Mumbai: Aakar Patel, columnist and former executive director of Amnesty International India, has said he was arrested and then let out on bail earlier this week for allegedly posting “offensive” tweets against the Ghanchi community in Gujarat.
Was arrested and bailed yesterday for an FIR filed by BJP citing sections incl 153A (promoting enmity). Will fight it.
— Aakar Patel (@Aakar__Patel) September 22, 2020
The Surat City police registered an FIR against Patel, filed by Purnesh Modi, a ruling Bhartiya Janata Party MLA from Surat West constituency and president of the Samast Gujarati Modhvanik Samaj.
The FIR registered on July 7 states that on June 24 and June 27, Patel had posted three tweets that were objectionable and against the community. Patel has been booked under Sections 153 A, 295 A, 505 (1) B, 505 (1) C, 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code. Most of these sections are non-bailable.
The complainant has listed three tweets posted by Patel. In the first two tweets, Patel mentioned that Prime Minister Narendra Modi belonged to the Ghanchi caste, which was added to the Other Backward Caste list in 1999 by then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s regime. Patel goes on to say that the community is “well-off” and is “meat-eating” and that Modi has taken on the manner of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and has turned vegetarian.
In another tweet that followed, Patel has alleged that those involved in the 2002 Sabarmati train carnage belonged to the Muslim Ganchi community.
In this third tweet on June 27, Patel wrote, “The RSS and BJP always profit by the violence against other Indians, especially Muslims. Vajpayee more than Upadhyaya, Advani more than Vajpayee and Modi more than Advani benefitted from this. We have to stop this cycle of violence and blood profit by the RSS and BJP.”
Status of Ghanchi caste
Patel’s claim that the crowd involved in the Godhra train fire of 2002 comprised Ghanchi Muslims has been widely made in in the media before. And it is not clear what offence the police believe his first tweet has caused.
Patel’s claim that Ghanchis were added to the OBC list in 1999 has also been made by other before, though there is some confusion on the matter. P.S. Krishnan in an article in The Wire had stated: “The caste has been on the list of socially and educationally backward classes (SEdBCs) in every part of India – since well before independence in the southern states, and later in the northern states and the Centre – but by its local name. In Gujarat, it is known as Ghanchi, Teli and, in some parts, Ghancha.”
But Patel points to a November 15, 1997 letter by Krishnan himself, in which the then member secretary of the NCBC sought the inclusion of the Ghanchi community, along with its several sub-castes, into the Central list of Backward Classes.
Krishnan was a former secretary to the Government of India and who has been a member of the expert committee on backward classes and member-secretary of the National Commission for Backward Classes, and member of the National Commission for SCs and STs for more than seven decades. Ghanchi is the Gujarati name for the caste known as ‘Teli’ in Hindi, and by different names in other states and languages. It is linked to the traditional occupation of oil-pressing and vending.
The Surat police on September 21 recorded Patel’s statement and has now asked for the devices used to tweet to be handed over to the police. Patel says he will soon be handing them over soon.
Although this is not the first time that a criminal case has been registered against the columnist for his vocal stand against the current dispensation, he told The Wire that he was surprised when he was informed about the FIR. “I was surprised it was filed. The tweets are factual,” he responded in an email. Patel says he will defend himself and will be weighing his options to see if the FIR can be quashed.
Just in the recent weeks, Patel has been informed of at least two police cases against him and he says both of them were registered in BJP-ruled states. “The state has become quite intolerant of dissent. This (the tweets) is not an original observation and is not a new phenomenon. What is new is the extreme to which it is taken, especially at a time when the government ought really to be focussed on its work,” Patel shared.
While Patel has been individually targeted, in the past, when he was associated with Amnesty International India, both he and the organisation had been targeted several times by both the state and central machinery. “There are other cases (I have lost count of the number) related to the organisation (Amnesty International India) I was working for until last year, which continues to be harassed through the (Central Bureau of Investigation) CBI, Enforcement Directorate and (Ministry of Home Affairs) MHA and through cases like sedition filed by the (Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad) ABVP,” Patel alleges.
Note: This article was updated at 2:30 pm on September 24, 2020 to mention the 1997 letter written by P.S. Krishnan seeking the addition of the Ghanchi community and its several sub-castes into the Central list of Backward Classes.