New Delhi: A day after a contingent of Gujarat’s Dalit-Adivasi activists were detained at Jhansi railway station, the Uttar Pradesh police arrested eight senior activists for trying to hold a previously-scheduled convention against the rising cases of atrocities against Dalits in the state’s capital, Lucknow.
However, soon after the UP police successfully got the convention stalled, it released the activists after taking a bond assurance of Rs. 25000 from them.
The activists – former IPS officer and a known-advocate of police reforms S.R. Darapuri, academic Ramesh Dixit, journalists Ram Kumar and Ashish Awasthi, and four others, were arrested under Section 151 (preventing cognisable offences) of the code of criminal procedure, minutes before the convention was about to start at the Lucknow press club.
The vichaar goshthi or convention, purported to hold discussions on increasing attacks on Dalits in UP under the BJP state government, had assumed added significance in light of the detention of the Dalit-Adivasi activists at Jhansi on July 2.
Around 45 Dalit and Adivasi activists from across Gujarat, carrying 125 kilograms of soap bars and a Buddha idol to hand to Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, were detained and deported back to Gujarat yesterday. This created much hue and cry among civil society activists, who viewed UP police’s action as a direct attack on basic civil liberties.
The group from Gujarat had planned a peaceful protest against the UP government’s outlandish measure to distribute soaps and shampoos among Musahars – one of the poorest Dalit communities – ahead of Adityanath’s visit to their village in Kushinagar a few weeks ago. Many from the Dalit community took this as an affront to their pride and had voiced their concerns against what they said was reflective of the “Brahminical” nature of the government.
Although the UP government later denied having distributed soaps and shampoos, the Musahars of Kushi Nagar spoke to various media houses confirming that the state officials had indeed distributed two bars of LifeBuoy soap and a sachet of shampoo each to around 100 families to “cleanse themselves” ahead of the chief minister’s visit.
Many Dalit activists, who were stopped by the police at Jhansi, told the media that their effort was to spread the message of Buddhism and “cleanse his (Adityanath’s) mentality towards Dalits”.
The Dalit Action Group (DAG), a Lucknow-based civil society organisation, with which the Gujarat-based activists were coordinating, had called for the convention in which the activists from Gujarat were also supposed to participate. In light of the arrests in Jhansi, the plan was also to condemn this alleged highhandedness of the Adityanath-led government.
Terming the forcible cancellation of the convention and subsequent arrests as “an attack on freedom of expression”, S.R. Darapuri, immediately after his release, told The Wire, “The government is in a state of panic amidst the rising public voices against it.”
He said that the police first forced the Lucknow press club’s officials to cancel the event at the last minute.
“As scheduled, many of us had already come to the press club. But soon after, a group of policemen surrounded us and the club officials informed us that the event has been cancelled. When we argued we had taken all the required permissions, the police told us that we did not have permission by the UP government to organise the event. When we started raising slogans against government’s arrogance, the police arrested us,” said Darapuri.
“Since when do citizens of India need a permission from the governments to speak freely or hold a seminar? This is an all-out attack on civil liberties and democratic principles,” he added.
A series of protests by Dalits against the UP government has stained the first 100 days of Adityanath’s government. According to most reports, Dalits have been at the receiving end of violence in the state, most notably in Shabbirpur and Aligarh recently; a pattern that seems to have escalated under the BJP regime.
Such repressive police action against peaceful dissenters, many activists said, may damage Adityanath’s reputation as upper-caste leader even more but the government does not seem to be concerned at the moment.