“I will stand by freedom of speech”A well-known dalit writer is arrested for a facebook post on the suspension of IAS officerDurga Nagpal and the demolition of a madrassa. RUKMINI SEN talks to Kanwal Bharti Dalit writer Kanwal Bharti , A free Speech Hub- The Hoot Story
A night in custody has not dampened the spirit of well-known dalit writer Kanwal Bharti, who was arrested on August 6 for two Facebook posts on the role of the Samajwadi Party (SP) in the demolition of a 200-year old madrassa in Rampur, Uttar Pradesh (UP). Bharti was released the next day on bail after a court said police brought no evidence of a criminal case against him.
However, his travails continued, as anonymous people threatened him. His computer, containing unpublished writings and manuscripts, was seized by police and has still not been returned to him. Bharti now plans to file a petition against the police and move the Allahabad high court for the sake of his family’s security.
Bharti has written over 15 books, articles, poetry and reports on the live of dalits. His books and writings are prescribed in the curriculum of several universities. In this interview, he speaks of the circumstances surrounding his arrest and his determination to speak out.
Q : Why were you arrested under Sec (153 A) and Sec 295 A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) (Sec 153 A :provocation with intent to cause riot and Sec 295 A: deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs).
Ans : I was arrested simply because I spoke against the Taanashah (dictator) Azam Khan (Uttar Pradesh’s Urban Development minister). This is for the first time, in the history of Rampur, that not only me but the people of Rampur have expressed their anger against Azam Khan. I stand by my facebook post where I have questioned why SP government didn’t take any action when a 200-year old madarsa was brought down in Rampur.
I maintain it (my arrest) was because Azam Khan didn’t let anyone protest. We were all upset and disappointed when the madarsa was brought down. Why didn’t Azam Khan stand by his people? And by the heritage of Rampur then? Akhilesh (Akhilesh Yadav, UP Chief Minister) should come to Rampur and see Azam Khan’s dadagiri here.
Q: Is your anger directed more towards Azam Khan than the SP?
Ans: There is no Akhilesh, no SP in Rampur. It is only Azam Khan’s raj. He can do anything arbitrarily here. The case was filed against me by Azam’s people. Muslims of Rampur are with me. Who are these Ulemas people are talking about? Where were these Ulemas when the Madarsa fell? Azam is trying to divide Muslims and Dalits here. But in Rampur and across the country, Muslims, Dalit and all communities and people have shown solidarity and support towards me.
Q: This is pre-election year. Strong anti-muslim feelings are being promoted by some political parties. I noticed on social networking sites some people have read and interpreted your statement as anti-muslim as your support to the IAS officer Durga Shakti Nagpal is being interpreted as support to her directives to break the alleged mosque wall. Are you finding these simplistic readings problematic?
Ans : Political parties and, right now. some rabid supporters of some parties may try using my name and my protest against Azam Khan for their benefit. I am not anti-muslim. Was Durga Shakti really there when the illegal construction was being brought down? Was the construction really a mosque? We are all unclear about that.
What is the extent of support provided to sand mafia in this whole deal? We don’t know the details of that either. It may be a mix of a lot of things. By no means will I support demolition of a mosque and likewise I won’t support demolition of Rampur’s 200 year old Madarsa. How am I anti muslim? I am asking Azam Khan where he was when the Madarsa was brought down? Why is his position in Noida different from Rampur? Why are my questions being seen as threat to my country?
I also want to reiterate that I had protested against Durga Shakti’s suspension. I stand by my protest and I maintain my protest against the demolition of 200-year old Madarsa which was my city’s heritage. That is all.
Q: You have continued to receive threats. Do you feel intimidated?
Ans: I will stand by freedom of speech. They incarcerated me. So what? I will continue to ask why the Jwalanagar’s Sabzi Mandi was brought down in Rampur? These were 25-30 year old shops. People’s livlihood depended on their shops. Some twenty-two shops in Civil Lines were brought down. Quite unfairly yet again. Where was Azam Khan?
Q: How do you think the Samajwadi Party handled the criticism?
Ans : What kind of Samajwaadi party is this? They are a bad name for socialism. They are not socialists but dictators. The Chief Minister should come to Rampur and see the reality with his eyes. He should ask why 600 houses of Indira Colony should suffer the fate Azam Khan has planned for them? They can put me behind bars but I will continue to challenge Azam Khan’s secularism and socialism in Rampur.
I don’t consider SP to be communal. But the truth is that there is no SP in Rampur, no Akhilseh or Mulayam. It is only Azam Khan who rules in Rampur. I consider Azam Khan opportunist.
Q: You are seen as a well-known dalit ideologue. Do you think you were arrested because you are Dalit?
Ans: Well, I was taken to jail in my pajamas and gunjee at seven-thirty in the morning. I was not allowed to put on a shirt. Is that a regular practice? Can you humiliate just about any writer like that? Is there nothing inherent about caste politics in this treatment?
Having said that, I will like to believe that this is a regular practice in Azam Khan’s gunda raj that absolutely rubbishes all democratic values. It doesn’t matter whether he treated me like this because I am Dalit or not. What matters is that I have the support of all people not just any one community. Azam Khan and RSS have the same agenda in this country. Azam Khan wants a Dalit-Muslim riot in Rampur but people of Rampur are smart. Muslims of my city have shown amazing solidarity. They are happy that I brought up the issue of Madarsa. Let me tell you fear of Azam Khan is vanishing from the hearts of Rampur people.
These fascists may think they can rule by suppressing people’s feelings but such things don’t last for long. We democrats will die for democracy, freedom of speech and dignity of people.