Maharashtra Police is getting entangled in its own web by raiding the homes of social activists who are fighting for the rights of Dalits and Adivasis. On 31 August, Additional Director General (Law & Order) Parambir Singh told a crowded press conference in Mumbai that social activist and lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj had written a letter to a Comrade Prakash. Reading out the contents of the letter, he claimed “she is involved in many anti-national activities, including ‘urban naxal terrorism’.” He also added that Degree Prasad Chouhan had carried out an operation clandestinely for which he was to be paid money.
Sudha Bharadwaj has dismissed outright the letter displayed by Parambir Singh as forged and has issued a letter through her lawyer charging the Maharashtra Police of hatching a conspiracy against her. She has stated that she has been raising her voice against the exploitation of Dalits and Adivasis in different parts of the country and that she is acquainted with Degree Prasad Chouhan. According to her, Degree Prasad Chouhan is a lawyer and human rights activist who has brought to the attention of the judiciary several cases of human rights violation.
Who is Degree Prasad Chauhan?
Sudha Bharadwaj is right about Degree Prasad Chouhan but that’s not all who he is. She may not be aware of all the movements he has launched.
Degree Prasad Chouhan is a lawyer. Associated with the National Human Law Network, Chouhan offers legal service to Adivasis in Chhattisgarh. He has also started a movement against cultural imperialism. He has remained active in the Adivasi movement that seeks to reclaim their ancestors Ravana and Mahisasur.
In 2017, when Lokesh Sori filed a case against the organizers of Durga Puja in Pakhanjore, Chhattisgarh, the police arrested and jailed Sori himself. Degree Prasad Chouhan joined the struggle against this act of cultural imperialism. He constantly raised his voice for Sori.
Chouhan was born into the Ganda caste (Scheduled Caste) in Daradoli, near Mahanadi, 35 km away from the headquarters of Raigarh district in Chhattisgarh. Economically, it is an extremely backward area. His father was a postman and was somehow managing to make both ends meet.
Chouhan had his primary education in the village itself. His high school was 15 kilometres away and he used to do the trip every day. He went to Raigarh for higher education. He began writing for newspapers. In 2010, he got a teaching position in a government school. For three years, he worked in an Adivasi-dominated region in Dharamjaigarh. Then, he was transferred to Pusaur tehsil. He joined the association of teachers, only to discover that it was controlled by the upper castes. So, Chouhan launched a separate association, earning a suspension for this act. He went on study law and become a lawyer. In 2016, he resigned from his teaching position.
Chouhan has been working for the rights of Dalits and adivasis for the last 15 years. He has organized peoples’ movements against land grab by various mining corporate companies and in support of the Adivasis who have been displaced as a result. He has fought legal battles for securing land rights of Adivasis and has constantly raised the issue of the killing of Adivasis in “fake encounters” (staged shootouts).
It is obvious that the State is going to treat these activities as being against its interests.
Chouhan says he has so far lodged 98 complaints against multinational companies and government officials. The government took notice of him for the first time when he organized a protest movement along with Amnesty International India and other organizations against industrialists involved in land grab in Adivasi areas of Raigarh district using non-Adivasis as conduits. The movement turned out to be a success.
A few years ago, Chouhan joined the battle against cultural and social hegemony. He opposed the burning of Ravana’s effigy. He organized a movement against idols depicting the killing of Mahishasur by Durga. He says Brahmanism has exploited Mulnivasis using superstition.
About the letter in which his name allegedly appears, Chouhan says, “It is a forged letter. This is not the first incident. I have been framed many times in fake cases while fighting for the rights of Dalits and Adivasis. I have been put behind bars for months. The police have conspired to link me to the Naxals earlier, too, even though I’m not associated with violent movements whatsoever.”
Chouhan told FORWARD Press over the phone: “Following our struggle in support of cultural movements and Tribal Land Act, a lot of people who are very powerful are a worried lot. Last year, when I was travelling through areas of Kharsia, Jashpur, Bundeli and Mahasamund, sarpanchs of several panchayats gave me in writing that we would not allow the burning of effigies of Ravana and Mahishasur. We have raised our voice in support of Dalit-Adivasi myths and against brahmanical cultural imperialism. Our struggle is against the Hindu brahmanical social system. Hindu Dwijs are not only appropriating our resources but they are also imposing their violent and hegemonic culture. I’m being linked to Bhima-Koregaon incident because I’m fighting for the cause of Bahujan culture. In the context of Chhattisgarh my struggle is for the Bahujan. This is a movement of the Mulnivasi. It is hurting Brahmanism. That is why the upper-caste people occupying positions of power are angry with me. But I will not give up.”
Social activists Sudha Bharadwaj, Varavara Rao, Gautam Navlakha, Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves were arrested from different places in connection with Bhima-Koregaon violence. All of them have been placed under house arrest as directed by the Supreme Court. It is rumoured that police may arrest Degree Prasad Chouhan soon.
Translation: Parmanand Baiga; copy-editing: Anil
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