Jharkhand Police on Saturday, May 25, arrested tribal theatre activist and teacher Jeetrai Hansda in Jamshedpur over a two-year-old Facebook post in which he had defended beef eating and the ceremonial cow slaughter in the community festival of Jaher Dangri Bhadan. He was booked under sections 153 (A), 295A, 505 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for hurting religious sentiments and attempting to promote enmity between people.
Rajeev Singh, the officer-in-charge of Sakchi police station said, "Hansda has been booked under various sections of the IPC and the IT Act, and the process to forward him to judicial custody is currently underway."
The First Information Report stated that Hansda also demanded revoking of the law prohibiting consumption of beef and killing of cow, oxen and ox. The timing of the arrest has been by many, as people suggested that the arrest was not done prior to elections to avert the anguish of the community.
Prior to his arrest, Hansda told The Telegraph that he has no regrets about his statement on beef eating. “I stand by my statement. (Beef-eating) is considered objectionable for society but is part and parcel of our tribal culture. But certain things I had posted were wrong; I should not have put it like that,” Telegraph quoted Hansda as saying.
The post was written soon after the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in June 2017 banned cattle slaughter and imposed restrictions on the sale of cattle at market places. It read, "The tribal community consumes beef and sacrifice it in our Jaher Dangri Bhadan festival. As per national law, should we abandon its consumption, stop our ritual ceremonies? Why should we live like Hindus?....If you really consider us India's part, stop enacting such legislations which disrupt peace in the country."
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Soon after the post, Hansda witnessed two separate complaints; one by Anil Kumar Singh, then officer-in-charge of Sakchi Police Station and another by the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad, student wing of Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh to the Principal of Government School and College for Women demanding his suspension. However, the complaints were vehemently opposed by Dasmath Hansdah, the chief of Majhi Pargana Mahal, a tribal body working for the preservation of traditions, in a letter written to the vice-chancellor of Kolhan University. Written in Hindi, the letter emphasised the post written by Hansda does not have a single false word and accurately represents the cultural and religious traditions of the community and their eating habits.
Lambasting the complaints regarding promoting enmity within people, Hansda in his letter had said, "Tribals are also citizens of India and they also enjoy a democratic right to follow our cultural and religious traditions....If the Central government brings such legislations, it will endanger tribal traditions and religious beliefs." A report by Huffington Post quoting another acquaintance of Hansda said that he was suspended despite repeated requests by the different tribal groups. Hansda's wife Soren, quoted by the report, also questioned the stand of local police that he was absconding after the chargesheet was filed.
“The police used to come to our house now and then and ask for him. They would come at times he was not at home. Soon they declared him absconding. They kept asking us to tell him to surrender. But he was determined to fight it," Mahi Soren was quoted by Huffington Post as saying.
The arrest has been condemned by tribal activists and theatre personalities alike. In a statement, Jharkhandi Bhasha Sahitya Sanskriti Akhada, a body engaged in conservation of tribal traditions, said, "Hansda did not write anything against the Constitution of India and only reflected on the cultures and traditions of the community. We demand unconditional release of Hansda."
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Responding to the incident, Amitesh Grover, who mentored Hansda at National School of Drama, said, "This is shocking. Jeetrai Hansda is a prominent adivasi activist and theatre artist. He is a former student of mine at NSD, someone who always surprised me with his determination to employ his art for social and political empowerment." He added, “As an artist and citizen of this country, he is within his constitutional rights to assert the traditions and identity of his community."