After 15 Months in Jail, 

The Dalit rights activist, accused in the 2017 violence in Saharanpur and booked under the NSA, was to be released on November 1.

Chandrashekhar was booked for his alleged role in last year’s caste violence in Saharanpur district, involving Dalits and upper caste Thakurs.

In a major decision, the Yogi Adityanath-led Uttar Pradesh government on Thursday decided the early release from jail of Bhim Army Chief Chandrashekhar Ravan, who is behind bars on NSA charges after last year’s Saharanpur caste violence. He was to be released on November 1.

Mr. Chandrashekhar was booked for his alleged role in last year’s caste violence in Saharanpur district, involving Dalits and upper caste Thakurs.

The UP department, which is under CM Adityanath himself, in a statement said the decision was taken on sympathetic grounds taking into consideration the representations by Mr. Chandrashekhar’s mother and the “current situation.”

The NSA allows the state government to detain any person it feels poses a ‘threat to the security of India’ or could ‘disrupt public order’. Its application is to be renewed every three months if the government is of the opinion that the person continues to be a threat. The application of NSA on Azad was last renewed in July and would have lapsed again in November.

Now, according to police sources in Saharanpur, they are waiting for the order to reach them and will release the three accused as soon as it does. Members of the Bhim army and Azad’s family have gathered outside the Saharanpur jail.

Azad’s family and Bhim Army member outside Saharanpur jail. Credit: Abrar Ahmed

“This is a victory for us and the confidence that people had in Chandrashekhar Azad. I also appeal to people to celebrate this occasion but abide by the constitutional values that we stand by,” said Kamal Walia, district president, Bhim Army, Saharanpur.

Violence broke out in Saharanpur last year after tensions had began in April over the installation of a Ambedkar statue in Shabbirpur. The Dalits wanted the statue to be installed in the Ravidas temple in the village and the dominant Thakur community objected. The police urged the Dalit community to not install the statue in the ‘interest of peace’.

On May 5, 2017, the Thakur community took out a procession commemorating Maharana Pratap. The Dalit community objected because the “DJ was too loud”. This led to violence as a mob armed with swords, thick bamboo sticks, country-made revolvers and bottles filled with petrol ransacked the Dalit ghetto of the village, burning down 55 homes. Several Dalits were grievously injured. One member of the Thakur community died. Five Dalits were booked for murder.

A few days after the violence, the Bhim Army – a small and relatively unknown Dalit social organisation at the time led by Azad – called for a mahapanchayat in Saharanpur town to protest against the violence in Shabbirpur. The police denied them permission and the protest turned violent as vehicles were set ablaze, stones were pelted and a police post was damaged.

Cases were registered against almost every known member of the Bhim Army, and they rose to national prominence while in hiding. Its founder, Chandrashekhar, a lawyer from the village of Chhutmalpur, gained the status of a young Dalit icon, and the Bhim Army became a symbol of Dalit assertion.

In June, Chandrashekhar was arrested along with several other members of the Bhim Army. The five Dalits from Shabbirpur charged with murder had already been arrested earlier.

On October 15, two of the five charged with murder were booked under the draconian NSA. A couple weeks later, on November 3, Chandrashekhar too was booked under the NSA, a day after he had been granted bail by the Allahabad high court on the charges that the police had filed.

The Hindu