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Haryana Dalits slapped with sedition: police goof-up or arm-twisting tactic?

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 16 June 2017, 19:42 IST
(Sanjeev Verma/Hindustan Times/Getty Images)

Fifteen Dalits in Karnal, Haryana, were recently slapped with sedition charges.

Was it a goof-up by the Haryana Police? Or is it part of an intentional strategy to prevent Dalits from raising their voice?

These are the questions that have taken centrestage in the aftermath of the incident.

The Patherhedi incident

The reason for the sedition charges was the Dalits' allegedly provocative speeches and disaffection against the government during a protest demanding the release of four Dalits, who were arrested for the murder of a Rajput during inter-caste clashes at Patherhedi village in Ambala on the eve of Holi, when Dalits had organised a Satsang which was allegedly disrupted by some Rajput youth.

The theatre of protest had shifted to Karan Park in Karnal, because it is the home town of Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, and there is a mini secretariat located there. It was here that the Dalits had protested for six days from 21-26 April, and finally, a delegation from among them had met Khattar on 24 April, seeking a fair investigation in the matter.

Ironically, those booked are the same people who were a part of this delegation.

Haryana's history of targeting Dalits

The issue has drawn strong reactions from various corners, and the state government has much to answer for about the manner in which the charges were slapped.

Those from civil society organisations who have been investigating the matter say there have been no proceedings in the case yet, and neither have there been any arrests.

A team from the People's Union for Civil Rights (PUCR), Haryana, that carried out on-the-spot investigations into the matter, has raised questions over the police not making the FIR public.

“We will take legal recourse and approach the courts if the false cases against these Dalits are not withdrawn and the charges of sedition are not canceled,” said Ankit Grewal, a member of PUCR Haryana.

He further told Catch: “Either the police have realised that it was a goof-up, or they intend to let the FIR lie dormant and use it as an arm-twisting tactic as and when the need occurs.”

He said the PUCR team was denied a copy of the FIR on the grounds that the offence was sensitive in nature, and it was a mater of 'national security'. They were told that the dharna by the Dalits was not peaceful, and had been staged without permission. In addition to this, some 'anti-national' slogans had also been raised.

He said that while the Superintendent of Police in Karnal, Jashandeep Singh Randhawa, had said he was not aware of any sedition charge in the case, his subordinates were adamant in letting the charges stand.

The PUCR, in a statement, has pointed out that Haryana has a history of registering sedition cases against social activists and Dalits. “During 2007 to 2009, there were no less than 100 cases of sedition, and not a single conviction could be secured,” said Grewal.

The PUCR statement reads: “We take objection to registration of charges under 124-A of IPC. In the current times, any objection or dissent against the government and its policies is seen as a threat to 'sovereignty' and 'integrity' of India, and it has become fashionable to slap sedition charges, without any application of mind, even in such a case where a delegation of people was merely going to meet the chief minister.”

PUCR has further pointed: “The present FIR also proves the 'Hindutvavadi' RSS agenda on which the Khattar government is working, and also displays the shallowness of Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi's statement, that those who want to shoot should shoot him rather than a Dalit.”

The organisation has demanded that the Haryana government immediately stop witch-hunting Dalit activists. It has further demanded suspension and disciplinary action against officers for the politically-motivated mishandling of the Patherhedi case, and malicious misuse of the provision of sedition.

Two of those booked are students of Kurukshetra University, while the remaining are activists of Ambedkar Yuva Manch and other Dalit organisations.

In his reaction to this case, youth Dalit leader from Gujarat, Jignesh Mevani, posted on his Facebook wall: “It is evident that the BJP government has started a war against the people of the country. This tandav of fascism will finish off India. There is no other alternative than a revolution.”

Dalits bodies have called for a protest demonstration on 20 June.

First published: 16 June 2017, 19:42 IST