08, Feb 2018 | EPW
We, on behalf of the Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), a civil rights organisation, would like to draw your attention to the unjust incarceration of Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan, chief of the Bhim Army, a young and dynamic democratic rights activist. He was arrested by the Uttar Pradesh (UP) police on 9 June 2017. Apart from multiple criminal cases, that we believe are being unjustly foisted on him, the draconian National Security Act (NSA) has also been slapped on him since November 2017.
We have learnt that through a shocking order passed on 23 January, the UP government has extended application of the NSA under Section 12(1) of the said act. His detention has been extended for a period of six months starting on 2 November 2017 implying that he will be detained till May 2018. The order says that “after consideration of all material on board” and the “advise of the advisory board (detentions) of the government the period of detention is being extended tentatively.”
It must be noted that this order comes at a time when he has already obtained bail in other cases against him in January 2018 itself and was about to be freed.
We are also afraid that his life is in danger as communicated to Pradeep Narwal, National Convenor of the Bhim Army Defence Committee. If anything happens to his health, the UP government apart from the other signatories of the order, namely the UP state and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), Government of India will be held responsible.
On 5 May 2017, anti-Dalit violence broke out in Shabbirpur and Rampur villages when the Dalit community protested against a “Shobha Yatra” initiated by the Thakur community members to commemorate Maharana Pratap’s birth anniversary. The Dalits alleged that there was no permission for the said yatra. In this incident 60 Dalit houses were burnt.
On 9 May 2017, mob violence broke out in Shabbirpur village when the police lathi-charged a group of peaceful protesters who had assembled in Gandhi Maidan under the leadership of the Bhim Army. Several people were grievously injured in the attacks. While the violence that followed the unprecedented lathi charge was of course condemnable, it is important to note that no one was killed or even seriously injured in this violence. This violence has led to a calculated witch-hunt against Bhim Army activists across Saharanpur. In fact given how Azad was already in custody when charges under NSA were brought against him, it appears that the move was just to prevent him from being released.
There was absolutely nothing in the nature of the protests that could have warranted the slapping of NSA as noted by a group of senior judges and civil rights activists in the communication dated 13 May 2017.
The NSA, that gives extraordinary powers to the central and state governments to detain certain persons under Sections 3(1)(a), (b); 3(2), (3), (4), (5) if there is a threat to the national security or the security of the state, warrants careful usage and application on reasonable grounds.
In Azad’s case, there are reasons to believe that he is not a threat to the security of the state, but simply asserting his democratic and constitutional rights as a citizen. In fact, here it is important to take note of the exemplary work which was being carried out by the Bhim Army under his leadership. The Bhim Army has been working for the education of poor and disenfranchised Dalit children, opening 350 schools that were forcibly thereafter shut down in the past nine months. Two such schools are still being valiantly run in Azad’s home village of Shabbirpur in UP.
In light of the above facts, we demand that all charges against him under the NSA be dropped immediately and that he be released on bail. We also urge you to take urgent cognisance of his deteriorating health.
Justice P B Sawant (retired Supreme Court judge);
Justice B G Kolse Patil (retired high court judge);
Justice Hosbet Suresh (retired high court judge);
Teesta Setalvad, secretary, CJP;
Pradeep Narwal (convenor, Bhim Army Defence Committee);
Ram Punyani, author and activist;
Javed Anand, journalist and activist, CJP;
Muniza Khan, academic and activist;
Khalid Anis Ansari, professor, Glocal University, Saharanpur
This story was published on February 5, 2018 in the Economic and Political Weekly. The original story may be read here.