A national conglomerate of rights organisations has come out in support of the two publishers and as many poets-cum-book editors from Barnala and Patiala who are facing legal action for reprinting poetry of the late Babu Rajab Ali that carries caste-denoting words.

Act has been withdrawn against editors Sukhwinder SinghSwatantar and Jagjit Singh Sahoke, all four are still accused under section 153 ((promoting enmity on grounds of religion, race, etc)  of the IPC. And the SC/ST Act cases still stand against Sangam Publishers’ Ashok Garg of Samana (Patiala) and Amit Mittar of Tark Bharti Parkashan, Barnala. This exposes the anti-democratic nature of the government, of the electoral and identity politics, and the conflicted nature of the so-called rule of law,” recounts the statement issued by the CDRO (Co-ordination of Democratic Rights Organisations). 

The CDRO believes the controversy and protests are “obviously motivated”. “By all accounts the four accused have been targeted as they are progressive and Leftist voices supporting rights’ struggles of farmers and labourers across communities.”

It has also noted that the only reason why charges under SC/ST Act against Sahoke and Swatantar have been dropped is because “it has suddenly dawned on the Punjab police that the two are Dalits, and under the SC/ST Act only non-SCs and non-STs can be accused of atrocities”. HT had reported that the police lied about not knowing of the editors’ castes while levying the SC/ST act in the first place.

The act was withdrawn two weeks after the September 15 arrests, though three documents prepared right that day in both FIRs at Barnala and Samana mentioned the editors’ castes several times. The documents were signed by the DSPs, who are complainants in the cases.

The NGOs have also criticised the “continued application” of section 153 for “constant harassment and intimidation”, and also noted that “local electoral and caste politics over benefits of reservations have played a hand”.

“Allegations of casteism have been made by some Balmiki and Mazhabi Sikhs…Balmiki organisations have been agitating for sub-reservations of 12.5% alleging that the benefits of reservation are garnered largely by the Chamar community. The Badal government has assured them of restoration of the sub-reservation. Thus, the acts of omission and commission on the part of the administration stand explained.”

The CDRO has demanded dropping of all charges against the accused, arrest of officers under the SC/ST Act for atrocities against Swatantar and Sahoke, and for wrongful arrest; arrest of those responsible for filing false FIRs; and removal of section 153 and all such “undemocratic” sections from the IPC.

The CDRO comprises the Association for Democratic Rights, Punjab; Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee; Association for Protection of Democratic Rights and Bandi Mukti Committee, West Bengal; Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights, Mumbai; Coordination for Human Rights, Manipur; Human Rights Forum, Andhra Pradesh; Lokshahi Hak Sangathana, Maharashtra; Manab Adhikar Sangram Samiti, Assam; Naga Peoples Movement for Human Rights; Organisation for Protection of Democratic Rights, Andhra; People’s Committee for Human Rights, J&K; People’s Democratic Forum, Karnataka; People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Chhatisgarh, Jharkhand, Nagpur, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu units; People’s Union For Democratic Rights, Delhi; People’s Union for Human Rights, Haryana; and Assansol Civil Rights Association.