Yet Another Binayak Sen
By Anand Teltumbde
08 February, 2011
No, he is not like Dr Binayak Sen, coming from a middle class Bhadralok family with a big degree in medicine from a prestigious medical school, enviable academic record and certain well deserved decorations in his profession. Sudhir Dhawale is a prototype of a contemporary dalit activist: coming from a poor family, moderately educated and without any notable social acclaim. What makes them similar apart from their unflinching dedication to the oppressed humanity is the neurotic behavior of the state towards them. Binayak Sen’s case is by now world famous, tearing down the veneer of all state claims to democracy. Sudhir’s hopefully is adding to the shame of the establishment.
Playing Foul against People
All that the Indian state reflects in these episodes is that it wants to play foul against its own people, no matter how high the costs to the country. Binayak Sen, given his credentials and record of service to the people evoked huge indignation of the middle classes against the treatment meted out to him by the state. Soon this indignation spread into a movement joined by the international solidarity groups, which was supported even by 22 Nobel laureates from all over the world. The amount of protest his arrest generated reminded one of Nelson Mandela of 1970s. The clamour for his release however overshadowed the fact that there were thousands of others languishing in Indian jails for years for the same crime as his. Many of them were innocent enough not to know what they were there for and had resigned to their fate. Nonetheless, the unprecedented magnitude of the protest movement around Binayak sen made one think that the foolhardy Chhattisgarh state would realize its mistake and seek honourable exit at the earliest opportune time. But to the dismay of many, the state, in its true fascist elements, persisted with charges and opposed his bail tooth and nail. Luckily it was granted by the Supreme Court, which had rejected it previously, surprisingly without any argument.
As the information on the trial trickled in that most witnesses of the state turned hostile and the jail staff categorically dismissed the possibility of the letters going out of the security jail, the pivotal charge against Sen and even two others, the people innocently hoped that the ordeal of Binayak Sen and his family would come to an end. But they were rudely shattered by the court awarding Binayak Sen and his co-accused Piyush Guha and Narayan Sanyal life imprisonment. Like many recent judgements, the court verdict was reflecting the executive plan, marring the much celebrated independence of the judiciary. It was necessary for the state to plan face saving move and it appears to have done precisely that by confirming his guilt through the lower court. The strategy was to show that Sen was not unnecessarily targeted as accused by the protest movement and simultaneously threaten the latter that it should not take on the state. It nearly boomeranged because scores of intellectuals came in solidarity with Sen and dared the state with a slogan “hum sub Binayak hai”.
At least now the state was expected not to repeat its mistake by harassing someone demonstrably innocent. But the state intoxicated with totalitarian power may not be rational. Although, technically Sen’s was the Chhattisgarh state affair, in reality it echoed the anti-naxal strategy of the center. Other states also could demonstrate their prowess by creating their own Binayak Sens. As the campaign on Binayak Sen had reached its high pitch, Maharashtra government has gone ahead with spree of arrests one of which is already likened to Binayak Sen’s.
Sudhir Dhawale, as the entire Mumbai’s progressive circle knows, has been working as freelance journalist and full time social worker since 1995. In 1999, he played a leading role in organizing a Vidrohi Sahitya Sammelan, opposing the state sponsored Brahmanical literary extravaganza, in Dharavi slum which was presided over by the late progressive Dalit litterateur Baburao Bagul. On 11 July 1997, when the police gunned down 10 innocent Dalits in Ramabai Nagar (in Ghatkopar, Mumbai) while protesting the desecration of Dr Ambedkar’s statue, Sudhir got actively involved in the Committee formed to get the culprit, a petty police sub inspector Manohar Kadam, punished. The Vidrohi literary conference transformed into a Vidrohi Sanskrutik Movement (Rebel cultural movement), of which Sudhir was the main organizer. As a part of this movement, he launched a Vidrohi Prakashan with small donations and loan and soon began publishing a monthly ‘Vidrohi’, of which he was the editor. Besides, he has been writing and publishing pamphlets and booklets which helped spread awareness about the plight of dalits and adivasis. Sudhir thus became an integral part of the progressive movement in Maharashtra. He actively worked along with others for reaching relief to victims of caste atrocities and helping them get justice. Some of these cases that he was involved in are: Murder of Rohidas Tupe in Palgaon near Aurangabad, Baban Misal murder in Nagar district, murder of Sadahiv Salve Guruji at Mazhil in Beed district, murder of Rohan Kakade in Satara, rape and murder of Manorama Kamble in Nagpur, murder of Sahebrao Jondhale in Hingoli district, Saujanya Jadhav case in Navi Mumbai, a case of Meera Kamble who was paraded naked at Reay Road, Mumbai, Ahiwale case in Satara district, and the murder of an old Adivasi couple at Mauda in Nagpur district. He had also played prominent role in Khairlanji protests.
Sudhir’s activism subsisted on a small sum donated by friends. His wife Darshana, one time noted woman activist worked as a nurse in Babasaheb Ambedkar Memorial Hospital, Byculla and took care of the household and their two children. Everyone connected with the progressive circle in Mumbai knew these facts. And perhaps that is why his arrest on 2 January 2011 caused a spontaneous furor that crystallized into forming a committee called ‘Sudhir Dhawale Muktata Abhiyan’.
Repeat of the farce
Sudhir Dhawale was arrested on 2 January 2011 at 9.45 pm at Wardha Railway Station by the Gondia police while returning home after attending the Youth Dalit Literature Conference and a meeting relating to atrocities on Dalits at Wardha. According to Police, one Bhimrao Bhoite, claimed by police to be the state committee member of the CPI (Maoist), stated in his interrogation that he had given his computer to him. Sudhir is charged under the sections 17, 20, 39 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and sections 121/124 (a) of the Indian Penal Code, which amounts to sedition and declaration of war against the Indian State. The next day, the Gondia and Mumbai police ransacked Sudhir’s house and took away his computer and 87 books, none of which could be remotely illegal. The unlawful manner in which the raid was conducted impelled Darashana to file a police complaint the next day.
Granting the hypersensitivity of the State about Maoism, promoted by none other than the Prime Minister and the Home minister, no one denies the police right to interrogate Sudhir in order to be reasonably sure about his involvement in unlawful activities. Surely, someone telling police somebody’s name, does not constitute the basis to suspect the latter as accomplice in the crime, particularly when he is socially well known. Only after making reasonably sure about his crime the police could arrest him. But police pounced upon Sudhir, handcuffed him and slapped the package of charges they readied for the so called Maoists. Contrast it with the criminal cases against the likes of Suresh Kalmadi, Raja, etc. or the scores of bigwig babus and politicians involved in Adarsh society scam or the money launderer like Hassan Ali. Despite all their dirty linen being available in the public domain for months and years the police would respectfully interview (not interrogate) them and never arrest.
Sudhir Dhawale’s arrest angered many people. In an almost unprecedented manner all shades of Dalits came together and voiced their protest in unison. The entire progressive Maharashtra comprising its who’s who came out in active support. Protests are taking place almost daily all over the state. A delegation of prominent people met the home minister who had assured them that he would ask the DIG to enquire into it and not to harass him if he was not involved. On 12 January Sudhir along with six other were produced before the court, which gave him and one Shailesh Wakde an MCR, and extended the PCR for the rest. It was expected that in face of the huge protest, the state will not play its worn out trick by slapping new charges once a person is acquitted from the old ones. But here the state even did not wait for the court proceedings. Just after two days, they roped in Sudhir in an old case of postering at Gondia and took him back into police custody. Quite like Binayak Sen, the evidence against the police charges was so dismissive that it was exposing the state’s malafide intention. As against the charge of Bhoite’s computer being with Sudhir, Sudhir’s wife was showing the receipt for their newly bought computer. And on the date of postering at Gondia, there was ample evidence that Sudhir was in Mumbai.
Caste, Class and Ideology
The bogey of Maoism is being unscrupulously used to repress the incipient democratic dissent of Dalits and Adivasis. Most people arrested as Maoists in Maharashtra are Dalits. Maoist lable overshadows their caste identity and renders them helpless. Although the ruling classes have succeeded in decimating the dalit movement, the Ambedkarite consciousness among Dalits in Maharashtra is alive and manifests itself into militant reaction against the systemic injustice as in Khairlanji. It is this incipient dissent the state wants to nip in bud by putting the lable of Maoists on Dalit youth. The same phenomenon could be observed in other states depending on the degree of dalit consciousness.
Having banned the CPI (Maoist) party and its mass organizations in June 2009, belonging to them becomes an unlawful act attracting the Draconian provisions of UAPA and such other laws. But the distinction between the organization and the ideology is deliberately blurred and people are charged for being Maoist on the ridiculous evidence of possessing literature of Marx, Lenin, Mao and even Ambedkar. Many people have ridiculed the police claim saying that they possess more such literature than all the Maoists together could do. In most cases, the accused get acquitted of all charges but by then they undergo minimum of 3-4 years of imprisonment and police torture. Even if they were not Maoists to start with, by the time they come out of prison, they definitely become one. Police repression thus has been the biggest catalyst in manufacturing Maoists and the police their biggest recruitment agents. Every unlawful act of the state repression has brought windfall benefits to the latter.
It is high time people realized this fact and chastised the government not to play foul with its own people in the long term interest of this country.
Dr Anand Teltumbde is a writer, political analyst and civil rights activist based in Mumbai
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