Not in Nitish-land: Cops hound Not In My Name protestors even after a month
Dr Saghir-uz-zaman is on the run these days. The principal of Soghra College in Bihar's Nalanda district has been on the Police's wanted list. His crime: giving permission for the use of his college as the starting point for a “Not In My Name” protest march last month.
Yes, you read that right.
About 20 days after the landmark mass protests against the lynching of Muslims and Dalits were held all over the country, the Nitish Kumar government stopped civil society members from contributing to the protests in his home district in Bihar.
In fact, the local administration in Bihar Sharif cracked down on the protestors, beat them up, jailed over 40 people and lodged an FIR against more than 500 others – 78 of them named and others unnamed.
Saghir-uz-zaman's name is on top of the list of those who were not arrested that fateful evening. He and many others are on the run. And their pleas for anticipatory bail are being rejected.
All the accused have been charged under at least 17 sections of the IPC, something that made the local court take such a serious view of the case that it denied them bail for over two weeks. The bails have started trickling in only now and about 10 of those arrested have been released. The administration continues to be on the look-out for the hundreds of others named in the FIR.
It all began on 17 July when hundreds of protestors, most of them Muslims and Dalits, had gathered at the college to take out the march. It was to have culminated about 1.5 kilometres away. The call for the march had been given out by Insaaf Manch, a civil society organisation, to express solidarity with the nationwide protests against the lynching of Muslims and Dalits.
The organisers say they had sought the administration's permission for the march much in advance but it was denied. On the declared date, protestors assembled at the starting point and as the march was about to begin, police arrived at the spot and asked that it be called off.
Those assembled protested, leading to a squabble with the police and that eventually lead to a fight between the protestors and the police. Police resorted to lathi-charge and allegedly beat up the protestors brutally, before rounding many up.
March would have clashed with a Hindu procession
While it is clear that the organisers erred initially by going ahead with the march in spite of the local administration's denial of permission, what is worth noting is the administration's partisan approach. The FIR in the case lodged by Circle Officer Sunil Kumar Verma mentioned that the permission was not granted because the day was the second Monday of the Hindu calendar's 'saavan' month.
The month itself is known for the worship of Lord Shiva across North India's Gangetic belt, in which hordes of worshipers go for padyatras (foot-marches) and processions. In Bihar Sharif, the month has additional significance because of a fair, the 'langot mela', that the 'Baba Maniram Ka Akhara' organises every year.
Devotees throng to the fair from far and wide to offer 'langots' on the shrine of a wrestler-saint in the town. The first such offering is made by the district administration itself, which inaugurates the festivities. This year too, district officer Tyagarajan S M and Superintendent of Police Kumar Ashish duly inaugurated the fair.
The same SP denied permission to the protest march, ordered the crack down on the 'Not In My Name' protest and made the arrests. A source told Catch the SP had direct orders from the highest levels in the state government.
Two days before the crackdown, the local unit of the Bajrang Dal had carried out a grand procession under full police protection, with several arrangements made by the administration. The procession featured chariots, elephants, camels and loud music. The processionists also reportedly brandished arms like sticks, swords, spears and choppers.
How is it that the same administration that saw a peaceful march for a secular social cause as a threat to communal harmony but provided full patronage to a religious procession where messages inciting violence were aired and weapons were brandished?
Organisers of the Insaaf Manch march say that the administration even cooked up charges against them that they indulged in firing and bombing. Nowhere in the FIR has the administration tried to substantiate its allegation.
Organisers have also alleged that after the crackdown, police officials forced journalists present at the location to delete video footage of the incident from all their devices.
It is significant to note that the state administration appears to have been wanting to stop these protests at a time when trouble was brewing in the governing Grand Alliance in the state. It was rumoured that Nitish Kumar was considering ditching the alliance to join the BJP-led NDA.
He eventually did the same about 10 days later.