Thousands of members and supporters of the Bhim Army, an organisation championing the Dalit cause, gathered at Jantar Mantar on Sunday, demanding the release of their leader Chandrasekhar Azad.
Mr. Azad was arrested by the Uttar Pradesh Special Task Force (STF) and Special Investigative Team (SIT) from Himachal Pradesh’s Dalhousie on June 8.
According to Bhim Army leaders, Mr. Azad has been falsely implicated in over 47 cases.
His mother Kamlesh Devi, who was mobilising groups of women, addressed an excited crowd sporting blue ‘Jai Bhim’ caps.
Cries of ‘Jai Bhim’ rang across Jantar Mantar, with several smaller organisations like the Dalit Sangarsh Morcha, Yuva Shakti Dal and Krantikari Yuva Sangathan joining in from western U.P., Punjab, Rajasthan and Delhi.
“I’m proud of my son and all the others who don’t hesitate in laying down their lives for the cause of the Dalits. For ages, upper caste zamindars have trampled over us. It’s time to rise,” said Ms. Devi, adding that her son had been targeted for speaking up about atrocities against Dalits in U.P.
She threatened to go on an indefinite hunger strike till her son and other Bhim Army leaders are released.
“I don’t trust the Narendra Modi government or the Yogi Adityanath government. It is after Mr. Adityanath came to power that the violence against us intensified,” she added.
‘Youth won’t stay silent’
Among others present at the protest were Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP) founder Kanshi Ram’s sister Swarn Kaur. “This is the rise of a new movement against atrocities the upper caste people have been meting out to us. The youth have shown that they won’t stay silent; they will raise their voice against what is wrong,” Ms. Kaur told the crowd.
Sheetal, a 38-year-old from Shimlana, said she had come with her family to support Ms. Devi because atrocities against Dalits, especially women, had become routine in parts of U.P.
“They don’t allow our children to get educated because they don’t want us to raise our voice against them. The ones who have protested have been beaten up or locked up,” said Ms. Sheetal.
Threat of violence
Yuva Shakti Dal leader Ravi Gautam said if the government doesn’t free Mr. Azad, they would camp at Jantar Mantar, and even resort to violence.
“We won’t guarantee what may happen if our leader is not let off,” warned Mr. Gautam.
He also read out a message from Mr. Azad, urging the women to keep up their faith in the Bhim Army.
The protest had begun after a clash between the Dalits and Thakurs in U.P’s Saharanpur during the birth anniversary celebrations of Maharana Pratap.
The skirmish took place on May 5, when a mob, allegedly from the Thakur community, ransacked and burnt 25 houses belonging to the Dalits.
Also, they allegedly injured 15 members of the community.