New Delhi: While Bhim Army’s Chandrashekhar Azad is lodged in a jail cell for his alleged role in fanning the caste-based Saharanpur riots, his outfit has been demanding his release. On Sunday, Bhim Army hit the streets again, in a massive show of strength, with another demonstration at New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar. In the absence of the 30-year-old lawyer-turned-activist, Chandrashekhar’s mother Kamlesh Devi and brothers Bhagat Singh and Kamal Kishor addressed supporters. Kamlesh Devi spoke to News18’s Uday Singh Rana. Edited excerpts:
When did Chandrashekhar the lawyer become an activist?
Five years ago, Chandrashekhar was just another lawyer in Dehradun. There was a school in Chutmalpur, our hometown in Saharanpur, where Dalits sent their kids to study. The local Rajputs kicked up a storm about their children studying alongside ours. They would not allow the children to go to school and considered them ‘untouchables’. They told the kids to continue doing the work their parents did. The kids, who looked up to Chandrashekhar, came running to him and told them about what was happening. When things did not improve, my son launched an agitation and ensured that the kids got their rights. After this incident, there was an awakening inside him. Soon after, he formed the Bhim Army.
Your son is the activist in the family but this time, even you felt compelled to hit the streets. Why so?
I am in a very difficult position. I had no other option left. If someone’s son is branded a terrorist and is lodged in jail, what choice does a mother have? Will she not hit the streets?
What are your demands from the UP government?
First of all, the government must ensure that officials do not behave in a partisan way. Secondly, all innocent persons must be released. That includes not only my son but also many innocent young Dalit men from Saharanpur.
But the state government has levelled pretty serious charges against your son. They accused him of rioting.
All allegations are false. There is no truth in them.
You have three sons. Two of them — Chandrashekhar Azad and Bhagat Singh — are named after revolutionary freedom fighters. Was that a conscious decision?
Their father, who was a primary school teacher in Chutmalpur, named them after freedom fighters. He saw discrimination first hand. Dalit teachers were asked to get separate utensils for food and separate lotas (mugs) for water. He named his eldest son Bhagat Singh and his second son Chandrashekhar Azad. These are names of revolutionary freedom fighters. He wanted his sons to bring some change. Today, Chandrashekhar is a Dalit revolutionary. I am proud that my sons, including Kamal Kishor, the youngest, are working for the betterment of Dalits.
But Chandrashekhar went ahead and added ‘Ravan’ to his name. Why identify with the villain in the Ramayana?
Ravan was someone who was a scholar and was ready to fight for his sister’s honour. Chandrashekhar can go to any lengths to protect the honour of his community and yet, he won’t do injustice to anybody else.
As a mother, what do you hope for his future?
We were always poor but I made sure my sons never slept on the floor. But today, he is sleeping in a jail cell for the sake of his community. Only a revolutionary can go through so much suffering for his people. As a mother, I am very proud of him.
Do you think he should join politics and fight elections?
No. He has no interest in fighting elections or joining politics. I would also advise him not to join politics. He is doing work for his community and is happy with that work. I am proud of what he does. What is the need to join politics?
A lot of women have been turning up at the Bhim Army protests recently. What is your message to them?
Women have to play a very important role in the movement. Look at me. I am an old lady and have been meeting Chandrashekhar’s followers wherever I go. I have been speaking so much that my throat has started to hurt. But women have to be equal partners in the movement, especially when the men are in jail. I want to tell all Dalit mothers and sisters that now is the time to hit the streets. The time to tolerate oppression has gone.