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New Delhi: Members of the Vimukta community have written an open letter to Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan asking him to reconsider recent amendments to the MP Excise Act, 1952. The letter has also been endorsed by 83 activists, lawyers and academics from across the country.
The MP Excise Act is colonial-era legislation that regulates the import, export, sale, manufacture and transport of all liquor in the state.
The letter raises two important issues – first, the amendment increases the severity of certain offences, including making the repeat offence of causing death through spurious liquor punishable by death. Second, while the chief minister announced that Adivasis will now be permitted to make and sell mahua, and petty cases registered against them under Excise Act will be withdrawn, similar leeway was not extended to the Vimukta communities.
Earlier this year, the Criminal Justice and Police Accountability Project released a report detailing how the 1952 Act is used to target Vimukta, SC, ST and OBC communities.
You can read the full letter by members of the Vimukta community and list of endorsements below.
Honourable Chief Minister,
We write to you with this letter/petition in respect of the announcements you have made on 5 October 2021. In the Tribal convention organised in Jhabua on the above date, you had declared that tribal people would be granted permission to make and sell liquor from mahua under the new excise policy. While we welcome this announcement we would like to share our concerns and demands with you.
As you know, there are 51 Vimukta, nomadic and semi-nomadic communities in Madhya Pradesh. The lifestyle and culture of some of these communities is quite similar to that of the tribal communities. In Kanjar and Kuchbandiya communities, liquor made from mahua is traditionally used in all festivals, from birth to death. The people of these communities also make their living by selling small quantities of this liquor for their livelihood. Despite such similarities, the benefit of the August 2021 amendment to the MP Excise Act related to heritage liquor will not be available to our communities as we are not included in the Scheduled Tribes. We ask that in this new excise policy Vimukta communities are also allowed to make and sell Mahua liquor. With this step not only will our livelihood and culture be protected but our community will also be shielded from false cases and police repression.
In the second part of your announcement, you had said that petty criminal cases against tribals would also be withdrawn. We commend this move, however we would like to place some of our concerns before you. It has been observed that our community is targeted by the police through Excise-related and other minor offences. A study shows that that between 2018-2020, 56% of the arrests made under the MP Excise Act were against members of Adivasi, Dalit, Other Backward Classes and Vimukta communities. In particular, it noted that the proportion of Vimukta arrested persons was more than their general population. And that in most cases, they were arrested for possessing very small quantities of liquor, that too from their homes and private places.
Through this research it has come to light that the guidelines of the Supreme Court in Arnesh Kumar vs State of Bihar (2014) are not being complied with. In this case, the Hon’ble Court had said that arrests are not mandatory for offences punishable with imprisonment upto 7 years. The above research found that most cases were actually registered under section 34(1) of the Act under which the term of imprisonment is less than 7 years, and therefore those arrests were unnecessary. Hence, we demand that you withdraw such minor cases against the Vimukta communities as well.
Finally, the provision of capital punishment introduced through the amendment this year under Section 49A is also worrisome for our community. On the basis of the concerns of disproportionate criminalisation as outlined above, it is not an exaggeration to expect that this provision would be misused against our community. Hence, we demand that the death penalty amendment be removed in connection to excise offences.
In conclusion, we hope that the government will accept these long-standing legitimate demands of our community by taking concrete steps to ensure that:
- Vimukta communities are also allowed to make and sell Mahua liquor under this new excise policy.
- Minor cases against the Vimukta communities are withdrawn as well.
- The death penalty amendment in connection to excise offences is removed.
Members of Vimukta communities
and in support of these demands,
- Gautam Bhatia, Lawyer
- Dr. Anup Surendranath, Assistant Professor of Law, National Law University Delhi
- Shweta Goswami, Nirmal Initiative
- Shailza Sharma, Lawyer
- Detention Solidarity Network (DetSol)
- Criminal Justice and Police Accountability Project (CPA Project)
- Jessica Hinchy, Associate Professor, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
- All India Lawyers Association for Justice
- Dr. Madan Meena, Hon. Director, Adivasi Academy, Gujarat
- Professor Ganesh N. Devy, Bhaashaa Research Centre
- Prisons Forum Karnataka
- Swati Kamble, Dalit Bahujan Adiwasi Vimukt Womxn collective
- Pratiksha Baxi, SLCG, JNU
- Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI)
- Common Cause
- Dr. Vijay Raghavan, Professor of Criminology, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai
- Alternative Law Forum
- Chander Uday Singh, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India
- Dalit Human Rights Defenders Network (DHRDNet)
- National Council of Women Leaders (NCWL)
- Dakxin Chhara, Budhan Theatre
- Darshana Mitra, Advocate and Researcher
- People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL)
- Kavita Srivastava, PUCL
- Ratna Appnender, Lawyer, Delhi
- Vrinda Grover, Advocate, Supreme Court of India.
- Arjun Sheoran, Lawyer, Vaakya Legal
- William Gould, Professor of History, University of Leeds
- Deepa Pawar, NT-DNT Activist
- Dr. Arushi Garg, Lawyer
- Disha Wadekar, Advocate
- Meera Sanghamitra, National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM)
- Keerthana Medarametla, Lawyer
- Poornima Rajeshwar
- Sujatha Surepally, Dalit Womens Collective.
- Jean Dreze, Economist
- Article 21 Trust
- Apoorv Anand, Jabalpur (M.P.)
- Gaurav Godhwani, Indore (M.P.)
- Meghna Yadav, MA Economics (Delhi School of Economics)
- Mahila Mukti Morcha, Chhattisgarh
- Shreya, Shaheed School and Mahila Mukti Morcha, Raipur, Chhattisgarh
- Virendra Bharadwaj, Gurughasidas Sewadar Sangh/ Lok Sirjanhar Union (GSS/LSU), Janjgir-Champa, Chhattisgarh
- Ramji Khilwo, Chhattisgarh
- Pavitri Manjhi, Adivasi Dalit Mazdoor Kisan Manavadhikar Sanghathan, Raigarh, Chhattisgarh
- Sukwaro Bai, Adivasi Dalit Mazdoor Kisan Manavadhikar Sanghathan, Raigarh, Chhattisgarh
- Jacob Kujur, Jashpur Vikas Samiti, Jashpur, Chhattisgarh
- Roopdas, Gurughasidas Sewadar Sangh/ Lok Sirjanhar Union (GSS/LSU), Mungeli, Chhattisgarh
- Vivek Kumar Patre, Bhim Army, Vice-President – Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh
- Narendra Kure, Bilaigarh, Chhattisgarh
- Kanchan Sendre, Sangharsh Ek Jeevan Samiti, Durg, Chhattisgarh
- Sanjeet Barman, Dalit Activist, Chhattisgarh
- Mahender Singh Khande, Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh, Bhim Army, President
- Parmanand Banjare, Chhattisgarh
- Degree Prasad Chouhan, PUCL, Chhattisgarh
- Rinchin, PUCL, Chhattisgarh
- Dinesh Satnam, LSU, Chhattisgarh
- Tameshwar Anant, LSU, Bemetora, Chhattisgarh
- Ajay Kumar Anant, LSU, Janjgir-Champa, Chhattisgarh
- Daulat Ram Dahariya, LSU, Raipur
- Bajar Singh Kashyap, Kondagaon, Chhattisgarh
- Milap Das Banjare Panthi Sanchalak, Chhattisgarh
- Varnita Sinduriya, Social Worker, Saathiya Foundation, Raipur
- Chanchal Kumar, Bandhua Mazdoor Sangh, Pipra, Chhattisgarh
- Archana Gupta, Chhattisgarh Mahila Adhikar Manch, Rajim, Chhattisgarh
- Roshni Goswami, Chhattisgarh Mahila Adhikar Manch, Rajim, Chhattisgarh
- Avishek Bharti, Chhattisgarh
- Ahibaram Bancha, Chhattisgarh
- Manjulata Miri-Pilwapali, Chhattisgarh
- Savita Kandoi Pilwapali, Chhattisgarh
- Puniram Yadav, Dalit Adivasi Manch, Kasdol, Chhattisgarh
- Shimla Bai, Chhattisgarh
- Ambi Kapur, Surguja, Chhattisgarh
- Sujeet Karma, President, Jail Bandi Rihai Samiti, Dantewada, Chhattisgarh 75. Tej Kumar Minj, Chhattisgarh
- Shravan Kumar, Chhattisgarh
- Ram Kumar, Chhattisgarh
- Vijay Singh Thakur, Baikunthpur (Koriya), Chhattisgarh 79. Tukeshwar Vanjare, Domuhani, Bilaigarh, Chhattisgarh 80. Alexander Popo Korka, Chhattisgarh
- Jerome Lakra, Pathalgaon
- Hemant Lakra, JVM, Pathalgaon, Chhattisgarh
- Deepak Kumar Yadav, Chhattisgarh