Caste

Delayed Due to Police Detentions, ‘Azadi Kooch’ Continues Fight for Dalit Rights

Marking one year of the public flogging of Dalits at Una, the week-long protest will continue despite the police revoking permission, activists say.

Azadi Kooch makes its way through Mehsana, a district about 75 km from Ahmedabad. Credit: Damayantee Dhar

Azadi Kooch makes its way through Mehsana, a district about 75 km from Ahmedabad. Credit: Damayantee Dhar

Mehsana, Gujarat: The Azadi Kooch (freedom march), a rally called by the Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch (RDAM) led by Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani to commemorate one year of the Una flogging incident, was disrupted just hours after began from Gujarat’s Mehsana district on July 12.

Mehsana police detained leaders of the organisation, including Mevani and Kaushik Parmar, along with 200 others who had participated in the rally near Nani Dau village off the Mehsana-Palanpur highway. Jawaharlal Nehru University student leader Kanhaiya Kumar and Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) leader Reshma Patel, who had come to flag off the rally, were detained just after they did so, on their way back to Ahmedabad.

Activists from the Pendu Mazdoor Union, who had come from Punjab to support the cause, and members of the Budhan Theatre from Ahmedabad and the Jaipur Hungama Natak Dal, who had joined on first day and were to perform during the rally, were detained along with others.

After more than three hours of detention at the office of the deputy superintendent of police, Mehsana, everyone was released – but only after an FIR was lodged against Mevani and 13 others from the core organising team.

“An FIR has been registered by the Mehsana police under Section 143 of the IPC against Mevani and 13 others including Subodh Parmar, the co-convenor of RDAM, Kaushik Parmar, core member of RDAM and Reshma Patel, leader of PAAS. The offence (of unlawful assembly) is cognisable and bailable, and the activists were released with a notice that they will have to be present in court when required,” advocate and activist Shamshad Pathan, who had participated in the rally, told The Wire.

Jignesh Mevani and others wait in a hall at the office of the deputy superintendent of police, Mehsana after being detained. Credit: Damayantee Dhar

Jignesh Mevani and others wait in a hall at the office of the deputy superintendent of police, Mehsana after being detained. Credit: Damayantee Dhar

The Gujarat police had cancelled permission for carrying out the rally in Mehsana on July 7 five days before the commencement of the rally. Kaushik, core member of RDAM, had sought permission on June 21 for the use of a loudspeaker and to hold a public gathering and rally in Mehsana on behalf of the RDAM. This permission was granted on June 27. However, a notification was sent to the RDAM from the executive magistrate, Mehsana stating that viewing the current law and order situation, permission for the event was being revoked. The police also cancelled permission for a further rally from Unjha on July 12, a town in Mehsana from where the Azadi Kooch is to march to its next destination, Siddhpur, on July 13.

Mevani, though, had said, “The rally shall go on as per schedule under any circumstances.”

Multiple event denied permission

On July 11, several Dalit organisations had organised programmes around the state and none of them were given permission by the police. The Gujarat Dalit Sangathan, under whose banner victims of the Una flogging, the family of Mohammed Ayyub lynched by cow vigilantes last year, the Akhil Bharatiya Patidar Paramash Samiti and the family of an Adivasi who died in police custody in Sabarkantha last month had come together, was denied permission to sit on a a dharna in front of the collector’s office in Ahmedabad. The organisers, then, were only able to submit a memorandum to the collector in an attempt to draw the attention of the government towards the families of the victims and their plight. While the Sarvaiyya family (victims of the flogging) received partial compensation, the family of Mohammed Ayyub has not received any compensation so far.

Another programme organised by a local Dalit organisation in Una went ahead despite being denied permission from the police. Called the Victim March, participants included the family of Lalji Sarvaiyya, burnt alive in Ankolali in 2002, and the families of other victims of violence against Dalits.

The same day, a conference organised by the RDAM in Ahmedabad’s Ambedkar Hall witnessed a packed auditorium as people from all over the country attended. This event, a precursor to the Azadi Kooch, featured Kanhaiya Kumar, Dalit activist and drafting committee member of the Manav Suraksha Kanoon Anil Chamadia, the brother of Junaid Khan (who was recently lynched on a train) and others.

Following the success of the programme, the Azadi Kooch was flagged off from Mehsana, around 75 km from Ahmedabad. About 1,500 people were gathered at Somnath Chowk in Mehsana, where a jan sabha (public meeting) was organised.

At Somnath Chowk, Mehsana about 1,500 people gathered for a public hearing. Credit: Damayantee Dhar

At Somnath Chowk, Mehsana about 1,500 people gathered for a public hearing. Credit: Damayantee Dhar

“The government has allotted land to Dalits, but only on paper. We need physical possession of our land,” Mevani said at the gathering, reiterating that the land issue remains at the core of the Dalit movement in Gujarat. “Does anyone here know how to cultivate crops on paper? We cannot grow crops on paper, we need land.”

As Mevani spoke, he was accompanied by Patel and Pathan, highlighting that the rally brought Muslims, Dalits and Patidars from Gujarat together on a common platform.

The stage, which also witnessed the Dalit Asmita Yatra (the unprecedented rally that saw the rise of Mevani), was energised by student leader Kumar and his azadi slogans.

“Carefully listen to the slogans and understand what kind of freedom we want. Let this voice reach the government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” Kumar said, as the slogans that once reverberated in Delhi made their way to Mehsana.

Obstacles en route, but spirits still high

The rally was all set for Unjha, its second stop for the day, when the first blow hit at Fatehpur village.

“A biker tried to run his motorcycle over my legs as we were marching, while some miscreants followed the vehicle that was carrying Shamshad Pathan. They came looking for Kanhaiya,” alleged Mevani.

On informing the Mehsana police about the suspicious incidents, police advised the core team to not stop no matter who tries to stop them, claimed Pathan.

Shortly after this, as the rally was wending its way through Nani Dau, the Mehsana police stood on the Mehsana-Palanpur highway to block the rally. The rally was halted and activists and participants detained and brought back to Mehsana by the police at around 4 pm.

“As they released Mevani and others [three hours later], they also told us that permission for the rally has been cancelled in Unjha too. We will proceed for Unjha nonetheless and halt for the night there after a public meeting, according to our plan,” said Subodh, co-convenor of RDAM.

The rally, scheduled to reach Unjha by 8 pm, could only reach the town late at night.

Crowds gathered at Unjha at midnight last night for a public meeting. Credit: Damayantee Dhar

Crowds gathered at Unjha at midnight last night for a public meeting. Credit: Damayantee Dhar

“The situation is a bit tense as of now. We do not know what might happen next as the right-wing government is leaving no stone unturned to disrupt the Azadi Kooch. The momentum of the movement may have been slowed down, but the spirit has certainly not dampened,” said Mevani while en route to Unjha.

Mevani’s words came alive as villagers joined the Azadi Kooch at a public meeting at midnight in Unjha. Not daunted by the events of the day, people came out to listen to the Dalit leader.

In the days to come, the seven-day rally shall march to demand land for landless Dalits, take up the issues of farmers and fight against cow vigilantism and the culture of mob justice that has gripped the nation. On July 18, the rally shall culminate at Dhanera village in Banaskantha district.

  • Ramachandra Bhat

    In Gandhi’s land, Dalits can’t even peacefully protest! And the ruling dispensation proclaims it is a champion of Dalits! Time that all over India they come together and take a long march to Rajghat