Hostile State Machinery Targets Dalits in Maharashtra People Fight Back as Combing Operations and Illegal Detentions intensify

20, Jan 2018 | Sushmita

Following the attack on Dalits gathered at Bhima Koregaon on January 1, 2018 and the subsequent statewide ‘bandh’, there has been a spurt in combing operations where police raid Dalit bastis, search homes and round up men, often youngsters. Activists say thousands of people have been illegally detained in this manner and are currently languishing in custody with little or no access to legal aid. This is an account of ground realities from neighbourhoods that have seen mass detentions.

“As they [policemen] dragged my husband I told them, ‘My child is sick, he needs his father. Take him along as well.’ On hearing this, they started abusing me saying, ‘Zyada Shanpatti mat kar’ (Don’t be over smart!),” Anita* breaks down in tears as she narrates the experience of unwarranted detention of her husband. There is a long moment of silence. She is inconsolable. She thereafter continues, “Didi I have no one, no father, no in-laws. They passed away long time back. I have these two small kids. And a mother who is suffering from Cancer. My condition is very bad didi. Please do something for us. Please.”

CJP has been a core part of this campaign with Dalit groups:
  • In Restoring/Defending Personal Freedoms
  • Evidence Collection (of High Handed Police Action) in Bastis
  • On a Path to High Court for Scalable Results: To Obtain Guidelines/ SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) on Combing Methods that have been so far been Violent and where the Police has acted un-checked by scrutiny or balance.

According to Anita’s oral testimony, her husband was detained on January 4, when several policemen came to her hutment in Rahul Nagar, Bhusawal with allegations related to his involvement in violence. But, stressed Anita, her husband was merely part of the peaceful morcha on January 3. When Dalits were attacked in Bhima Koregaon on the first day of the New Year, on an occasion that was meant to be a celebration- the bi-centenary of the battle of Koregaon , years of suppressed anger and exploitation spill out on the streets of Maharashtra. This took the form of spontaneous, organic people’s protests and a spectacular movement. When violence was unleashed by the saffron brigade on peaceful protesters, a call for an all-Maharashtra ‘Bandh’ was given for January 3, 2018. It is in the aftermath of these protests and the bandh that the Maharashtra police has now been on a selective rampage to insidiously pick up Dalits- men, women and children alike, from their places of residences, communities and even work places. While the main provocateurs of the violence on January 1, namely Milind Ekbote and Manohar (Shambhaji) Bhide have not yet been arrested, innocent Dalit youths and men are allegedly being targeted viciously.

The insidious narrative that is being perpetrated is that it was Dalits who were violent at Bhima Koregaon whereas in fact, the peaceful assembly was set upon and attacked by some Hindutva extremist outfits as an under-staffed police force silently watched; after the near conclusion of the peaceful ‘bandh’ on January 3, violence broke out in specific areas of the state. In Kalyan east, an aggressive Agri Sena, politically under the patronage of the Shiv Sena reportedly set upon Dalit residential areas and bastis. Residents have videos depicting the attack.

In view of these irregularities and a complete absence of any mechanism to navigate the system, a group of concerned citizens comprising progressives and intellectuals from the Mumbai city met the Commissioner of Police on January 19 and submitted a Memorandum.

Memorandum to Mumbai Police Commissioner

A group of civil rights and political activists including Prakash Ambedkar, Prakash Reddy, Shailendra Kamble and CJP’s Secretary Teesta Setalvad submitted a memorandum to Datta Padsalgikar, Mumbai Commissioner of Police, urging him to call for a copy of those registered and assign a senior team to examine them so that ordinary, peace loving people are not harassed in this fashion. “A sense of fear and panic pervades in many vulnerable areas and we urge the Commissioner of Police to ensure that the police act in a manner that preserves social peace and desist from several unlawful actions,” says the memorandum.

The entire memorandum may be read here

On Saturday, January 20, at 12 pm activists demonstrated outside the Bombay Collector’s office at Bandra East.

Padsalgikar has assured the delegation that they would examine all the allegations of wrongdoing and coercion. A special team under the leadership of Lakshmi Gautam, Additional CP has been set up to examine all allegations of wrong-doing.

Teesta Setalvad of CJP says: “Bulk FIRs against large sections have been reportedly registered in an arbitrary fashion, with the FIRs themselves containing vague language in certain instances. We are in the process of collecting detailed FIRs and reports from areas in Mumbai but urge that the CP, Mumbai and DGP, Maharashtra to call for a copy of those registered and assign a senior team to examine them so that ordinary, peace loving people are not harassed in this fashion. (In Kalyan East, an area that has been particularly badly impacted by this crackdown, an estimated 95 people have been booked under the Indian Penal Code’s (IPC) Section 307 (attempt to murder). Moreover, at least 13 individuals were forced to remain in judicial custody and did not have access to legal aid or any other support).

Given that these FIRs do not include names of any accused, police have been arbitrarily detaining people from bastis, carrying out ill-considered combing operations; causing people to flee their neighbourhoods that have wear a deserted look for the past eight-ten days. ”

Mass Arrests and Illegal Detentions

According to Dr. Prakash Ambedkar of the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh, as many as 3000 arrests and illegal detentions have been made. Sabrang India, has reported more aggressive combing operations at Kalyan East, and Vikholi. Powai, Kurla, Govandi etc. within Mumbai. Some people have been allegedly re-arrested after being released on bail.

On January 15, 2018, nine persons including seven women and two young men, got bail in Kalyan after being wrongfully confined for over ten days. They had been arrested after a bulk FIR under sections 307 (attempt to murder), 143, 147, 148 and 149 of the IPC had been registered at the Kolsewadi police station. Another four women obtained bail from the additional district court at Kalyan on January 16 along with seven others. All these offences were registered at the Kolsewadi police station. By late evening Saturday, January 20, a total of 40 persons from Kalyan have obtained interim bail which gives them relief until January 30. After this, their freedom will depend on the stance adopted by the Investigating Officer (IO) and the state government through its public prosecutor. On January 18 and 19, bail was obtained from courts at Andheri and Vikhroli. Teams of local lawyers are working with commitment and organisation to guarantee first and foremost, the personal liberties and freedom of Dalits.

Reports collected from local residents and affected families, reveal that in Kalyan, as well as in Bhusaval, serious sections such as the Section 307 (attempt to murder) and Section 332 (voluntarily causing hurt to deter public servant from his duty) have been lodged on most people. A large number of people, who approached us were charged with Sections 427 and Section 34 of IPC. Section 427 pertains to mischief causing damage to amounts more than Rs. 50 causing punishments with imprisonment of terms extending to two years, or fine or both. Section 34 pertains to a criminal act done by a group of persons in furtherance of common intention of all, where the person will be considered liable for it in the same manner as it was done by him alone.

According to the information that we have received from other areas such as Nanded, Kandhar, Nanded Gaon, Bhusaval, Umari, Himayat Nagar, Tamasa, Hadhgaon, Kalyan, and more, other Sections such as Sec. 147 for rioting, Sec. 332 for voluntarily causing hurt to deter public servant from his duty, Sec. 336 for acts endangering life or personal safety of others, Sec. 353 for assault or criminal force to deter public servants from discharge of his duty, Sec. 295 for injuring or defiling places of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class etc. have been imposed in FIRs which do not name any accused persons.

Absence of Support System

However, illegal detention and arrests are not the only challenges that the people are facing. It is, actually, the responses of the police, the absence of any support mechanism and legal aid, apathy of lawyers and ‘mainstream media’ that is the most worrisome.

Usually the police stations are the first point of interaction and negotiations when such arrests/detentions take place. However, it is in these exact spaces that the lines of caste and class are drawn most starkly. When a group of women approached the Bazar Peth Police station of the Bhusawal division in Maharashtra after men from the community were arrested, they had to face not only apathy and indifference, but also a verbiage of obscene abuse. “If you come here, we will peel off the skin of your butts” said a policeman reportedly. And this, people said, was one of the abuses that they COULD actually speak on phone. “Didi you will not be able to hear the rest of it. And we will not be able to tell you”

In the absence of any ‘due-process’ Dalit women are now at the front line, experiencing crude caste prejudice and the heavy hand of the state.

Procedural Lapses

Despite several Supreme Court judgements on the issue (including the framed DK Basu judgement of 1996), the stark reality is that most people have not even been handed over a copy of the FIRs registered against them or their family members. The absence of a copy of FIR weakens a civil defence, allowed unchecked the police machinery to continue unchecked. Families of those detained find themselves in absolute dark about the charges against their loved ones and with no knowledge of where they have been detained or jailed. This unaccountability in following basic procedure, guaranteed to protect basic rights of citizens has further empowered the police into indiscriminately transferring, those illegally detained  from one police station to another, and this too, without any information to their family members. Some persons who were arrested in Bhusawal, were first taken to Bazar Peth police station and then shifted to Jalgaon police station. Though some have obtained bail, others are uncertain whether bail will be the norm. In the cases that few people did manage to get bail, as in the case of Worli and Kalyan, the bail amounts that need to be furnished are often demanded in cash and these range from Rs 7,500 to Rs 25,000. Families which have a more or less day to day subsistence, where the heads of the household work either as daily wage labourers, construction workers and performing other small informal work, are finding it difficult to access and furnish these amounts.

Most people we spoke with, alleged that when the detentions happened, they were told that their family members were being ‘detained’ for a ‘public’ offence and that they will be released shortly, and that it was ‘just’ a formality. However, about a fortnight since the arrests took place, many still remain in police custody. “They have taken our family members because of Jaati Dwesh (caste-antagonism)alleged a resident of Rahul Nagar, Bhusaval.

Apart from these arrests community members are also traumatized by other events. As peaceful protests were taking place on January 3 in Hadhgaon taluka, Ashti village, men from the Rapid Action Force reportedly lathi charged on people. A school going boy died because of head injuries during the blatant lathi charges. In a letter addressed to the District Collector, the organization, Dr Prakash Ambedkar of the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh demanded, “The police officers responsible for causing the boy’s death should be booked under IPC Section 302.”

A similar situation prevails in in other areas such as Kandhar, Nanded Gaon, Bhusaval, Umari, Himayat Nagar, Tamasa, Hadhgaon, Kalyan, Mumbai and other areas where people have been picked up in groups of 20-25.

The recent combing operations are starkly reminiscent of the 1970s, the period of the rise if the Dalit Panthers movement when Dalit community was similarly targeted en masse. These were also performed in 1997, in Ramabai Nagar, Ghatkopar, where the desecration of a statue of Dr. Ambedkar prompted protests; members of the State Reserve Police Force (SPRF) fired on protesters, killing 11 people and wounding 26.  The only crime of people in all these cases, as in the Bhima Koregaon protests being the ability to fight back with resilience as a measure of self-assertion and defence.

Despite the repression, the collective fight back seems certain. The  abuse by law enforcement is not just about the arrests and detentions but how the structures of caste and class playout, in normal times and at times of conflict.  A unified front of civil libertarians and social and political activists will give teeth to this battle. CJP will be there all the way with strategy and skill to navigate the conundrum of the legal systems

What CJP does

CJP’s Defence of Dalits includes the actual victims of this aggression and abuse and supporting the Human Rights Defenders and activists who are struggling to provide legal aid to these distressed families. We urge you to contribute to ensure that this Battle for Justice is both Prompt, Energetic and Result-Oriented. Donate for the Defence of Dalits Fund of CJP.

By Donating to CJP you will help in

  • In Restoring/Defending Personal Freedoms
  • Evidence Collection (of High Handed Police Action) in Bastis
  • On a Path to High Court for Scalable Results: To Obtain Guidelines/ SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) on Combing Methods that have been so far been Violent and where the Police has acted un-checked by scrutiny or balance.

*All names have been changed to protect identities


Poking the Eye of the Tiger

We committed no Crime

Widespread Illegal Detention of Dalits

Redefining Peshwai in Contemporary India

FIR against Jignesh, Umar and afterthought

Bhima Koregaon Attack a Stark Reminder of 1997 Ramabai Nagar Atrocities


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