the felicitation of Sher Singh Rana was going on among 1000 persons of Rajput community. Rana shot in lime light when he brutally killed rape survivor- ‘Bandit Queen’ turned parliamentarian, Phoolan Devi, in Delhi to take revenge for restoring lost glory of Rajputs as she had shot dead 22 Rajputs in Behmai massacre in 1981. She held these Rajputs guilty for allegedly raping her and keeping her in captivity after killing her lover, another dacoit, Vikram Mallah due to caste rivalry.

In this function many speakers’ allegedly abused and insulted Dr. Ambedkar from the podium. The leaders of Rajput Sabha instigated the other members of dominant Rajput caste to raid the Ravidas Mandir and take revenge from the Dalits. At around 11:30-12:00 PM, agitated mob of about 500-700 people of Rajput Sabha with preparation carrying Swords, inflammatory material etc. started from Simlana Village and firstly attacked and torched about 40 shops of Dalit community at Maheshpur and thereafter they reached Shabbirpur Village and ransacked the houses of Dalit community and looted and set on fire their abode.

Around 56 houses and 5-10 Shops of the Chamar community at Shabbirpur village were incinerated. Furthermore, the rioters had caused grievous injuries to 15-16 people including women and children of this community in presence of police. They continued violence till 3:00 PM.

Thereafter, when the victims of Chamar community went to Badgaon Police Station to register their FIR’s of rioting, looting and arson of their houses by the Rajput community, their FIR’s were not registered by the police. Instead, the victims were ill-treated by the police at the Badgaon police station. After lots of efforts out of 45 complaints only 3 FIRs were registered on 06.05.2017 against persons of dominant Rajput caste for looting and arson of 56 houses of victims of Dalit community.

Describing the facts that led to communal tension, in his petition Azad states, that on 06.05.2017 hundreds of people from Dalit community were assembled at Ravidas Boys Hostel at Saharanpur to protest against the unprovoked violent clashes on 05.05.2017 and handed over a memorandum to the SDM, Saharanpur demanding lodging of an FIRs against the accused persons of dominant Rajput caste under proper Sections of the IPC and to conduct independent, fair and impartial investigation of the incident dated 05.05.2017 occurred at Shabbirpur Village.

The protesters also demanded alternate arrangements of food and shelter for the victims of Dalit community, who have become shelter less as their houses were arson by the rioters. Further, they demanded the release of the innocent persons of Chamar (Dalit) community who were implicated and arrested by the officers of Badgaon Police Station on intervening night of May 5th and 06th, 2017 allegedly, under the guise of false cases registered by the Rajputs with intent to harass and humiliate the people of Dalit community.

Bhim Army volunteers tell that Badgaon Police were exerting undue pressure upon the victims of caste clashes to withdraw the 3 FIRs lodged by them on 06.05.2017 against the Rajput community on the basis of retaliatory false FIRs lodged against the victims by the dominant Rajput community. The unfair and partisan approach of the police further escalated discord in the communally sensitive region. Right from the chief minister to DG Police ruling the state, belong to the Rajput community and administrative machinery naturally functions on their directives.

The Dalit community had become restless finding no positive assurance to get justice from administration. They ultimately gave a call for organizing “Mahapanchayat” on May 9th, 2017 to press their demand of fair investigation and providing shelter to victims of communal violence. The Dalit groups also sought permission for holding peaceful protest but on the day of their meeting, the proposed venue at Ravidas Boys Hostel was surrounded by heavy deployment of security forces and they were not allowed to gather and hold meeting at the proposed venue.

It resulted blockage of Mallipur Road at Ramnagar, where gathering of protesters ultimately assembled. The police forces resorted to “Lathi charge” to disperse unarmed peaceful protesters who sustained injuries in unprovoked police action. This act of the administration had further aggravated the situation. Thereafter, a total 23 FIR’s were registered by the Police against the persons, all belonging to the Dalit community for the same incident occurred on the same date and time. Out of 23 FIRs Chandrashekhar was named only in five cases.

After the police clashed with the protesters, a planned oppressive onslaught on Dalit outfit Bhim Army was launched and its members were picked up. Chandrashekhar went underground but was soon arrested on June 8, 2017 from Dalhousie in Himachal Pradesh. While no action was taken against the affluent Thakurs who attacked the villagers and households, Chandrashekhar and thousands of Bhim Army cadre were arrested and charged with rioting.

The popularity of the Bhim Army has grown multifariously till then. More than 1.5 lakh members in Saharanpur alone have subscribed its membership. It has emerged as a national platform for the aspiration of Dalits agenda. The Bhim Army started protesting against atrocities on weaker sections. The expanding reach of Bhim Army considered to be perceived as a threat to the larger plan of Hindutva led by the governments at the Centre and the State.

After the all-India strike on April 2 against the dilution of the provisions of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act by the Supreme Court, about 2,500 Dalits were arrested in Meerut, 500 in Saharanpur. Government slapped NSA against Shiv Kumar, the sarpanch of Shabbirpur; Sonu, a poor person from the same village; and Upkar Bawara, district president of the Bhim Army in Muzaffarnagar.

“Across the country, they have created fear so that no one can speak against tyranny,” said Kamal Singh Walia, president of the Bhim Army of Saharanpur district who is also facing police charges because he always stood against atrocities on Dalit community.

Chandrashekhar Azad @ ‘Ravan’ emerged as the face of the Dalit movement when he put up a board outside his village with the words: “The Great Chamars of Dhadkuli Welcome You”. He is born and brought up in this small village near Chutmalpur in Saharanpur, western Uttar Pradesh. He organised Dalit youths under the banner of Bhim Army and set up around 300 schools to impart education to children of Dalit community. Muslims were also allowed to join these schools. He aims to evolved larger consensus among the oppressed and exploited communities to equip them with education with better political understanding to prepare them for a collective struggle.

Chandrashekhar ‘Ravan’ has emerged as a Dalit icon in the western Uttar Pradesh challenging the might of Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati who quickly disowned Ravan’s claim of being her nephew. She feels jittery over growing influence of Bhim Army over the poor masses of her community who were blindly following and worshiping her.

Ravan shows exemplary courage fighting the forces of saffron outfits whereas Mayawati seems to be feeble fighter and had poor track record aligning with BJP to form government. Congress leaders have been seen openly with Chandrashekhar in his fight against saffron brigade.