Several civil society members and organisations in Mumbai on Sunday signed a statement calling for the release of Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad from a jail in Uttar Pradesh.
The leader, who was booked after caste-related violence broke out in Saharanpur in May 2017, was granted bail by the Allahabad high court in November 2017, the court said the charges were clearly “politically motivated“. Yet just a day after the bail order, the Uttar Pradesh government booked Azad under the draconian National Security Act (NSA), using which the state can place any citizen under preventive detention without legal recourse.
Since then, several rallies have been taken out Dalit and Muslim organisations to demand Azad’s release.
Now, a group of civil society members have joined the chorus demanding his release. In a statement, whose signatories include filmmaker Anand Patwardhan, civil rights activists Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand, CPI leader Prakash Reddy, All India Secular Forum leader Ram Puniyani, and several others, have called Azad’s being in jail “a shameful indictment of the manner in which judicial processes are being subverted”.
We, the undersigned citizens and civil society organisations of Mumbai, express our solidarity with the members of Bhim Army who have been working for the rights of Dalits in Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh for the last two years. They have been advocating education for Dalits and running successful evening schools for them, besides raising a voice against atrocities. Apart from empowering young Dalit women to study and become financially independent, the organisation helps economically marginalised Dalits to study and on occasion supports medical expenses of patients during emergencies.
Despite garnering tremendous support across Saharanpur district and parts of Shamli and Muzaffarnagar and parts of Uttarakhand, they have been demonised and targeted by the state government. The district administration and its dependent local media have accused the organisation of being ‘Naxalites’ and ‘terrorists’ along with a range of other unsubstantiated allegations. Several activists and senior leaders of the organisation were forced to go underground.
Prominent activists and leaders of Bhim Army, including its founder Chandrashekhar Azad ‘Ravan’ have been hounded with false cases lodged against them. Almost 40 activists were arrested and tortured in jail.
Pradeep Narwal, a friend and comrade of the Bhim Army leader, writes about visiting him in jail
Kabir Agarwal on how the demand for Chandrashekhar Azad’s release is becoming a rallying point for Dalit-Muslim unity
Chandrashekhar was arrested while underground on June 8, 2017. While all other activists and senior leaders of the organization eventually got bail, Chandrashekhar continues to languish in Jail.
Bail granted but jail continues!
Chandrashekhar faced serious charges including rioting, armed with deadly weapons, unlawful assembly, attempt to murder, assaulting public servants, trespassing and breach in peace. None of these claims of the State administration stood in the Court.
On November 2, 2017, the Allahabad high court granted him bail on all the charges. However, the very next day, in a shocking development the state government slapped NSA (National Security Act) on Chandrashekhar. Since then, Chandrashekhar has been in Saharanpur jail where his health also rapidly deteriorated when he didn’t receive adequate medical attention and his condition became critical. Finally, due to public pressure he was sent to Meerut for medical treatment. On January 27, 2018, NSA on Chandrashekhar was extended by another three months.
The continued incarceration and harassment of Chandrashekar and his organisation is a shameful indictment of the manner in which judicial processes are being subverted. The violent crackdown on the legitimate work of the Bhim Army bodes ill for our democracy, which ought to encourage all those who fight economic and social oppression.
We demand that Chandrashekhar is released and false charges against him and other members of Bhim Army be dropped forthwith.
Teesta Setalvad, Citizens for Justice and Peace
Prakash Reddy, CPI
Vivek Monteiro, CITU
Milind Ranade, Kachra Vahatuk Union
Sandhya Gokhale, Bombay, Forum Against Oppression of Women
Ram Puniyani, All India Secular Forum
Kamayani Bali Mahabal