Giving a go-by to the Maharashtra government’s resolution that cases against dalits implicated during and after the Bhima Koregoan riots in January 2018 will be taken back, the state police have begun filing chargesheets and sending extrenment orders against many dalits. This has given rise to a feeling among many Dalits who have been implicated in the cases that as elections approach, the police will step up harassment by taking them into custody or send externment orders. They are demanding that the state government should order the police to stop taking action against them.
In 2018, lakhs of dalits took to the streets on January 1, when riots took place in Bhima Koregaon, and on January 2 and 3 when a bandh was called against riots. A total of 655 crimes reports are lodged across Maharashtra and over 11,000 dalits who took to streets have implicated in various cases.
For years, lakhs of dalits have been visiting Bhima Koregoan Victory, 40 km from Pune, to commemorate the injured in 1818 battle in which the British Army comprising dalits defeated the Peshwa who was known as an oppressor of dalits. On January 1, 2018, when the Dalits had gathered in Bhima Koregaon, they were attacked, leading to violence which saw hundreds of Dalits injured and property worth crores damaged.
In March, 2018, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, in the state legislature, promised that all crime cases were of political nature and would be taken back. In October that year, the state government issued a resolution saying it was constituting the committee of one Director of General of Police and two Inspector Generals of Police and that the crime of attempt to murder, causing loss of public or private property more than Rs 10 lakh and attack on public servant would not be taken back.
As per the state government, the committee would talk to police officials in the respective districts and cities and find out the nature of cases and which among those could be taken back. It was to submit its report to the ministry. It was said then that if the committee recommended that crime cases in which property loss is more than Rs 10 lakh would be taken back, but only after discussion. In November, the state government announced that 592 cases out 655 would be taken back.
However, even after four months since the government resolution was issued, the committee was never formed though activists have been demanding it.
Despite the state’s promise, in Pimpri Chinchwad area, 20 FIRs are lodged; chargesheet is filed in 11 cases. Police are yet to identify the accused in seven cases and investigation of two has been going on. Over 16 people have been given summons to attend court hearings in which the chargesheet is filed.
Santosh Jogdand, one of the accused, said, “Crime against me does not fall in three categories but still the chargesheet has been filed in the case. We attended a court hearing in the last week of February but that has now been postponed to March 6.”
Suresh Nikalje, a member of Republican Party of India (Athawale group), said, “I have been given notice of externment on January 30 and I have to stay away from district for two years. The letter says that I am externed for five cases that are lodged against me. Three are from Bhima Koregaon riots and two are from 2015 and 2016. I don’t know why I was suddenly given a notice. I am a political activist and have been raising corruption issues. In the garb of Bhima Koregaon cases, I am being sent away before elections.”
Disha Wadekar, a lawyer of Bhima Koregoan Atyacharvirodi Kruti Samiti (Committee against injustice of Bhima Koregoan), said, “All these crimes are political and should be taken back. Now general elections are approaching and the Model Code of Conduct will be implemented soon. As a preventive measures, police will conduct enquiry, or issue notices to habitual offenders or some times even take them into custody. Police do not differentiate between political crime and regular crimes. They just pick up any criminal against whom cases are lodged. As a result, over 11,000 dalit are anxious that the police will harass them unnecessarily. Students or youth who are unemployed will have to face problems in colleges or in getting jobs. Besides, the police will have to invest extra time and energy to sort out cases that are political.”
Wadekar said, “The State government should give orders that till the time committee decides on each case, the police should not take action like sending summons, extenment orders or arrests.”
Sanjay Dabhade, another Dalit activist, said, “The conditions put in the GR regarding serious crimes like attempt to murder or attack on public servant would not be taken back. But if you see, the government has taken back old cases of rioting and more serious crimes against Sambhaji Bhide, Nilam Gorhe, Raju Shetty among others. Hence all the cases should be taken back without any such condition.”
Police officials from Pimpri Chinchwad said that they have not heard anything about the process of taking back cases.
Activists also demanded that the 543 cases lodged against the Marathas who participated in Maratha Kranti Morcha demanding reservations, should also be taken back as that is also mentioned in the same GR.
The writer is an independent journalist based in Pune.