The Bhim Army

Fighting spirit

Print edition : February 02, 2018

Members of the Bhim Sena staging a protest demonstration outside UP Bhavan in New Delhi holding portraits of Chandrashekhar Azad, demanding the release of the Dalit leader. Photo: V. Sudershan

BORN in Dhadkuli village near Chutmalpur in Saharanpur in western Uttar Pradesh, Chandrashekhar Azad ‘Ravan’ emerged as the face of the Dalit movement when he put up a board outside his village with the words: “The Great Chamars of Dhadkuli Welcome You”. He organised Dalit youths under the banner of Bhim Army and set up around 300 schools to impart education to children of the community. Muslims were also welcome to join the schools. This showed his deep political understanding of the need to build larger associations among the oppressed and marginalised communities.

The Bhim Army started confronting cases of atrocities head-on. More and more people joined the group, which began to be perceived as a threat to the larger Hindutva project of the governments at the Centre and in the State. While Chandrashekhar Azad and several others were arrested and sent to jail in a case relating to caste violence in Saharanpur in May, his mother, Kamlesh Devi, and brothers Bhagat Singh and Kamal Kishore campaigned for the release of all the youths who had been arrested on false charges. There were reports that Chandrashekhar Azad and another leader Kamal Walia were being beaten up in prison.

When news of the killing of Gauri Lankesh, the Editor of Gauri Lankesh Patrike, in Bengaluru reached Chandrashekhar Azad, he wrote a strongly worded letter in which he called the Uttar Pradesh government “kaale angrez” (black Englishmen) and vowed to fight for his “sister” Gauri. “I am saddened by the murder of my Ambedkarite elder sister Gauri Lankesh, but I salute her spirit. Her martyrdom will not go in vain. I am happy that she never bowed in her life. I want to tell you all that even if I die tomorrow, you should not back down from our collective struggle. It is because of your struggle that our future generations will be the rulers of this country.... Saharanpur district jail in Uttar Pradesh is currently my home. I have learnt that the dictatorial government of black Englishmen and their puppet district administration do not want me to apply for bail. They say that if I apply for bail, they will book me under the National Security Act (NSA). Firstly, let me make it clear that this country is ours. The 85 per cent Dalits, backward classes, Muslims and minorities will no longer be slaves in their own country.”

On November 2, the Allahabad High Court found the charges against him to be politically motivated and granted him bail. But as expected by Chandrashekhar Azad, the very next day, the Yogi Adityanath government detained him, Shri Soni and Shiv Kumar, the sarpanch of Shabbirpur, under the provisions of the NSA.

Chandrashekhar Azad’s failing health necessitated his admission to the Meerut District Hospital. Photographs of a wheelchair-bound Chandrashekhar Azad sent panic across social media, giving rise to suspicions of torture in prison. “Arrest and torture of Azad is not an isolated incident but an integral part of the anti-Dalit designs of the BJP governments in Uttar Pradesh and at the Centre on their way to establishing a Hindu Rashtra. Janhastakshep appeals to all the democratic forces and individuals to oppose the draconian measures of the government to crush dissent, right to expression and protest as part of the anti-Dalit, anti-minority, and anti-woman agenda of the National Democratic Alliance government,” said Ish Misra and Vikas Bajpai of the civil society group Janhastakshep in a statement.

The Dalit Shoshan Mukti Manch, in a letter to the National Human Rights Commission, requested it to intervene in the injustice meted out to Chandrashekhar Azad and others. Jignesh Mevani, the newly elected Member of the Legislative Assembly from Gujarat, is part of the Committee for the Defence of Bhim Army. Along with 40 other members of civil society, he has been campaigning for Chandrashekhar Azad’s release.

Divya Trivedi

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