From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 7, Issue 34, Dated August 28, 2010
CURRENT AFFAIRS MAHARASHTRA
Bhagat Singh and Ambedkar are no longer national icons. You can be
arrested for reading them
BY RANA AYYUB
Indicted icon Dalit students in front of an Ambedkar statue
BANDU MESHRAM'S schoolgoing daughter hides behind the curtain as she
spots us. She tugs her mother Seema's saree and tells her to send us
away. Seema, a teacher, tells us the little girl has been afraid of
strangers ever since the police took away her 38-year-old father. On
21 February, barely a few metres away from his home in Nagpur, a
police team picked him up. It was only the next day his wife learned
that the "abductors" described by neighbours were a squad sent by the
Chandrapur district police.
Three days after his arrest, Bandu was charged with sedition under the
Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). His arrest was based on
"classified information" received by the police that Bandu was the
absconding zonal secretary of a banned Maoist outfit. "He was working
as a tailor in a reputed garments showroom," says his wife. "They say
he was in hiding whereas we stay in the lane next to the police
When questioned by TEHELKA, Superintendent of Police Cherring Dorje
admits the name in the 2008 chargesheet is not Bandu Meshram but
alleged the tailor uses an alias. His wife says that even the
literature the police showed as "seizure" was just a book on the
Vidarbha farmers movement. "Will they hang him because he was a part
of an agricultural movement? Next they should hang me because I am a
follower of Ambedkar," she says.
TEHELKA tracked many such stories — stories of arrests scattered
across Maharashtra, told by people we met across districts, in
blue-coloured houses, at rallies.
A book seller. A student. A lecturer. A wedding guest. All found, or
so the police say, in possession of literature like an interview of
Arundhati Roy, Maxim Gorky's Mother, material on the Khairlanji
atrocity or Bhagat Singh. "If you are a Muslim, you are a terrorist.
If you are a Dalit, you are a Naxalite," a Dalit rights lawyer and
activist told TEHELKA.
That seems to be the twisted logic at play, for close to a hundred
arrests have been made since 2007 under the UAPA, used by the
government to label all kinds of political activity as 'terrorist',
'anti-national' or 'seditious'. TEHELKA has details of 18 such cases,
which demonstrate that the state seems to have no real understanding
of the socio-economic conditions under which Dalits turn to activism.
Or the fact that Bhagat Singh is a national hero who fought against
the British and Gorky's writings are inspiring but he did not
advocate, like Chairman Mao did, that power flows from the barrel of a
gun. This, in a country where state governments are wooing Dalit votes
by building statues of Ambedkar and Jyotiba Phule, and school students
are told they are national heroes.
EVERY YEAR, Dalits from across the world converge on Diksha Bhoomi,
Nagpur, to commemorate the day Ambedkar embraced Buddhism along with
15 lakh Dalits. In October 2007, four Dalit youths were headed that
Living hell Bandu Meshram's wife and children await his return
Mind bender Anil Mamane, sociology lecturer, accused of spreading radical ideas
Anil Mamane, 27, lecturer of sociology, MA (gold medallist)
Dinkar Kamble, 23, MPhil first year student, ranked 2nd in selection
Bapu Patil, 20, BA first year student
Babasaheb Saymote, 27, MCom.
Mamane wanted to awaken the collective conscience of people through
his writing. Books like Ya Jagaat Dev Aahe Ka (Does God Exist?),
Ramabai to Khairlanji were either written or distributed by him. So he
and student Dinkar Kamble, who used to sell books in his
neighbourhood, boarded the Maharashtra Express. The other two accused,
Babasaheb Saymote and Bapu Patil, took the same train and were,
unfortunately for them, in the same compartment.
At Ajni, two hours before Nagpur, the police entered the compartment
and picked up the four. They were taken to Nagpur police station and a
case was registered that they were part of a group carrying
incriminating literature that asked Dalits to kill in the name of
Khairlanji. The chargesheet said, "Literature seized from the
applicants is highly objectionable and provocative, and was intended
to provoke a large number of Dalits to join the cause of Naxals."
It was an outright frame-up. If one were to go by the logic of the
police that the material was incriminating, why not punish the writer
and the publisher? They arrested two people who were going to sell
books already in the market and two who were not even linked to them.
While the police could frame a case against Mamane and Kamble,
building up a case against Bapu Patil and Saymote was more difficult.
Saymote's house in his village and Patil's hostel room were raided.
"They picked up my BA books as proof," says Patil. Saymote was shown
to be a member of Kabir Manch, a cultural organisation, which the
police claimed was under surveillance on suspicion of being engaged in
'If you are a Muslim, you are a terrorist. If you are a Dalit, you are
a Naxalite,' remarks a Dalit rights lawyer and activist
When the matter went to trial, the two "alleged accomplices" got bail
immediately. The judge said, "There is no prima facie evidence to even
suggest that Dinkar Kamble knew what was written in the books. Bapu
Patil, residing in a hostel, too just possessed some books. Mere
possession of books is not sufficient to infer that the applicants are
instigating armed revolution. Hence bail be granted."
Mamane and Saymote were not so lucky: their bail applications were
rejected. But where the law did not help, hunger strike did. A 14-day
hunger strike by Saymote and Mamane ensured that the same judge gave
them bail six months later on the same grounds mentioned in the
earlier bail applications.
Activists from across the country including Anna Hazare came out to
protest, forcing Maharashtra Home Minister RR Patil to make a visit to
the area and to the hostel. While the mainstream media largely ignored
the case, processions were taken out with letters being written to the
government by college professors and writers asking whether the state
is scared of Bhagat Singh's ideology. Students displayed placards
outside the minister's residence asking if the state was ashamed of
Bhagat Singh and Ambedkar.
Kamble says, "I was always proud of the fact that in spite of coming
from an impoverished family, I had managed to clear my MPhil . But the
taunts they threw at me in jail broke me. They would ask me if we
Ambedkarites were trying another 1857."
BAPU PATIL, now 23, has a 65-year-old ailing mother and a sister to
care for. He works for an NGO that stages street plays to create
awareness on medical issues. His hostel room still has a huge poster
of Ambedkar adorning the wall. "I live in fear. They can still come
and arrest me saying that in the name of spreading awareness on
disease, I am helping the Naxal cause". This college student also has
to spend `600 from his meagre pocket money travelling two times a
month to the Nagpur court to attend the hearings.
Usually, such arbitrary arrests break a man or destroy his livelihood.
But Anil Mamane's arrest and release meant a big leap for him, as he
now has scripts from 75 authors waiting to be published and has the
complete backing of publishing houses. When he came out of jail, he
married a Brahmin girl whom he knew since college. People collected `2
lakh to give them a lavish wedding. He has written a book on
Khairlanji and is re-publishing books on Bhagat Singh. "Truth can't be
silenced," he says.
But two Dalits who paid a heavy price for being socially aware are
journalist Dhanendra Bhurile and shopkeeper Naresh Bansod, residents
of Gondia. When produced before the Nagpur magistrate, the policemen
said they had been arrested along with two other alleged Naxalites —
Arun Ferreira and Mahesh aka Murli Satyareddi — and that they had
plans to go to Diksha Bhoomi to hatch a conspiracy.
The police stated that when arrested in May 2007, the four started
throwing away their SIM cards, Naxal literature, envelopes and pen
drives. Sessions judge RB Patil questioned how it could then be proved
that this material belonged to them.
Grassroots Babasaheb Saymote back at his farm
Heartbreaking news Dhanendra Bhurile and his wife Sarita
It was on the basis of this literature and 'confessions' from police
witnesses that these two were accused under Sections 10, 13, 18 and 20
of UAPA, which amount to knowingly or unknowingly facilitating terror
acts as well as recruiting people for terror-related activities,
The two were granted bail by the high court for lack of evidence to
prosecute them under UAPA, giving the police two months to appeal
against the bail. However, the police went to the Supreme Court to
apply against the bail and got a stay. Thus, after spending three
months in jail, the duo were rearrested and this time the police
slapped an additional charge against the two of burning a police
vehicle and killing police officials. Then started the rounds of
torture and casteist insults, adding to the injury inflicted by the
police. "One of the police officers who used to hang me upside down
asked me to face the repercussions of trying to be another Ambedkar,"
Having spent close to three years in jail, justice finally opened its
eyes for the two, who were acquitted and released in July this year.
In a landmark judgement, the judge said the police had been simply
unable to prove not just the provisions of UAPA but also discharged
the other case of rioting that the police had slapped on them after
their re-arrest. The judge observed that the police erred right in the
beginning when it did not even obtain sanction under UAPA while filing
Why did the police want to brand Bhurile and Bansod as Naxalites? Is
it a caste war being waged by feudal elements under the cover of
ferreting out Maoists? Bhurile hints it is prejudice and a desire to
oppress those tasting liberation. "It's simple," he says. "A Dalit
does not read Lenin or Gorky. If he does, unlike you, he is a
criminal." That he heard the word Naxalism for the first time in court
is something nobody will believe, he says, as he shows us his
collection of books on Ambedkar.
TEHELKA CAUGHT up with Bhurile and Bansod after their release from
custody in January. The broken pieces of their lives will take a long
time to put together, especially where their personal lives are
concerned. The friends were nabbed at a railway station en route to a
wedding. Bansod was employed by an organisation that opposed
superstition and traditional beliefs. "I worked with the likes of Baba
Amte, not just for the uplift of Dalits but also the poor, even
amongst Brahmins. Our aim was to help people live a life of dignity".
Students held placards outside the minister's residence asking if the
state was ashamed of Bhagat Singh and Ambedkar
Bhurile worked for two of the bestknown Marathi newspapers. He still
remembers the day the police caught him on charges of aiding Naxal
activity and also of being a Naxal and produced him in a press
conference. "All my friends and colleagues were there," he recalls
ruefully, hinting at he embarrassment and humiliation he felt. "A
couple of them stole some glances at me while the rest pretended they
didn't know who I am. They dutifully filed reports for their
newspapers that the police have nabbed two dreaded Naxals."
If inside jail the husbands had to bear the brunt of an ideology
taught in school, the wives had to suffer for supporting their
husbands. Sarita Bedarkar taught sociology at a local college. Within
days of her husband's arrest, she was told by the college principal
that her services were no longer required. "I started borrowing books
on Indian law and decided to become a lawyer. The cops would come to
my residence frequently and taunt me about reading law books," says
Bansod's wife, on the other hand, could not take the police harassment
and decided to leave her husband. She left for Chhattisgarh to marry
again, leaving her school-going son behind.
Bansod is yet to come to terms with the twists in his life. "It was a
mockery of the law. We paid the price of who we were and what we
represented. You can't turn it all back." He was self-employed before
his arrest, running an electrical goods shop but the police ransacked
it, looting most of the merchandise. Now he has lost his livelihood.
'I worked with the likes of Baba Amte, not just for the uplift of
Dalits but also the poor, even amongst Brahmins,' says Naresh Bansod
In another case, a group of 10 college students professing allegiance
to the teachings of Bhagat Singh and Jyotiba Phule were arrested and
charged with conducting covert operations for Naxalites in Chandrapur.
The logic seems to be that since Bhagat Singh justified violence
against evil-doers, students impressed by his revolutionary ideas are
about to get violent.
Police is now on the lookout for Veera Sathidaar alias Vijay
Bairagade. His home is a one-room residence doubling up as a library
where local students borrow books and magazines. His wife Pushpa has a
list of the publications seized by the police in a raid that scared
her into telling her husband to avoid coming home. Among the seized
books is one with the title Monarchy vs Democracy. We meet Veera where
he is hiding. He tells us his son has been named in the FIR lodged by
the police. A family is torn asunder.
So what can one say of the mentality of the state, symbolised by the
constable who spat at jeans-clad Shantanu Kamble, "So, you sing? So
come on sing for us, just like you sing for the Naxalites." This
softspoken college dropout who works as a labourer by day and pens his
thoughts at night says that it is his poetry that helps him forget the
trauma of being arrested. Fortunately, Additional Sessions Judge AA
Khan could not help saying, "He is a poet, not a Naxalite. Release
PHOTOS: TARUN SEHRAWAT
From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 7, Issue 34, Dated August 28, 2010
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