Many of the right-wing leaders who were responsible for the riots following that meeting are roaming free
Vasudev Chakravarti / The Dawn News / June 9, 2018
On June 6, the police in the Indian State of Maharashtra arrested five activists for having organised the Elgar Parishad – a public meeting conducted on December 31, 2017 – to celebrate the bicentenary of the historic battle of Bhima-Koregaon. The meeting was also to discuss ways to counter the rising right-wing tide in India. In the aftermath of the arrests, the government also claimed to have ‘discovered’ a letter which proved that these activists were part of a conspiracy to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The five arrested are advocate Surendra Gadling, general secretary, Indian Association of People’s Lawyers from Nagpur, Professor Shoma Sen, Head of Department (HoD) of English, Nagpur University, Sudhir Dhawale, editor of the Marathi magazine Vidrohi from Mumbai, Rona Wilson, public relations secretary, Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners (CRPP) and Mahesh Raut, anti-displacement activist from Bharat Jan Andolan and former Fellow at Prime Minister’s Rural Development for Gadchiroli District. All of them were activists who helped organize and participated in the Elgar Parishad.
The police had already in April raided the houses of many of these activists. After the raids, the activists alleged that “The government is afraid of Dalits (formerly the untouchable castes). That’s why they are targeting them.” They also alleged that the police had seized books written by Dr.B.R. Ambedkar, who was the chief architect of India’s constitution and a great leader of the Dalits.
The Battle of Bhima-Koregaon is seen by the Dalits as a victory against their oppressors- the upper caste Brahmin Peshwa rulers. Hence, for many years now, the anniversary of the battle has witnessed mass gatherings and commemorations. During the Elgar Parishad and the following bicentenary celebrations, the right-wing Hindutva forces unleashed attacks on those who were on their way to the meeting. The ensuing violence resulted in the death of a Dalit and injuries to hundreds. However, the leaders of the right-wing forces who orchestrated the attacks on the Dalits, Milind Ekbote and Manohar Bhide, are out on bail. Both of them belong to far-right groups and also have been associated with the ruling right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is in power both at the Centre and the State of Maharashtra. They had given communally charged speeches to instigate the violence and also participated in the desecration of the tomb of a Govind Gaikwad, who is a historical figure and hero to the Dalits.
The police is also pushing the narrative of these activists being ‘urban Maoists’. This is a tactic that has often been used by right-wing governments in India to attempt to de-legitimize the struggles and movements of Dalits and Adivasis (tribal communities). A particularly shocking example is that of G.N.Saibaba, a college professor, who is 90% disabled and has been sentenced to a life term in jail on charges of being a Maoist.
There are also various other examples of the targeting of Dalit activists and leaders, including that of Chandrashekar Azad Ravan. Chandrashekar was one of the founders and leaders of the Bhim Army- an organization of Dalits formed to resist the attacks and oppression by the dominant castes. He has been imprisoned on charges related to the violence that occured in Saharanpur in the state of Uttar Pradesh during clashes between Dalits and the dominant caste Rajputs. At the same time, many of the right-wing leaders of the dominant castes have gone completely unpunished.
Throughout this episode, the corporate media in India has been a willing accomplice to the targeting of these activists. The media has uncritically spread the government’s version of the activists being part of the conspiracy and the letter that was supposedly found in the house of one the arrested activists, Rona Wilson. The media also dragged Bharip Bahujan Mahasangh president Prakash Ambedkar (Dr. B.R.Ambedkar’s grandson) into the issue. They have stated that the unknown “Comrade Prakash” referred to in the letter is actually Ambedkar. This allegation was originally levelled by the BJP.
This move by the right-wing government comes amid an increase in attacks on Dalits, Muslims and Adivasis across the country by communal fascistic forces. There has been a rise in incidents of lynchings and violence in the name of the protection of the cow, which is considered holy by some sections of Hindus. In many such incidents, it is the victims who are prosecuted by the right-wing governments while the actual perpetrators are let free.
The move to arrest the activists has been condemned internationally. The Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights released a statement which noted that the arrests had been “stage-managed by the Maharashtra Government” to prevent victims of the violence unleashed by the right-wing from giving their testimonies in a judicial inquiry that is to occur soon.