No, he is not like Binayak Sen, who comes from a Bhadralok family with a postgraduate degree in medicine
from a prestigious medical school, an envi- able academic record and certain well- deserved decorations in his profession. Sudhir Dhawale is a prototype of a contem- porary dalit activist: he comes from a poor family, moderately educated and without any notable social acclaim. What makes them similar, apart from their unflinching dedication to the oppressed, is the neurotic behaviour of the State towards them. Binayak Sen’s case is by now world famous, tearing down the veneer of the Indian state’s 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 its intention to harm its own people, no matter how high the costs to the country. Binayak Sen’s case, given his credentials and record of service to the people, evoked the indignation of the middle classes against the treatment meted out to him by the State. Soon this indignation spread into a movement, joined by interna- tional solidarity groups, supported even by
22 Nobel Laureates from all over the world. The clamour for his release, however, over- shadowed the fact that there are 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 unprece- dented magnitude of the protest move- ment around Binayak Sen made one think that the foolhardy Chhattisgarh state would realise its mistake and seek an hon- ourable exit at the earliest opportune time. But to the dismay of many, the State, in its true fascist elements, persisted with the charges and opposed his bail tooth and nail. Luckily, bail was granted by the Supreme Court, which had rejected it previ-
ously, surprisingly without any argument.
side, and the ordeal of Binayak Sen and his family would come to an end. But they were rudely shattered by the court award- ing him and his co-accused, Piyush Guha and Narayan Sanyal, life imprisonment. Like many recent judgments, the court verdict reflected the executive’s intent, marring the much celebrated independ- ence of the judiciary. It was necessary for the State to come up with a face-saving move and it appears to have achieved pre- cisely that when the lower court confirmed the charges against Sen. The strategy was to show that Sen was not unnecessarily targeted as the accused, thus refuting the stand of the protest movement, and simul- taneously threaten the latter that it should not take on the state. It nearly boomer- anged because scores of intellectuals came out 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 some- one demonstrably innocent. But intoxi- cated with totalitarian power, it may not be rational. Although, technically Sen’s was the Chhattisgarh state’s affair, in real- ity, it echoed the anti-Naxal strategy of the centre. Other states could also demon- strate their prowess by creating their own Binayak Sens. As the campaign on Binayak Sen reached its high pitch, the Maharashtra government has gone ahead with a spree of arrests, one of which has already been likened to Binayak Sen’s.
Sudhir Dhawale, as Mumbai’s progressive circle knows, has been working as a free- lance journalist and full-time social worker since 1995. In 1999, he played a leading role in organising a Vidrohi Sahitya Sam- melan – opposing the state-sponsored brahmanical literary extravaganza – in Dharavi, 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
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Nagar (in Ghatkopar, Mumbai) while pro- testing the desecration of B R 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 turned into a Vidrohi Sanskru- tik Movement (rebel cultural movement), of which Sudhir was the main organiser. As a part of this movement, he launched a Vidrohi Prakashan with small donations and a loan and soon began publishing the monthly magazine Vidrohi, of which he was the editor. Besides, he has been writ- ing 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, to reach relief to victims of caste atrocities and helping them get justice. Some of the cases that he was involved in are the murder of Rohidas Tupe in Palgaon near Aurangabad, the Baban Misal killing in Nagar district, the liquidation of Sadahiv Salve Guruji at Mazhil in Beed district, the homicide of Rohan Kakade in Satara, the rape and murder of Manorama Kamble in Nagpur, the murder of Sahebrao Jondhale in Hingoli district, the Saujanya Jadhav case in Navi Mumbai, the incident of Meera Kamble who was paraded naked at Reay Road, Mumbai, the Ahiwale case in Satara district, and the murder of an old adivasi couple at Mauda in Nagpur district. He had also played a prom- inent role in the Khairlanji protests.
Sudhir’s activism was supported by a small sum of money donated by friends. His wife Darshana, once a noted social activist, worked as a nurse in Babasaheb Ambedkar Memorial Hospital, Byculla and took care of the household and their two children. Every- one in Mumbai’s progressive circles knew these facts. Perhaps that is why his recent arrest caused a spontaneous furore that crystallised into the formation of a commit- tee 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 atroci- ties on dalits at Wardha. According to the
police, one Bhimrao Bhoite, whom they claimed to be the state committee member of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), stated in his interrogation that he had given his computer to Sudhir. The latter was charged under sections 17, 20 and 39 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and sections 121/124(a) of the Indian Penal Code, which amounts to sedi- tion and declaration of war against the Indian state. The very next day, the Gondia and Mumbai police ransacked Sudhir’s house and took away his computer and 87 books, possession of none of which could be remotely illegal. The unlawful manner in which the raid was conducted impelled Darshana 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 union home minister, no one denies the police the right to interrogate Sudhir in order to be reasonably sure about his involvement in unlawful activities. Surely, someone alleg- edly giving the police somebody’s name does not constitute the basis to suspect the latter as an accomplice in the crime, partic- ularly when he is socially well known. Only after being reasonably sure about his crime, the police could arrest him. But the police pounced upon Sudhir, handcuffed him and slapped the package of charges they keep in stock for so-called Maoists.
Sudhir Dhawale’s arrest angered many people. In an almost unprecedented man- ner, all shades of dalits came together and voiced their protest in unison. A whole bunch of progressive Maharashtrians came out in active support. Protests are taking place
– almost daily – all over the state. A dele- gation of prominent people met the state home minister who assured them that he would ask the deputy inspector general of police to enquire into Sudhir’s arrest and not to harass him if he was not involved. On 12 January, Sudhir, along with six others, was produced before the court, which remanded him and one Shailesh Wakde to judicial custody, and extended the remand to police custody for the rest. It was expected that in face of the huge protest, the State would not play its worn out trick by slapping new charges once the accused is acquitted from the old ones. But
here the State did not even wait for the
court proceedings. It roped in Sudhir in an old case of putting up “Maoist” posters at Gondia and took him back into police custody. Quite like in the case of Binayak Sen, the evidence against the police charges is strong enough to expose the state’s mala fide intention. On the date when the “Maoist” posters were put up in Gondia, there was ample evidence that Sudhir was in Mumbai.
Caste, Class and Ideology
The bogey of Maoism is being unscrupu- lously used to repress the incipient demo- cratic dissent of dalits and adivasis. Most people arrested as Maoists in Maharashtra are dalits. The Maoist label overshadows their caste identity and renders them help- less. Although the ruling classes have suc- ceeded in decimating the dalit movement, the Ambedkarite consciousness among dalits in Maharashtra is alive and mani- fests itself in militant struggles against systemic injustice as in Khairlanji. It is this incipient dissent the state wants to nip in the bud by putting the label of Maoism on dalit youth. The same phenomenon is manifested in other states depending on the degree of dalit consciousness.
Having banned the CPI (Maoist) and its mass organisations in June 2009, belong- ing to them becomes an unlawful act attracting the draconian provisions of the UAPA and such other laws. The distinction between the organisation and the ideology is deliberately blurred and people are charged for being Maoists on the ridiculous evidence of possessing literature of Marx, Lenin, Mao and even Ambedkar. Many peo- ple 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 the charges but by then they undergo a mini- mum of three to four years of imprison- ment and police torture. Even if they were not Maoists to start with, by the time they come out of prison, they definitely embrace Maoist ideology. Police repression has thus been the biggest catalyst in manufacturing Maoists and the police their most effective recruitment agents. Every unlawful act of state repression has brought windfall bene- fits to the Maoists. It is high time people realised this fact and chastised the govern-
ment not to play foul with its own people.
Anand Teltumbde (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a writer and civil rights activist with the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights, Mumbai.
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