A day after Vadgam MLA Jignesh Mevani reached Gujarat after being released from jail in Assam, a magisterial court of Mehsana convicted Mevani and 11 others in a case of unlawful assembly in the year 2017.
The case was filed against the 12 people for holding a rally in Mehsana town in July 2017 without police permission. All the convicts – Subodh Parmar, Kaushik Parmar, Ramoji Parmar, Kholidas Chauhan, Gautam Srimali, Kail Shah, Arvind Parmar, Jyotiram Parmar, Lalji Mehariya, Reshma Patel and Mevani- have been sentenced to three months imprisonment and a fine of Rs 1,000 each.
The court of additional chief judicial magistrate JA Parmar, while passing the judgement, observed, “It is not an offence to hold a rally, but it is an offence to hold a rally without permission,” adding that “disobedience can never be tolerated.”
Kaushik Parmar, a resident of Mehsana and a member of Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch (RDAM), a dalit rights organisation floated by Mevani in 2016, had sought permission for the rally under the banner of the organisation from the Mehsana executive magistrate. The permission that was granted initially was later revoked by the authorities, and the organisers had decided to go ahead with the rally.
The rally was called to commemorate one year of the incident of public flogging of dalits of sarvaiya family in Una. On July 11, 2017, Mevani and his associates led the Azadi Kooch rally from Mehsana to Dhanera in Banaskantha, North Gujarat.
“I respect the judiciary and have faith in it, so I will appeal against this conviction in sessions court and hope to get justice. I feel happy and content that this case was filed against us for a rally that helped a poor dalit family claim a piece of land allotted to them 50 years ago. The family now cultivates the land and earns livelihood from it,” said Mevani, who had reached Gujarat from Assam on May 4 after being granted bail in two separate cases.
Mevani returned to Gujarat on May 4.
“This (Gujarat) government doesn’t seem to be interested in getting convictions for those accused in cases of rape, murder, drugs, and huge scams. Instead, the government put so much effort into filing and pursuing a simple case of whether a rally had permission to be taken out or not. It is nothing but the state Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government’s way of coming at me. The government is so relentless in defeating me that they jailed me 2,500 kilometres away from my home state in Assam. This shows how scared the government is of a first-time independent MLA who just joined the opposition party,” added Mevani.
The Azadi Kooch rally began on July 11 from Mehsana. One of its aims was to claim 12 acres of land that belonged to four dalit families in Lavara, a village in the Dhanera taluka, Banaskantha district.
However, on July 17, when the rally had stopped at Soneth village, the core teams of the RDAM and Banaskantha Dalit Sangathan, a local dalit rights organisation that participated in the rally, were informed that the Banaskantha district collector, Dileep Rana, had taken up the matter, and the concerned piece of land shall be handed over to the families peacefully.
However, the dalit villagers from Lavara reached Dhanera on July 18 to inform the rally that people from the darbar community who had illegally taken possession of the land were threatening the dalits after the collector made his announcement.
Bijabhai, a resident of Lavara, told Mevani that Harchanbhai Kasabhai Solanki, who had threatened, was the then sarpanch of the village, and the dalits of Lavara were scared.
Mevani then announced that the rally shall march to the Dhanera police station and sit on a dharna until an FIR is filed against the people of the darbar community. Following this, the Dhanera police swung into action and agreed to file an FIR on the spot.
However, in his speech from the stage of Azadi Kooch in Dhanera, Mevani announced, “The rally will march till Lavara and make sure the four dalit families, who have been waiting for their land for 50 years, receive what is rightfully theirs. This is a symbolic act that marks the beginning of a long struggle for land for the landless, which has been at the core of this movement. More than one lakh acres of land had been allotted to landless families under the Land Ceiling Act 1961, but only on paper. Most of the beneficiaries are dalits. About 6,000 acres of this land falls in the Banaskantha district.”
On July 18, as the rally culminated in Lavara village, a group of about 20 people led by Mevani planted the symbolic blue Ambedkaraite flag on the contested land to ensure that it was handed over to its rightful owners –Harchanbhai, Punjabhai Solanki, Trijaben Solanki and Kantibhai Harchanbhai Solanki.
Each of the dalit families now has three acres of land that they cultivate and depend on for livelihood.