Activist arrests: Why does the state want to undermine Dalit dignity, equality?

The equality and dignity of Dalits remain undermined. It is in this light that Maharashtra police is trying to implicate those activists who have stood their ground to help these marginalised groups

PTI Photo
PTI Photo

Ram Puniyani

The violence in Bhima-Koregaon is still reverberating. We recall that on January 1, thousands of Dalits returning from Bhima Koregaon were beaten up. In that context the names of Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide cropped up as the instigators of violence. The probe is on.

In the context of this, earlier five activists, Mahesh Raut, Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, Shoma Sen and Sudhir Dhawale, working for issues related to Adivasis and dalits were arrested. Now in the month of September there was an attempt to arrest Gautam Navlakha, Sudha Bhardwaj, Varvara Rao, Vernon Gonslaves and Arun Ferreira were arrested while houses of Anand Teltumde and many others were raided. The charge as per police version is that all these activists were behind Bhima Koregaon violence, in the organising of Elgar Parishad, where inflammatory speeches were delivered, leading to violence.

In a surreal manner the police have succeeded in producing a letter ‘unearthing the conspiracy’ to kill the Prime Minster Narendra Modi. Interestingly the attempt to arrest these activists was halted due to the intervention of Supreme Court, which gave a sort of dressing down to the police, telling them that arresting these activists is like doing away with the safety valve of our democracy. These activists have been put under house arrest till further hearing.

Aakar Patel, Executive Director of Amnesty International, said “This is not the first time that activists working on Dalit and Adivasi rights have been arrested with little evidence. The government should protect people’s rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly instead of creating an atmosphere of fear.”

Now European Union has taken a note of these arbitrary arrests by police and has condemned these arrests and raids. It is due to actions of state like this that India has been named as one of the offenders for 'alarming' level of harsh reprisals and intimidation against those who cooperate with the UN on human rights issues.

The Supreme Court has been forthright in doubting the police action and prevented its attempt to arrest these activists and raid the houses of others. This phenomenon of reprisals against Human rights defenders is very disturbing and also points to the direction in which the present government’s Hindu nationalist agenda is leading the country.

In Bhima-Koregaon, the blame is being put on Elgar Parishad speeches. While most of these activists have nothing to do with organising of Elgar Parishad, Retired Supreme Court Judge PB Sawant and Retired Justice Kolse Patil have stated that they were the Conveners of this meeting. So the question does arise as to why these activists have been arrested. It seems the major goal of this Government, guided by Hindutva agenda is to label every dissent as anti-national, at the same time to suppress all attempts are on to snub those who are trying to help Dalits assert their dignity and help demand their rights.

Let’s remember that with this government coming to power the dalit assertion has been targeted all through. Starting with banning of Periyar Ambedkar study circle (IIT Madras) they went on to target the Ambedkar Students Association in Hyderabad Central University leading to institutional murder of Rohith Vemula. In the aftermath of Vemula’s suicide, massive upsurge of dalits all over the country did give rise to a dalit movement, with other social groups chipping in for support.

As the Hindutva agenda of the Holy Cow-Beef unfolded with the targeting of Muslim community, an unexpected parallel to this came up in the form of four Dalit youth being stripped and beaten mercilessly. All over the country the discontent of Dalits started getting polarised in the form of agitations launched by another Dalit young man, Jignesh Mevani, who successfully organised the protests around cow issue, to emerge as a powerful voice of Dalits. He has tried to combine the Dalit identity and dignity with issue of land, which is the core problem of Dalits in the country.

The present political agenda has tried to push the Muslim minorities into second class citizenship by picking up issues like Ram Temple, Cow-Beef, Love Jihad and Ghar Wapasi (Reconversion into Hinduism). Labeling Muslims and Christians as foreigners and in particular Muslims as anti National has been the plank of their politics.

As far as Dalits are concerned, RSS combine has been doing multiple things to co-opt them into their fold. The first major attempt has been that of Samajik Samrasta Manch, (Social Harmony Forum) where the central theme has been to promote harmony between different castes, as RSS propagates that caste inequality is due to the Muslim invaders who tried to convert, leading to caste inequality.

This has been backed up by social engineering where attempts have been made to co-opt Dalits and even Adivasis into the ideology which hides inequality. Also many a Dalit leaders like Ramvilas Paswan, Ramdas Athwaley and Udit Raj have been lured into the posts of power to get their support for Hindu nationalism. At cultural level they have modulated historical icons like Suhel Dev, as great Hindu warriors standing against the foreigners, the Muslims.

Still the rebellion is spilling out; the unrest of Dalits is on the streets. The question of equality and dignity of Dalits remains undermined. It is in this light that Maharashtra police is desperately trying to implicate those activists/scholars who have stood their ground to help bring up the movement of rights for these marginalised groups. And so this attempts to implicate them with a conference, which was convened by two retired judges. The alert citizens like Romila Thapar have done a yeomen service in invoking the Supreme Court to save the democratic ethos by stopping the reckless police action. Supreme Court has yet again proved that it can protect the rights of the marginalized sections.

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