New Delhi: Several prominent artists, academicians, researchers, lawyers and social activists have come together against what they called a “severe witch-hunt” of the Bhim Army, a Dalit organisation which shot to national limelight in the aftermath of a series of attacks on Dalits in Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh a few months ago.
Also comprising two members of the Bhim Army and several Dalit intellectuals, the committee for the defense of the Bhim Army, intends to not only raise awareness about the Dalit group but also extend legal help for the Bhim Army activists who have been arrested after violence broke out between upper caste Thakurs and Bhim Army supporters in April 2017.
Led by a young lawyer, Chandrashekhar Azad, Bhim Army is a two-year-old organisation and has been instrumental in organising Dalit youth in western UP against an all-pervasive upper caste feudal order, which often reflects in increasing atrocities against landless Dalits. In the face of strengthening assertive movements led by Dalits in UP, it has emerged as a force which defends Dalit men and women in universities, villages and other public spaces against upper caste reactionary violence. By establishing private study centres, it has also been taking initiatives to tutor Dalits, who are often discriminated in the public education system.
In April, 2017, the Bhim Army shot to prominence after its supporters faced violence at the hands of organised upper caste Thakur landlords in Shabbirpur village in Saharanpur. Over 50 Dalit houses were burnt and many were left injured in the retaliatory violence. As violence between both the communities escalated, several Bhim Army activists, including Azad, were arrested even as the state police allegedly went easy on Thakurs.
Since then, there has been an organised campaign to paint the Dalit group as either an “anti-national” group or as “Naxalites”. The committee intends not only to raise awareness about the group and dispel the myth but also extend all possible legal help to the arrested activists, the topmost priority being getting Azad out on bail.
The committee believes that the Sangh parivar has specifically targeted the Bhim Army as it has directly challenged it by likening the upper caste violence against Dalits to “saffron terror”.
“Even as the state government’s repression on Bhim Army continues – most of its leaders still in jail and some forced to leave Saharanpur – a committee has been formed for the defense of Bhim Army,” said a statement released by the committee.
“However, getting the jailed activists out on bail is simply the first step in a long battle. The deliberate campaign of vilification that has been going on about Bhim Army has tried to paint the organisation as ‘antinational’ and ‘instigators of violence’ who apparently have ‘Naxalite’ connections,” the committee added.
“The need to defend the Bhim Army”, said Nakul Sawhney, a filmmaker who has been following the Bhim Army closely, “is crucial at the moment as the UP state police has been heavily partisan towards the upper caste Thakurs, who are the main perpetrators of violence in the Shabbirpur case.”
The committee’s note reiterated the point. “A significant point to note in the entire series of events is the blatant bias in the functioning of the local police and administration. On one hand, Dalits were denied permission to construct an Ambedkar statue at Shabbirpur village (and they agreed to comply with the orders to avoid tensions) and to hold a peaceful protest demonstration at Ravidas hostel and the subsequent demonstration at Gandhi Maidan was met with a lathi charge. On the other hand, sections of the Rajput community openly flouted police orders and took out their procession through Shabbirpur village on May 5, 2017.”
Members of the committee are as follows:
1. Anand Teltumbde, Civil rights thinker and activist, Mumbai
2. Jignesh Mewani, Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch
3. Kancha Ilaiah, Political scientist, thinker and writer, Hyderabad
4. Chandrabhan Prasad, Dalit thinker
5. Radhika Ramaseshan, Senior journalist with Business Standard
6. Harsh Mander, Human rights activist and Director, Centre for Equity Studies, Delhi
7. Syeda Hamid, Former member, Planning Commission
8. Om Thanvi, Senior journalist, former editor, Jansatta
9. Sambhaji Bhagat, Cultural activist, Maharashtra
10. Meera Velayudhan, Academic, Centre for Development Studies, Trivandrum
11. Martin Macwan, Social activist, Gujarat
12. Ratan Lal, Academic, Hindu College, Delhi University
13. Sachin Mali, Cultural activist
14. Sheetal Sathe, Cultural activist
15. S.R Darapuri , Former IPS officer, social activist
16. Colin Gonzalves, Lawyer
17. Anand Patwardhan, Film maker
18. Anil Chamadia, Journalist
19. Subhash Gatade, Writer and social activist
20. Akram Hassan, Social activist, Shamli
21. Surender, Dalit youth activist, Delhi University
22. N. Sukumar, Academic, Delhi University
23. Rehana Adib, Social activist, Saharanpur
24. Banojyotsna Lahiri, Academic and independent researcher
25. Mohmmad Zeeshan Ayyub, Actor
26. Amar Singh, SC/ST Trade Union, Delhi University
27. Dr. Mahesh Chandra, Bhim Army
28. Sanjay Tegwal, Bhim Army
29. Zakia Soman, Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan
30. Presenjit Gautam, Jati Todo Manch, Ghaziabad
31. Pradeep Narwal, Dalit youth activist, Jawaharlal Nehru University
32. Saroj Giri, Academic, Delhi University
33. Tushar Parmar, IRS
34. Sanjeev Mathur, Journalist
35. Nakul Singh Sawhney, Film maker
36. Praveen Verma, Research scholar, Delhi University
37. Aditya Nigam, Academic, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi
38. Amar Paswan, Ambedkarvadi Chhatra Sabha, Gorakhpur
39. Dhirendra, Poorvanchal Sena
40. Anil Yadav, Rihai Manch
41. Sagar Raghunath, Chhatra Bharati activist
42. Dr J.K. Gautam, Doctor
43. Dr. Sushil Kumar Gautam, Dalit youth activist, Chaudhary Charan Singh University, Meerut