देख ज़िन्दां के परे, रंग-ए-चमन, जोश-ए-बहार
रक्स करना है तो पॉंव की ज़ंजीर न देख – मजरूह सुल्तानपुरी
Look – beyond the the prison walls, the brilliance of flowers, the vitality of spring
If you must dance, ignore the chains that bind your feet – Majrooh Sultanpuri
Today, the scared Republic that has imprisoned its young idealistic fighter son, Chandrashekhar, is on trial. The Republic, scared of its own offspring, stands in the dock. This Republic Day, we must all answer how it came to pass that a gang of adventurers and marauders simply took it over, submitted it to their command, while all the elderly, wise men and women, watched. Today, when the Republic bondage we must seek answers from all those who watched helplessly – or self-righteously – as marauders took it over.
It is official now. A radiogram from the Deputy Secretary, Home, Govt of Uttar Pradesh to the Superintendent, Saharanpur District Jail, dated 23 January 2018, confirms the slapping of charges under the National Security Act, on Bhim Army founder, Chandrashekhar Azad ‘Ravan’. Pradeep Narwal, Coordinator, Committee for the Defence of Bhim Army, who met Chandrashekhar in jail yesterday, underlined how the Karni Sena activists attacking school buses and vandalizing schools were being allowed the freedom to do so while Chandrashekhar, responsible for setting up and running of schools (see the video below), is being held in jail for months and has now been slapped with charges under NSA. “Karni Sena are apparently deshbhakts and Shekher bhai and Bhim Army are ‘terrorists’ in the perverted logic of this government,” he said.
In conversations with friends and sympathizers who have been meeting him over the past months, including Pradeep Narwal, Chandrashekhar ‘Ravan’ has been expressing a fear that many of us have also had, independently, for some time now: that the government wants to actually get rid of him – just as judge Loya was, it now transpires. Why else is NSA invoked against Chandrashekhar on the very day that he got bail on the last of the 27 fabricated charges that were slapped on him? Friends and sympathizers have been shocked to see the way Chandrashekhar’s health had deteriorated some time ago and this young energetic man had to be wheeled in on a wheelchair to court. As we know, lack of proper medical attention when urgently required, can often be enough to accomplish what the powers-that-be want.
Who is Chandrashekhar Azad ‘Ravan’?
A young lawyer from the Chamar community, Chandrashekhar left legal practice in 2009 to devote himself full time to the cause of Dalits – for their liberation and their self-respect. The main work that the Bhim Army, founded by him, has been the setting up of pathshalas – schools – for Dalit children (though teachers in the schools point out that girls, in particular, from all castes are welcome to these schools). Chandrashekhar has been instrumental in mobilizing young educated girls and boys from within the community for the purpose of running these schools.
Chandrashekhar, like every charismatic leader, has his own distinctive manner of articulation and his own way of inspiring. “Babasaheb taught us to educate, organize and agitate. We have simply added another point to it: Self-respect,” he says in an interview. ‘Self-respect’ here is not a generic term – as, say, in the Self-Respect movement of early twentieth century in Tamil Nadu. It means something very specific here in Chandrashekhar’s vocabulary. It refers to the radical impulse to take over the derogatory caste names assigned to his ilk and deploy them as badges of honour. Thus the board that welcomed you at the entrance of his village Ghadkoli, bore in bold letters the words “The Great Indian Chamar”! Chandrashekhar sees himself as a follower of Dr B.R. Ambedkar but he does not hesitate to go beyond him as well in the manner of a true follower – a follower who is not a mere bhakt or an acolyte but one one who understands and remains faithful to the spirit of the leader. Babasaheb taught us, says Chandrashekhar, sometimes even giving Ambedkar his own very idiosyncratic interpretation, to work for the annihilation of caste, but he also taught us that if you fail to achieve it, wear your caste status on your sleeve with such pride that your oppressors will burn in the fire of their own hatred!
Whether Ambedkar actually uttered these words or not is not quite the point here. For Chandrashekhar was absolutely right. Prophetically right. Because as soon as the board announcing the “Great Indian Chamar” went up, it caused consternation among the Thakurs. So much that long before the big conflagration of April-May 2017, the very putting up of the board heightened tensions to such an extent and evoked such opposition from the Thakurs that that episode too ended in a violent confrontation with the Dalits of the area. In a manner of speaking, if one tears through the pall of lies and BJP government propaganda, it will be clear that two two episodes of violence are of a piece: they represent the Thakur (and more generally upper caste) intolerance at the growing assertion of the Dalits.
Chandrashekhar is clear that while he fully supports the great leaders of the Dalits right from Ambedkar to Kanshi Ram and Mayawati, he is also very critical of the way in which ‘behenji’ has distanced herself from the Dalit masses – no roadshows or public meetings like ‘manyavar Kanshi Ram’ but preferring to be airdropped on to already prepared daises and leaving immediately afterwards. Many ordinary Dalits in the area, who see Chandrashekhar as honest and totally dedicated to the cause of the Dalits, have been expressing a range of sentiments from disappointment to anger, at Mayawati’s indifference to the vicious repression unleashed on Bhim Army and the targeting of Chandrashekhar in particular.
The real significance of Chandrashekhar became evident when the administration had to decide to put him behind bars and there was such a groundswell of protest from Dalits all over that expressed itself in a mammoth rally in Delhi in May 2017. It was as if every one sporting a Chandrashekhar mask was proclaiming himself or herself to be Chandrashekhar – so different from the carefully choreographed and orchestrated Modi masks that we have been accustomed to seeing over the years. Chandrashekhar today is the name of a new revolution, the face of a new assertive and combative radical Dalit politics. It is a name that inspires many and a name that instills fear in some – no mean achievement for someone who has been around in public life for such a short time. Let the powers-that-be make no mistake. Chandrashekhar is an idea, a sentiment, a disposition. He cannot be stopped by putting him behind bars or removing him from the scene.
Let them also understand that any threat to his person will have tremendous negative impact for the regime and will galvanize struggles against continuing caste oppression all over northern India.