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 Sahranpur, 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 marginalized 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 demonized and targeted by the state government. The district administration and its dependent local media have accused the organization of being ‘Naxalites’ and ‘terrorists’ along with a range of other unsubstantiated allegations. Several activists and senior leaders of the organization 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.
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 2ndNovember, 2017 the Allahbad 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 27thJanuary, 2018, NSA on Chandrashekhar was extended by another 3 months.
The continued incarceration and harassment of Chandrashekar and his organization 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