Bhim Army founder Chandrashekhar Azad Raavan has launched an indefinite hunger strike from Saharanpur district jail, where he is currently lodged. He launched his hunger strike in the aftermath of the nation-wide protests by Dalits on April 2nd against the dilution of the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) ACT
Kamal Walia, Bhim Army’s Saharanpur district chief and close confidant of Chandrashekhar told News 18 that “The Dalit community came out onto the streets to fight for their rights. The Constitution, which was framed by Baba Saheb Ambedkar, gives us that right. Yes, it is true that there was violence in some parts during the protests, but Dalits were the worst victims of it. Most people who died in these protests were Dalits. Since then, the police in UP and Uttarakhand have intensified their campaign against Dalits and Bhim Army activists”
Walia, who spent eight months with Azad in prison, added, “Scores of boys are being picked up in all districts of western UP, where Bhim Army is active. They are being picked up without any evidence against them. In Uttarakhand, even Dalit policemen are being looked at with suspicion. This is an unprecedented attack on Dalits and to protest this, Bhim Army founder Chandrashekhar Azad Raavan will launch a hunger strike against the BJP governments in these states and the Centre. Unless the activists, who have been unfairly held, are released, he will not end his fast.”
Vinay Ratan Singh, Bhim Army’s acting president, said, “We have recieved input from fellow Bahujan activists that RSS men infiltrated our protests on April 2. They instigated violence in different parts of the country so that our peaceful movement gets blamed.”
Azad is in prison since June 2017, put away as a threat to ‘national security’ for championing the cause of India’s Dalits – a community repeatedly subjected to racist violence, rape, inhumane untouchability practices, social, cultural and political discrimination. Due to the high level of impunity in cases involving Dalit victims, they have no way of asserting their rights through the judicial system.
Going beyond mere rhetoric Azad organised Dalits into the ‘Bhim Army’– named after Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar, one of India’s greatest intellectuals, who drafted the Indian Constitution. The Bhim Army’s main work has been to form over 300 study circles among Dalit students in western Uttar Pradesh to spread education and organise self-defence against violent attacks by high caste groups.
Azad was initially arrested on charges of ‘inciting violence’, following clashes between upper caste Rajputs and Dalits in Saharanpur district of Uttar Pradesh. In November 2017 the Allahabad High Court granted bail in all four cases against him and his associate Kamal Walia, observing the charges were false and politically motivated. The police could not provide evidence of Azad’s specific role in the incidents of violence or of possessing weapons of any kind.
The regime however promptly re-arrested Azad under the draconian National Security Act (NSA), that allows the state to put away anyone without bail for a year. The NSA is in a long line of Indian laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), that violate all known norms of civil rights and are used by the Indianauthorities to suppress democratic dissent.
Worryingly there are reports of attempts to break him both mentally and bodily while in prison, including through instigated attacks against him by other prisoners. Azad has also had to be hospitalized once due to ill-health and has expressed fears state authorities may try to physically eliminate him, under some pretext or the other.