• A year later, Chandrashekhar Azad ‘Ravan’ still not released

    Sabrang India

    June 11, 2018

    The Dalit Rights Activist was arrested and detained under the draconian NSA for allegedly rioting and stoking violence in May 2017. No one from the upper-caste community accused in the violence has been arrested under the same act.

     

    Image courtesy: Sabrangindia

     

    It was around this time last year that Bhim Army Chief Chandrashekhar Azad ‘Ravan’ shouted from a dais in the national capital that “We are the rulers of this country,” with the famous twirl of his moustache. The 30-year-old was being seen as a serious contender and fierce competitor to UP’s BSP party and the ruling party. Dalits in Western UP found a fresh and strong voice in Azad’s brand of politics and justice that they had not witnessed in the country before.
     
    The month of May 2017 saw an attack by upper castes on Dalit homes which led to more clashes, also known as the Saharanpur violence. He was accused of rioting and arrested by UP’s Special Task Force in June 2017 with 24 FIR’s filed against him.
     
    “In November 2017, when Azad’s arrest came up before the Allahabad High Court, the judges called the charges “politically motivated” and granted bail to the Dalit rights leader. Yet, despite this clear decision from the High Court, the Uttar Pradesh government promptly slapped the draconian National Security Act on Azad. No one from the upper-caste community accused in the violence has been arrested under the NSA,” reported Scroll.
     
    Amnesty International demanded the immediate release of Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad ‘Ravan’ on Thursday and said that he was being falsely imprisoned under the NSA.
     
    “He has been languishing in prison for the last one year. Keeping him behind bars under repressive administrative detention laws shows that the Uttar Pradesh government would rather stifle dissent than address serious human rights concerns,” Programmes Director at Amnesty International India Asmita Basu said in the PTI report.
     
    Unlawful Detention

    On May 2, 2018, the Adityanath administration extended the application of the draconian National Security Act (NSA) on Azad by three more months, till August 3, thereby increasing his period of “preventive detention.” CJP has carried an intensive and exclusive report about the dangerous precedent being set by incarcerating Azad.
     
    Earlier on April 28, the Allahabad High Court rejected a writ petition filed by the team of lawyers representing Azad, led by Senior Advocate Ravi Kiran Jain.
     
    Responding to this decision of the Court, Advocate Jain said that they are planning to file a review petition in Supreme Court soon in the case. He said that one of his arguments that “the Magistrate didn’t have powers to order detentions on supposed apprehensions of threats to national security” wasn’t heard. He said that the argument made by the state government that Azad’s incarceration was just based on “subjective satisfaction of available material” was a stretch and didn’t hold ground.
     
    “The NSA allows the state to keep an accused in preventive detention for up to a year, and following that, the freedom to issue another order of preventive detention. The only check on this process is the permission to someone who has been detained under National Security Act to make a representation before an Advisory Board of three high court judges, or people qualified to be high court judges, after three months in detention. Uttar Pradesh’s use of the National Security Act against Azad, even though the High Court made it clear that the charges against him were politically motivated, is a perfect example of why a law like this should not be on the books in the first place. Why is it okay for a government to keep someone behind bars, without a chargesheet or a trial, when even High Court judges have criticised his arrest?” the Scroll report stated.
     
    Azad’s Hunger Strike

    Azad announced his hunger strike in April 2018 demanding amnesty for those facing cases for participating in Bharat Bandh, an all India strike of Dalit and progressive groups on April 2, 2018. He began by skipping one meal a day and promised to keep increasing the intensity of his hunger strike if his demands were not met.
     
    The Bandh was called against the Supreme Court order of March 20 diluting the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 by the bench of U.U. Lalit and A.K. Goyal. The court order says that the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities (PoA) Act, 1989 is being “misused” and lays down procedures which will make it difficult for vulnerable communities to lodge cases against people in powerful positions such as government officials.
     
    How Chandrashekhar became Ravan

    A report by CNN-News18 in 2017 detailed many important aspects of the Bhim Army. “Chandrashekhar, or Ravan as he calls himself, was born in Dhadkuli village near Chatmalpur in Saharanpur. A law graduate from a local college in the district, he first courted controversy in 2015, when he put up a board at his native place that read ‘The Great Chamars of Dhadkauli Welcome You.’ The move led to tensions between the Dalits and the Thakurs in the village. While the controversy was brought under control, the then 28-year-old, who soon became the face of the Dalits in the village, came into the spotlight. “Chandrashekhar slowly gained prominence. Soon after this incident, he started putting together the Bhim Army and got young Dalits under the banner,” said retired IPS officer and Dalit activist SR Darapuri. He adds that the youths had been disillusioned by the BSP’s style of politics, and Chandrashekhar’s fresh and strong voice struck a chord with many. “This disillusionment struck home with the Dalits who felt it was time to be aggressive in terms of activism. This thought spread across the ranks of the Bhim Army and Chandrashekhar became Chandrashekhar Azad for them,” said Darapuri in the report.
     
    “Ideologically, too, Chandrashekhar poses a challenge to the saffron party. “Chandrashekhar calls himself Ravan and his followers have added an Azad to his name. The leader uses a Hindu mythological character as an epithet of oppression and his followers call him nothing less than a nationalist freedom fighter. You think this goes down well with the saffron party or the RSS?” asks activist Ram Kumar. Without waiting for a reply, Kumar said this phenomenon can never be digested by the Sangh Parivar or the BJP,” the 2017 report stated.
     
    In an extensive report by CJP, Azad had said that he would prefer death over comprising on principles. He had also claimed that he feared for his life.
     
    Vinay Ratan Singh won’t back down

    The PTI report stated that “over 140,000 people across India have supported Amnesty International India's campaign calling on Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath to release Azad, the president of Bhim Army, Vinay Ratan Singh said. The petition launched on 4 April, requests people to give a missed call to show their support for Azad, Singh added.
     
    Singh made this statement along with Basu, a week after he was let out on bail from a Saharanpur local court. He said that he would launch a statewide stir for the release of the outfit’s founder Chandrashekhar Azad.
     
    “When the riots were taking place, the same state authorities had asked for his and Bhim Army’s help to maintain peace in Saharanpur. Now they are saying that if he is released, he will create a law and order problem,” said Singh in a press conference in Lucknow.
     
    CJP’s demand

    Citizens for Justice and Peace have launched a campaign to free him and wrote a petition to UP CM Yogi Adityanath.

    The petition says that in Chandrashekhar’s case, there are reasons to believe that he is not a threat to the security of the state, but simply asserting his democratic and Constitutional rights as a citizen. In fact, here it is important to take note of the exemplary work which was being carried out by Bhim Army under his leadership. The Bhim Army has been working for the education of poor and dis-enfranchised Dalit children, opening 350 schools that were forcibly thereafter shut down in the past nine months. Two such schools are still being valiantly run in Azad's home village of Shabbirpur in Uttar Pradesh.
     
    In light of the above facts, CJP demands that all charges against Chandrashekhar Azad under the NSA be dropped immediately and that he be released on bail. CJP urges CM Yogi Adityanath to take urgent cognizance of his deteriorating health. 

    Support Citizens for Justice and Peace's Campaign to Free Chandrashekhar Azad, Chief of Bhim Army by signing this petition to UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath to drop NSA charges against him.


    First published in Sabrang India.

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