A day after dalit rights activist and one of the founders of Bhim Army, Chandrashekhar Azad was arrested for extending support to people opposing the Citizenship Amendment Act, more dalit and tribal activists expressed their concerns about the implications of the Act and possible consequences of its linkage with the National Register of Citizens (NRC). Addressing a press conference in the national capital, the activists from Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Delhi said that the application of the Act, clubbed with the NRC, will have disastrous consequences given the rampant illiteracy and lack of awareness about maintaining documents in dalit and tribal communities.
Sushil Gautam, a dalit rights activist based in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, alleged that they are being persecuted for voicing their opinions. Gautam was arrested for taking out a march against CAA on December 15 by the Uttar Pradesh Police. He said, “The proposed CAA clubbed with NRC is a step towards making India a Hindu Rashtra (Nation). First of all, it alters the basic structure of the constitution by granting citizenship on the basis of religion. Second, we understand very well what will be the status of dalits and tribals in a Hindu Nation. Obviously, it will be governed by the rules of the caste system."
He recalled that the recent events in Uttar Pradesh are tantamount to robbing dalits of their voices. He said, “It is quite apparent that Uttar Pradesh Police and administration is working overtime to muzzle our voices. When the police came to know that we will be organising a march to protest against CAA, I was detained and taken to several places before being formally arrested. Then, they took my father into detention and kept him overnight in the police station without citing any reason. Since my arrest was shown under Section 151 of CrPC, I was entitled to bail on the same day of arrest but not only we were sent to jail, the administration is also demanding bonds worth Rs 2 lakh. We are being made to pay for raising our voices."
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Gautam further maintained that the symptoms of dalit agitation post the dilution of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and the anti-CAA protests are quite similar. He said, “During the Bharat Bandh, at least 11 dalit persons were killed. In these protests, too, at least 11 protesters have been gunned down. However, it is still not clear who gave permission to police to shoot at protesters. The responsibility for these killings must be taken.”
Besides Gautam, Kamesh Rattan, another dalit rights activist based in Bulandshahar, said that the persecution of dalit rights activists under the Yogi Adityanath led UP government has increased. He alleged that even the activists' families are not spared. He said, “When we were about to organise a protest in Chaudhary Charan Singh University, police came to my home and pressurised my parents to come back home. However, I was informed by my neighbour that the police has raided my home. So, I did not go to home. Since then, I am receiving threatening calls from police, for just organising a protest."
Pradeep Narwal, a Haryana based dalit rights activist, said that the deaths of protesters are being reported from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled states only. He alleged, “Reports of violence being instigated by the state machinery are coming from these states. We have seen much larger protests from Mumbai, Kerala, Bihar, Tamil Nadu but no violence was reported. Thus, the party must explain why brute force is being used against protesters and who are these people instigating violence in the garb of protesters."
Shubhanshu Singh, dalit rights activist and former joint secretary of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union, said that the Act brought by BJP deviates from the historical path suggested by the founding fathers of the Indian Constitution. He said, “Our founding fathers made it clear that secularism was the guiding principle of our freedom struggle. However, if I see it from a student's perspective when the campuses were raided, what I see is criminalisation of the protests. First, the police beat the students black and blue. Then, they registered cases against them too. We saw it in JNU when we were protesting against the fee hike. I think it's a disturbing trend which must be fought."
Also read: Anti-CAA Protests: Internet Shutdown, Violent Repression, 3 Dead, Yet Protesters Continue to Hit Streets