New Delhi: In a sudden decision, the Indian Women’s Press Corp (IWPC) withdrew permission given to Dalit rights organisation Bhim Army to hold a press conference scheduled for today on its premises.
Senior advocate Mehmood Paracha told The Wire that he, as the legal counsel for Bhim Army chief Chandrasekhar Azad and 95 others who were sent to 14-day judicial remand by a Delhi local court judge on August 22, was to address the press meet.
“What we wanted to highlight at the press meet was something unprecedented that happened in the country on August 22 which indicated that we have become an unofficial police state but the media hadn’t taken note of it. I had never heard of this before, but a court was held inside Delhi’s Kalkaji police station to hear the case of the 96 people arrested from a march to protest the demolition of a Ravidas Temple in South Delhi. There is a provision in the law where a judge can move the court to a school if, say, 5,000 people are accused of a crime because they can’t be accommodated in a small court room. But in this case, there were not even 100 people. This was what we wanted to highlight but were not allowed,” he said.
He said the press meet was to be held at 4 pm on August 23. “But around 2.30 pm, we got a mail from IWPC saying it is withdrawing the permission because as per its rules, it can’t give out space to a political or a religious organisation. But Bhim Army is neither. It is a social organisation,” Paracha said.
“Most organisations are under some pressure or the other these days from the government but we expected a journalists’ organisation not to bow down to police threat. We also feel it was connivance with the powers be as the last minute cancellation ensured that we couldn’t find an alternate venue to hold the important press meet,” he added.
On August 22, Azad and others were arrested after the march towards the demolition site in Tughlakabad area of South Delhi turned violent. The temple was demolished by the Delhi Development Authority on August 10 as per a Supreme Court order.
An IWPC member told The Wire that after the area SHO inquired about the press conference at their office on New Delhi’s Rafi Marg, the president, senior journalist Jyoti Malhotra, decided to cancel the permission given to Bhim Army.
She said, “The president later explained to us in our WhatsApp group that the permission was granted to Bhim Army because she was not fully aware of the rules which said the premises can’t be given for use by religious and political organisations. But some founding members of the club reminded her of it in the last minute, following which she withdrew the decision.”
Though Bhim Army chief Chandrasekhar Azad declared that he would contest the last general elections against Prime Minister Narendra Modi from Varanasi, he later withdrew his candidature. Bhim Army, as Paracha pointed out, calls itself a social organisation that fights for Dalit rights.
The member said, “The president also told us that we don’t mind inviting Azad to IWPC to interact with our members, like we do with other political leaders but we can’t allow him to hold a press meet on our premises.”
Some members, she added, questioned the move “as it showed IWPC in bad light” and sought better clarity of the rules.