Ahmedabad: In the wake of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s two-day visit to his home state on March 7 and 8, more than a thousand social activists, anganwadi and Asha workers, and political activists were detained across Gujarat.
The practice of detaining activists when expecting a protest is not new in Gujarat. Since August 2016, when a large-scale Dalit movement was seen in the state, several social movements have gained momentum and so has the practice of detaining activists.
This time, however, an all-women’s rally to mark International Women’s Day was cancelled and several women activists and anganwadi and Asha workers were either detained or put under house arrest.
Vandana Patel, women’s cell in-charge of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Gujarat was picked up from her residence at around 3:30 am on the morning of March 7 in the presence of close to 100 police personnel who stormed her house. Breaking the Supreme Court guideline that states a woman cannot be arrested or detained between 6 pm and 6 am, Patel remained detained for more 12 hours at the Odhav police station in Ahmedabad.
This, as a senior police officer stated on the condition of anonymity, was in preparation for the prime minister’s two-day visit to Gujarat to address a national conference of women sarpanches from across the country on International Women’s Day.
“This is the third time in the last 20 days that Vandana Patel has been picked up from her residence. One time, she was arrested in front of her two children and police personnel also verbally abused her children,” said Harshil Nayak, media coordinator for AAP, Gujarat.
“The party had also written a letter to the police stating picking up women activists from their residence and that too at odd hours is harassing the family, specially their children. The party is considering whether to file an FIR against the police personnel who picked up Vandana Patel at 3:30 am, against the Supreme Court guidelines,” added Nayak.
Women workers of AAP, under the leadership of Patel, have been protesting against the Naliya gangrape and sex scandal and campaigning on behalf of anganwadi workers since February this year. AAP had announced that protests shall go on in March.
In another incident on March 7, city police refused to give permission to a rally organised by a women’s NGO, Shabri Sangathan. A rally planned for International Women’s Day, from Dandi Bridge to the collector’s office in Ahmedabad covering a distance of about 3 km, was cancelled, with Modi’s visit given as the reason.
“The order for cancellation of the rally came in writing. However, the police inspector of Ranip police station of the city came to meet us to talk about the matter. He suggested that we should hold the rally on March 10 instead,” said Paulomee Mistry, president of Shabri Sangathan.
“Shabri Sangathan is an all-women NGO that was formed in 2012 and works for the women of backward classes and castes. Since the year 2012, we have been organising a rally on International Women’s Day in a district in Gujarat. We had decided to hold the rally for 2017 in Ahmedabad a year ago. The issue we raised this year is the failure of implementation of the National Food Security Act in Gujarat and how it affected women the most. We also raised the issues of widow pension and old-age pension for women,” Mistry said.
“We had to hold a meeting on a private plot instead this year. Even though police did not allow many of our women from different districts to enter Ahmedabad, the turnout was around 1,500 people,” she added.
On March 8, the day when Modi was scheduled to address a meeting of women sarpanches at Gandhinagar, Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani, who was returning from New Delhi, was whisked away from Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport as soon as he landed. Soon after, Rakesh Meharia, core member of Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch who was en route to the airport to receive Mevani, was also detained from Airport Circle, Ahmedabad.
Mevani had earlier announced he would render support to the ongoing protests of anganwadi workers across the state.
“Police has detained protesting Asha workers and anganwadi workers from all over the state. We are 25 women (Asha workers) here detained at Gaekwad Haveli police station of the city. They detained us while we were sitting in protest under a statue of Baba Saheb at Sarangpur, Ahmedabad. A group of Asha workers have been detained from RTO circle, Ahmedabad who were to join us,” shared Bhanuben in a telephonic conversation, an Asha worker who was still under detention at 7 pm.
The anganwadi workers and helpers were detained while they were sitting on dharna in front of collector’s office in Ahmedabad.
“Despite the police trying to stop anganwadi workers from different districts from traveling to Ahmedabad, about 3,000 anganwadi workers had assembled. Due to Modi’s visit, permission was not given for the rally and we were all detained at the police headquarters, Shahibaug,” stated A.R. Sindhu, general secretary of the All India Federation of Anganwadi Workers and Helpers.
“We celebrated International Womens’ Day in detention,” Sindhu added.
Detentions, however, were not limited to Ahmedabad. In Bharuch, where Modi inaugurated a cable-stayed bridge on March 7, police detained about a hundred likely protestors ahead of his visit. Those detained were anganwadi and Asha workers, Bhilistan Tiger Sena members (an organisation fighting for the rights of the tribals) and Congress workers including Congress councillor Hemandra Kothiwala. Some contractors who were protesting because they had not been paid after constructing toilets in different villages of Amod taluka in Bharuch and 11 people of Angareshwar village who were demanding construction of the Kabidwar bridge on the Narmada river were also detained.
In Baroda, male police personnel have been sitting outside the residences of some women activists. Some of these women, who are associated with AAP, have claimed that they have been under house arrest since March 6.
Amina Begum, an activist from Baroda associated with AAP, claimed that she was threatened by the male police personnel who have been camping in front of her house since March 6. She was threatened that if she were to leave her residence, she would be arrested, claimed Amina.
The security in Ahmedabad, Gandhinagar and Bharuch has been beefed up since March 3 in preparation for Modi’s visit. In a circular issued by Mohan Jha, additional director of police (law and order), all leaves of police personnel between March 3 and 8 were cancelled.
“All officers have been strictly asked to take action against anybody trying to create disturbance,” A.K. Singh, Ahmedabad police commissioner had said to reporters.
In the midst of these detentions across the state, Modi talked about empowering the anganwadi system while addressing a crowd of 8,000 women sarpanches from all over India at Gandhinagar, his last event in Gujarat on this trip.