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Bhima-Koregaon: CM promise to withdraw cases proves hollow

September 21, 2018 09:29 IST

'We are known political activists, so the police put our names in.'
Jyoti Punwani reports from Pune.

Santosh Gaekwad

IMAGE: Santosh Gaekwad.

On March 13, 2018, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis announced in the Maharashtra Legislative Council that cases filed against Dalit protesters on January 2 and 3, 2018 would be withdrawn.

These protests were a reaction to the January 1 violence near Bhima-Koregaon.

The CM clarified that cases against history-sheeters and those who had indulged in serious violence would not be withdrawn.

In all, 620 cases had been filed, of which 300 to 350 were serious, Fadnavis said.

Six months after the CM's announcement, six Dalits received a notice from the Chaturshringi police summoning them to the police station in connection with a case filed against them on January 2, 2018.

These included Aundh residents and RPI (Athavale) activists Tukaram Gade, 52, and Satish Gaekwad, 34.

The notice mentioned CR 4/18, which was filed under sections 143 of the Indian Penal Code and sections 37 (1) (3) and 135 of the Bombay Police Act. These offences relate to being part of an unlawful assembly.

These are exactly the kind of minor offences for which the CM had promised action would not be taken.

 

According to the notice dated September 2, on January 2 at 11.15 am, one Satish Paval and 50 to 55 Dalits were shouting slogans near Dr Ambedkar's statue at Aundh, Pune.

When asked by the police whether they had taken permission for their andolan (campaign), they replied: 'We don't need permission to be here. Arrest us if you want.'

They then started shouting 'Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar cha vijay aso (Victory to Dr Ambedkar)' and other slogans. After the police persuaded them, they dispersed around 11.45 am.

Gade works as a painter and Gaekwad is a rickshaw-driver.

In their reply, filed through advocate Mohan Wadekar, they have pointed out that they are social workers, with no police record. In fact, says the reply, they are members of the Chaturshringi Police Station Peace Committee.

They further state that they were standing near the statue of Dr Ambedkar on January 2, but were not part of any andolan.

Complaining that their names have been added to the list of accused only on the basis of suspicion, they have asked the police to check the CCTV footage to verify their claim, and remove their names from the FIR.

Both Gade and Gaekwad said that in CR4/18, the name of Satish Paval and '50-55 others' is mentioned. Their names are not there.

"We are known political activists," they said. "So the police put our names in."

Many local Aundh residents often sit near Dr Ambedkar's statue, said Gade, since it is part of a busy market place. He often reads the newspapers there.

On January 2, he was sitting there and observing a group of Dalits raising slogans.

Gaekwad said he had always taken police permission to hold any programme. On January 2, he had gone near Dr Ambedkar's statue to see what was happening. "My community was protesting, I wanted to see what was happening," he said.

Both seemed unaware of Fadnavis' announcement about withdrawal of cases.

The chief minister made the announcement three months after violence broke out at Bhima-Koregaon on January 1, 2018.

Lakhs of Dalits had made their way to Bhima-Koregaon to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the battle between the British and the Peshwas, which the British won with Mahar soldiers fighting on their side.

However, their buses were stoned and many of them had to return without reaching Bhima- Koregaon.

A Maratha youth died and four were injured in the stone throwing. 60 policemen were also injured. 25 vehicles were burnt, 50 damaged. Dalit and Muslim properties were damaged.

The next day, there were protests by Dalits across the state, followed by a bandh on January 3. Apart from rasta and rail rokos, public buses including school buses, were vandalised on both days.

A Dalit teenager died in Nanded. His parents alleged that he died after a severe police lathi charge.

The first FIR on the January 1 violence, based on a complaint filed by Dalit activist Anita Sawale, blamed right-wing Hindu leaders Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote for the violence. However, the police did not arrest either.

Ekbote was arrested only on March 14 after the Supreme Court cancelled the interim bail it had granted him.

As for Bhide, Fadnavis gave him a clean chit in the assembly on March 28.

In May, five Left-leaning intellectuals were arrested for the January 1 violence. The government linked the violence to the speeches made at the Elgaar Parishad held on December 31, and blamed Maoists for backing the Parishad.

In August, five more activists were attempted to be arrested. They are still under house arrest.

Ekbote is out on bail. Bhide has not been arrested. And Fadnavis' promise on withdrawing cases against Dalit protesters has turned out to be hollow.

Jyoti Punwani