Meerut: “Whenever I go to ask about my son who has been arrested, policemen turn me away saying ‘Chamaars are having too much fun’,” says Sagar’s* 62-year-old father, a resident of Uttar Pradesh’s Meerut district. “My son Sagar is a student at St. Devashram. He is 15. The police arrested him on April 2 and passed him off as a 20-year-old.” His father cries as he recounts his tale.
Sagar is one of three children against whom the police in Adityanath’s government have filed an array of serious charges, including attempt to murder and dacoity, in the wake of the April 2 Bharat Bandh called by various Dalit organisations against the Supreme Court’s order banning the automatic registration of cases for alleged harassment of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
During the bandh, violent incidents including police firing were witnessed across several states, especially in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. The three children, their families allege, were picked up at random by a constabulary bent on making an example of Dalits.
Sagar’s 60-year-old mother is a domestic worker. The couple have three sons who work as labourers but only the youngest, Sagar, lives with them. For the past two months he has been languishing in jail.
His father says, “My son had gone to speak to his teacher regarding coaching classes. That’s when the police arrested him. What could we do? The caste system is to blame. The police arrested him after enquiring if he was a Jatav or Chamaar. Tell me, what could the crime of a 15-year-old boy be?”
“My son’s only crime is that he is a Dalit,” his father adds. “Our monthly household income is Rs 3,000-4,000. We thought that if our son studied well, the family’s fortune would change for the better. But now they have pressed so many charges against him that his whole life will become embroiled in it.”
According to the certificate issued by the UP Secondary Education Council, and his Aadhaar card, Sagar’s date of birth is August 25, 2003. But in their remand sheet, the police have written that he is 20. For the past two months, Sagar has been lodged in Meerut jail alongside adult criminals.
The family says that despite providing proof of documents and statements of school and family members, the police refuses to declare Sagar a juvenile.
When The Wire visited the Dalit quarters of Kaliyagarhi and Saraikazi, people queued up carrying files. All of them have a family member, a son or a brother, under arrest since April 2. All Dalit families of the area narrate the same tale.
A forty-year-old woman in Saraikazi is handicapped. Her 14-year-old son Amar* has also been lodged in Meerut jail since April 2. Her husband, a tailor, died four years ago due to liver failure.
Her 17-year-old daughter is the sole bread-winner. She works at a cricket ball factory. As per Amar’s Aadhaar card details as well as his school certificate, he was born on September 20, 2004 which makes him a juvenile.
His mother says, “Amar studies in the fifth standard. When he returns from school in the evening he sews lowers worn in various sports and helps the family financially. On April 2, I sent Amar to buy my medicine, but he did not return.”
“For two days we did not know of his whereabouts,” adds his mother. “Later we came to know that the police had arrested him. Even the police officers were not providing us correct information. Then, we came to know that he was in juvenile prison. When we went to visit him, he was sitting under a tree and crying. He begged me to get him out as soon as possible.”
“I am handicapped and cannot move around much. I cannot even visit my son in jail. Our family is in extreme distress. He told me that the police asked him if he was Chamaar. When he admitted to it, they threw him in jail,” says his mother.
“I am a widow,” she adds. “Who should I turn to for help? I have heard they have pressed more than ten charges against Amar. Tell me, can a 12-year-old boy commit so many crimes? It is all happening to us because we are Chamaar.”
Questioning the Adityanath government, his mother says, “It is not a good government. Had it been so, an innocent young boy would not be languishing in jail for two months. When our family members go to the jail, the policemen drive them away threatening that they too will be arrested. When we go to higher officials, they tell us that they do not have orders from the top. I have lost all hope of justice in Yogi government.”
In Kaliyagarhi lives a 35-year-old housewife. Her husband is a labourer. They recall how their 12-year-old son Apoorv* was arrested by the police on April 2. Apoorv was drinking water near Chaudhary Charan Singh University when the police questioned him about his caste before arresting him.
His mother says says, “My son has been kept in juvenile jail. They allow us to meet him on Mondays. Earlier they used to beat him too. Though the beatings have stopped now but for the past two months he has been in the lock-up despite being innocent.”
“Is this an age to be locked up?” she asks. “Neither they grant him bail nor tell us the reason why he has been arrested. Our son told us that the police had asked him if he was a Chamaar and then arrested him.”
According to Apoorv’s mother, “They have selectively arrested young boys of the Jatav community. They want these children to rot in jail or remain implicated in court cases so they do not succeed in life. The government is not being just towards the Dalit community. They should arrest those who are guilty, not the innocent.”
According to the Aadhaar card details of all three boys, they are juveniles. However, in the FIR, the police has slapped the same charges on juveniles and adults alike. They have been charged under 15 sections of the IPC: Section 147, 149 (matters related to riots and mischief), Section 332 (attacking a government officer), Section 353, 336, 435, 307 (attempt to murder), Section 395 (dacoity), Section 504 (disrupting peace), Section 120B (criminal conspiracy) and Section 427. In addition, serious criminal charges like Section 7 of the Penal Code (Amendment) Act, 1932 and Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, 1984 (4) have also been imposed against the three boys.
The families of the boys are questioning how the police can arrest all of them under the same sections.
Advocate Satish Kumar, who’s fighting the case for the boys, says, “Even 12-year-olds have been charged under Section 120 (b) and 307. Can such young boys be part of criminal conspiracy, dacoity and attempt to murder? The way they have booked all of them under same sections, it seems the police has just selectively chosen members of Dalit community and arrested them without verification of facts or proper investigation. It was the duty of the police to investigate who was involved. But they just randomly arrested Dalits.”
“The boys are not getting justice in the lower courts,” Satish adds. “The BJP and the RSS are hand in glove with the police and the judiciary in conspiring against so many innocent people.”
“The lower court has given 14 days’ time for hearing the bail application. It should not be the case because before one can file a petition in the high court, the bail application must be dismissed by the session court first. But giving a date after 14 days for the hearing means the judiciary is not being fair; in effect, Dalits are being kept behind bars for as long as possible,” he alleges.
“When a bail application is dismissed, a copy of the order is received a week later to delay the filing of the next petition,” he says. “The way the administration is working it seems they are dancing to the tunes of Bajrang Dal and RSS.”
The police has mentioned the boys’ caste in the FIR, which is unusual, he points out.
According to Satish, the arrested boys belong to poor families who do not have the money to even travel to the court.
“Dalits and minorities do not get justice in the court,” he says. “Had it been bail for a person of the upper caste, I feel the court would have passed the order by midnight. But Dalits do not get the same treatment. Yet we have faith in the constitution. People may go wrong, but not the constitution. I hope we will get justice in the higher court.”
Social activist and Dalit leader Sushil Gautam says, “I believe that neither the British nor the raja-maharajas acted this way. Young boys have been charged for such serious offences as though they are involved in regular criminal activities. In the violence that erupted on April 2, members of the upper caste were involved. The police even arrested them at the spot. But they were released under pressure from the BJP.”
“To release the upper castes, and to put Dalit boys behind bars for two months only shows the two-faced nature of the administration,” he says. “All this is being done to break the social and political movement of the Dalits. A Manuwadi judiciary is also involved in it.”
According to Gautam, “Dalits and their leaders are being implicated in false cases so that they are unable to build their future. Those wearing t-shirts with Baba Saheb’s [Ambedkar’s] image on it were arrested. It shows how much hatred against Baba Saheb has been instilled in Yogi’s police.”
In response to questions from The Wire, Meerut SP (crime) Shivram Yadav said, “All the arrests that have been made were carried out by the SIT formed earlier. I am investigating the matter now. As the investigation proceeds, facts will come out before us.”
Commenting on the arrest of young boys under serious sections of criminal conspiracy, attempt to murder and others, he says, “We are investigating the matter. If a person is found innocent or is wrongly arrested, the matter will be brought to the court’s notice. The court will take the right decision. Whoever gives us proof of innocence, we will hand it over to the court. It is the court’s right to grant bail or dispense. We will carry out a fair investigation. The guilty will be punished and the innocent will get justice.”
*Name changed to protect identity.
Translated from the Hindi original by Naushin Rehman.