Persecution of activists

Kashmir Times. Dated: 6/12/2018 7:12:05 AM

Arrests of five activists for Bhima-Koregaon violence reflects deep rooted bias against Dalits and systemic plan to silence dissenters

The arrests of human rights and Dalit activists - Shoma Sen, Advocate Surender Gadling, Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson and Mahesh Raut - by Maharashtra police for the violence that erupted earlier this year during a rally at Bhima-Koregaon are shocking and reveal the ugly extent to which government can go to in abusing power to unlawfully target peaceful citizens because of their different views and their leadership roles in mobilizing oppressed communities. All the five activists arrested have been excessively vocal about the oppression of minorities particularly Dalits and tribals due to undemocratic practices and draconian laws. A similar draconian law UAPA which gives sweeping powers to police to detain, arrest and torture anybody has been used to silence and gag their voices. The arrests are highly condemnable because not only are some of these activists linked to the Bhima-Koregaon rally, the basis on which the arrests have been made appear to turn the facts of the violence that erupted during the rally on their head. The rally in January aimed at mobilizing Dalits around a memory of centuries of oppression, was attacked by the Hindutva goons resulting in violent protests. Public property was damaged and one person was killed, while many others were injured. Outraged at the violence, Dalit groups had hit the streets across Maharashtra but only the reactive violence was magnified, even though the magnitude of the attacks on Dalits was far higher. The BJP government did nothing even at that time and instead of arresting the Hindutva activists who triggered the violence, the government had targeted Dalit leader Jignesh Mewani and student leader Khalid Umar for inciting violence and speaking against the constitution. None of this was true as the two who prominently figured in the rally had only focused on caste annihilation. The case had been registered following a complaint by Hindutva activist who happened to lead the groups of people carrying saffron flags and assaulted Dalits in Bhima Koregaon, triggering the violence. Hindu right wing goons accused of the violence were not arrested, though following several complaints a belated FIR was lodged against one of the main accused Sambhaji Bhide for conspiring and inciting violence. No arrests have been made in that complaint. But the Maharashtra police, at the behest of political powers, is now cracking down on several Dalit activists and sympathisers. After the initial hounding of Jignesh Mewani and Khalid Umar, the names of Surendra Gadling and Rona Wilson were added to the case later. Mahesh Raut and Shoma Sen were never mentioned in the charge-sheet presented before the court.
The arrests of these activists, some of who were not even involved in the Bhima Koregaon agitation are unjustifiable and betray a systemic and desperate plan by the government to gag and silence all voices that are dissenting, challenge it or critique its policies. It is a clear case of bias and abuse of power. The present arrests follow a familiar pattern that was seen after the Saharanpur violence against Dalits last year in the form of victimization of Dalit leader Chandrashekhar Azad 'Ravan'. He was first accused of rioting and after the courts granted him bail, calling the arrests 'politically motivated', the Uttar Pradesh government promptly slapped the draconian National Security Act on Azad. He has been languishing in jail ever since. The persecution of Dalits for centuries in this country is already well known. The sequence of events reveal that while attackers of Dalits have been spared, the police have gone out of the way to crackdown on the Dalits who were outraged at the attack. It is even more bizarre that cases have been clamped against activists who may have had nothing to do with the event. This smacks of a clear prejudice against Dalits and those who stand up for their rights. The lynching of Dalits in villages, their social boycott and multiple ways of victimizing them is an everyday reality, the root of which lies in the traditional belief in and perpetuation of Manusmriti and the regressive caste system that treats humans as unequal. BJP's rise to power at the Centre has heightened this persecution. BJP governments in various states have been systemically persecuting Dalits and activists working for their rights through patronization of lumpen elements or abuse of law and order machinery. The BJP governments have been systemically strengthening the social and administrative structures with the clear ambition of deepening the societal prejudices against Dalits and leading to their further vulnerability. Such venomous vendetta against the already oppressed and marginalised community is unjustifiable and amounts to subversion of democratic practices and democratic spirit. It must be opposed tooth and nail.



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