07, May 2018 | Sushmita
Bhim Army Chief Chandrashekhar Azad’s ordeals are far from over. The flamboyant Dalit rights activist, who goes by the monicker ‘Ravan’ in defiance of a god-fearing hegemonic society, has been behind bars since June 2017 and is unlikely to get out any time soon courtesy the Uttar Pradesh government. On May 2, the Adityanath administration extended the application of the draconian National Security Act (NSA) on Azad by three more months till August 3, thereby increasing his period of “preventive detention”.
Earlier on April 28, the Allahabad High Court rejected a writ petition filed by the team of lawyers representing Azad, led by Senior Advocate Ravi Kiran Jain.
Responding to this decision of the Court, Advocate Jain said that they are planning to file a review petition in Supreme Court soon in the case. He said that one of his arguments that “the Magistrate didn’t have powers to order detentions on supposed apprehensions of threats to national security” wasn’t heard. He said that the argument made by the state government that Azad’s incarceration was just based on “subjective satisfaction of available material” was a stretch and didn’t hold ground.
The Ghosts of Saharanpur
Anti-Dalit violence broke out in Shabbirpur and Rampur villages in May 2017 when Dalits protested a ‘Shobha Yatra’ initiated by Thakur community members to commemorate Maharana Pratap’s birth anniversary. Dalits had alleged that there was no permission for the said Yatra. In this incident 60 Dalit houses were burnt. In the same month, 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 Bhim Army. While the violence that followed the unprecedented lathi-charge was of course condemnable no one was killed or even seriously injured in it. This violence led to a calculated witch hunt against Bhim Army activists across Saharanpur including its leaders like Chandrashekhar Azad, Kamal Walia, Vinay Ratan Singh, Sonu Pahalwan and others.
CJP has been fighting for the rights of the vulnerable and marginalised Dalit Community. We strongly condemn the use of draconian laws like NSA against political and human rights activists working in the interest of people. We urgently demand that NSA charges be dropped against Chandrashekhar Azad. We have also moved a petition demanding the immediate release of Dalit leader Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan. Sign our petition NOW!
Azad surrendered in May, 2017 after he emerged in a massive rally. He has been languishing in prison since June, 2017 when the UP police arrested him. In November 2017, soon after he had just got bail in several cases, and when all the tactics of the government to keep him incarcerated any longer, failed; he was slapped with the draconian National Security Act (NSA). In late January 2018, the government extended the application of the NSA under Section 12(1) of the said Act. His detention was extended for a period of 6 months starting November 2, 2017 extending till May 2018. And now, it has again been extended till August, 2018.
After Azad’s arrest in June 2017, as many as 42 workers of Bhim Army were arrested on various seemingly false charges. Everyone else got released on bail but only Azad, Sonu Pahalwan and Kamal Walia of Bhim Army remained in detention. Recently, even Kamal Walia was released after November but Azad and Pahalwan were targeted by slapping NSA on both of them.
Azad’s extended incarceration through the order passed in January elicited a wide range of responses from activists across India. In a letter addressed to Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, a letter initiated by Citizens for Justice and Peace called his incarceration as “Unjust” The letter was signed by legal luminaries and intellectuals namely Justice PB Sawant (retired, Supreme Court Judge), Justice BG 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
During the recent court proceedings on the writ petition demanding dropping of NSA, the state government made a constant reference to the Saharanpur clashes though it has been about an year since then. Arguments made on the District Magistrate’s behalf seemed presumptuous, “It was evident that in case the petitioner was released from judicial custody on bail, he would indulge in activities which would affect the public order.” Additionally, it was argued that Azad was rightly detained under section 3(2) of the Act after “complete subjective satisfaction on the basis of material available on record and there was no violation of any fundamental right.”
The arguments of the state seemed to imply that preventive action against “anti-social” elements needs to be taken by the District Magistrate under his local limits of jurisdiction. This is questionable by all means. Can lawyers appearing in High Courts and District Magistrates actually assess “threats to national security”? Any such conclusion can be fatal for people who critique governments or indulge in any form of dissent.
The entire order may be read here
Arbitrary charges, Deliberate hounding
The NSA gives extraordinary powers to the Central and State governments to detain certain persons under Sections 3(1)(a),(b), (2),(3),(4),(5) if there is a threat to the national security or the security of the State. In Chandrashekhar’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. A group of concerned citizens namely senior Judges and Civil Rights Activists in the communication dated May 13, 2017 (Justices PB Sawant (SC retired), Justice Hosbet Suresh (Bombay HC retired), Justice Kolse Patil (former Bombay HC) Ram Punyani , Author and Activist, Teesta Setalvad, Journalist, Author and Activist, Javed Anand, Journalist and Activist and Muniza Khan, Academic and Activist and Khalid Anis Ansari, Academic and leader of Pasmanda Democratic Forum had noted in a communication dated May 13, 2017 that there was “absolutely nothing in the nature of the protests that could have warranted the slapping of NSA”
The writ petition, hence, had rightly contested the arbitrary slapping of NSA charges saying
the material which was supplied to the petitioner as ground of detention does not contain any material to show that if he was released on bail he was likely to indulge in activities, which may be prejudicial to the maintenance of the public order.” It further argued that if petitioner (Azad) was indeed released on bail, there was no material at all to show that he was even “remotely proposed to act in a manner prejudicial to the security of the State or prejudicial to the maintenance of public order or prejudicial to the maintenance of essential supplies and services”
The petition also questioned the arbitrariness of the detention. It said that the State Government of Uttar Pradesh (UP), after the receipt of a report from Advisory Board, passed an order dated December 12, 2017 which confirmed the detention order dated November 2, 2017. The order from the face of it seemed “wholly arbitrary as it accepted the report of the Advisory Board with a mechanical mind, not mentioning any fact as to how and why the report of the Advisory Board had been accepted by the State Government”
Despite there being no clear material grounds for the extension of detention on NSA charges on Azad, the court said that it did “not find any substance in the argument of the learned counsel for the petitioner that the petitioner had been detained illegally in prison and therefore he should be awarded compensation.”
Attempts to break Bhim Army?
Lawyers and activists like Sujeet Samrat assisting in the case feel that this extension is clearly politically motivated and pointed out to the fact that anytime there is a program by Bhim Army or meetings to defend Azad, how the state machinery doesn’t spare lawyers even. However, they also feel that they will surely get Azad released as “he has not committed any crime and has had a clean record.” He feels that the state is scared of Azad precisely because he was working for the society through constitutional means.
In the state’s agenda of continued persecution of progressive activists, the UP police comes in handy. Especially in April this year when they went to stick a “wanted” notice on Bhim Army national co-ordinator Vinay Ratan Singh’s house and couldn’t even recognise him! The police had placed a bounty of Rs. 12,000/- for any information leading up to him. However even though he openly announced his intentions to surrender, the police didn’t make any attempts to arrest him till he presented himself before the Chief Judicial Magistrate in Saharanpur on April 23. Like Azad, Vinay was also hounded for his supposed involvement in Saharanpur clashes of May 2017.
The state’s repeated targeting of Bhim Army activists and its criminalization of any form of emancipatory political work is telling of its own vision and agenda. Bhim Army after all, was teaching children the ideas of Bhagat Singh and Ambedkar apart from instilling constitutional values and an awareness of their rights. Bhim Army has been working for the education of poor and dis-enfranchised 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 Uttar Pradesh. For a state as vicious as the UP government under the guidance of Chief Minister Adityanath, constantly indulging in the propaganda of hate and killings, what could be more ‘dangerous’ than that?