Bastar witnessing a unique cultural-religious battle

The Police had arrested Vivek Kumar of Manpur in north Bastar, Chhattisgarh in 2015 over a Facebook post. He had to seek bail from the High Court and his business was badly hit. The arrest of his comrades has weakened the movement but Vivek is not ready to give up. Prema Negi reports :

Follow-up of the Mahishasur-Durga controversy

The first talked-about Mahishasur Diwas celebration was organized at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi in October 2011. Since then, this movement, aimed at building a non-violent and egalitarian India, has been gathering steam. Today, the event is celebrated in hundreds of villages and towns across India as a symbol of freedom from Brahmin supremacy. Meanwhile, other happenings related to the issue have been reported from many parts of the country. Cases have been filed for insulting Goddess Durga at several places. In states like Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, complaints have been made regarding humiliation of Mahishasur and Raven. While on the one hand, there were demonstrations against the alleged insult of Durga, on the other hand, there were massive rallies to honour Mahishahur. In this series of follow-up articles on the Mahishasur-Durga controversy, we will attempt to trace the past happenings as well as bring you updated information on the issue. Today’s article is about the struggle of Vivek Kumar – Editor


  • Prema Negi

Writer Vivek Kumar had been working for the tribals in north Bastar when he posted a comment on Durga and Mahishasur, ahead of the Dussehra of 2013, on Facebook. And it became the ground for his arrest, two years after the BJP-led government coming to power in the state. It was claimed that his post was fomenting social disharmony and that he was making unwarranted comments on Hindu deities. It is noteworthy that his Facebook post became the basis not only for his arrest but also that of nine others, who had shared his post.

Vivek Kumar, a CA by training and a cement trader by profession, had been actively working for social causes in Manpur, Chhattisgarh for 12 years. He was arrested in 2015 under Section 295A of the IPC for a Facebook post made in 2013. Kumar was associated with the journal Dakshin Koushal and was a part of the Dalit-Bahujan and tribal movements. His father Ram Sushil Singh Kanshiram is associated with the BSP. They are Kurmis by caste and had settled in Rajnandgaon, from where Vivek Kumar moved to Raipur.

The Facebook Post that triggered the controversy

Vivek Kumar, who can be counted among the big cement traders in the region, says that when he had made the comment in 2013, there was a programme at the JNU where many politicians like Udit Raj were also present. “I do not recall which of my two-three Facebook accounts I used for putting up the post that became the basis for my arrest. I had created new accounts after Facebook blocked my older ones. At that time, sharing and liking were not much in vogue. This was the time when Facebook would immediately block any account that would be reported. My earlier posts had also drawn protests from members of the RSS and Shiv Sena. But when I confronted them with facts, they were forced to retract. One leader had called me up on phone and said that while he agrees with my thoughts, he cannot publicly back me as that would mean destroying his career of 30 years during which he supported a particular ideology and politics.

• A case was registered against Vivek in 2015 for a Facebook post he had put up two years back in 2013
• Hindutavadis had raised humiliating slogans
• Case was registered against the Hindutvavadis on the complaint of Dalits and Tribals
• One BJP worker Satish Dubey was arrested.

According to Vivek, things changed drastically with the change in government in 2014. The Facebook content started getting shared on WhatsApp. To put Vivek in the dock, the post about Durga and Mahishasur made by him was shared widely on WhatsApp. He drew more attention when, on 9 August, 2014, he celebrated Indigenous Inhabitants Rights Day in the tribal region of Manpur, near the Chhattisgarh-Maharashtra border. This is the place from where Vivek and his supporters launched a movement for the rights of the tribals, the downtrodden and the Dalits. He started working among people who were getting drawn towards Naxalites and guns and who saw violence as the only solution to their problems. Vivek and his supporters tried to convince them that violence was not the right path and it would not solve any problems. And his campaign got good response.

Vivek Kumar with his wife and child

Around that time, the BJP government launched a training programme for teachers, along the lines of the RSS. The teachers were told to teach Hindutva to the children. This angered the teachers and the locals, who joined hands with Vivek and his supporters to protest. When matters did not go as anticipated by the government, they started keeping an eye on those working for the tribals. Vivek’s old post on Durga and Mahishasur was made viral on WhatsApp to build a case against him.

Sangh members raised insulting slogans

Vivek says that in the months of February and March 2015, the members of the RSS in Manpur started pressurizing the administration to arrest him. They burnt his effigies and called for a three-day bandh in the city to demand that an FIR be filed against him and he be arrested. The Sangh-BJP workers not only got Manpur, but also areas in Mohala assembly constituency and Chowki town shut down. The Sangh-BJP workers were demanding the arrest of Vivek Kumar but their hatred for the Dalits and Adivasis was clearly visible from their actions and words. Among the slogans they raised were “Hurl shoes on the offspring of Mahishasur (Bhainsasur)”, “Hurl shoes on those who do not believe in the Ramayan-Gita”, “Abujhmaris come to your senses” and “Hurl shoes on the offspring of the Rakshas”.

Also Read: In 2006, Mahishasur emerges as an OBC hero

In the month of March, Mandai Mela is organized in these parts. Police makes extensive preparations for managing the crowds at the event. When the atmosphere was being built against Vivek Kumar, a large number of tribals supporting him were around. The police did not arrest Vivek to avoid trouble at the fair. He was arrested on 28 March 2015 but in the records, his arrest was shown on 29 March. He was not presented at any court and was unofficially kept in the police station.

Vivek recalls that when the demands for his arrest were getting louder, he had gone underground for 10 days and later he had also telephoned the leader of the protest, Umakant Tandiya – who is currently a minister of state in the state government. He is from a scheduled caste. “I told him that his protest was unwarranted. This is the same Umakant Tandiya, who was in jail for 2-3 months under Section 420 for posing as a CBI officer and conducting raids. I knew him for quite some time as we are both from Manpur. There was no bad blood between us but he still made me a target. He was holding a grudge against me since the 2013 elections. We had supported an independent candidate against my classmate, who was the BJP nominee. This angered Umakant because he felt that I should have supported him and yet, people were standing by me and supporting his rival. He felt that it was because of us that the BJP lost the seat and the Congress won. Amid growing clamour for my arrest, I told him over the phone that I am not running away. I am at my family’s house in Raipur and he can do whatever he wants to. I provided him with all the facts and the logic behind my opinion. I explained that we may have political disagreements but what is true, cannot be denied. I told him that the BJP should not play with the emotions of the tribals on the issue of celebration of Mahishahur Diwas. I was arrested soon after that call. He must have passed on the information about me to the police.”
Also read: Chhattisgarh police stoops to a Brahmanical low.

Relief from High Court

Vivek Kumar did not apprehend that he would not be granted bail after his arrest. He was held under section 295A of the IPA and section 66A of the IT Act, when section 66A had already been repealed. When the police was informed of it, they responded that the High Court can drop the section, if it deems fit. His request for bail was turned down by the Chief Judicial Magistrate and he had to spend three months in jail. Even the charge-sheet against him was filed in the court 60 days after his arrest. During this time, Vivek’s bail was rejected by the session’s court as well. When the case was being heard by the High Court, on three occasions the court was adjourned before his case could come up for hearing. The fourth time, when the judge was present, the police station in-charge did not present the case diary. It was at the fifth hearing that his bail plea was granted.

Police favoured Hindutva brigade

Vivek recalls two significant incidents while he was in jail. In a rally organised by BJP supporters on 12 March 2015, the adivasis and Dalits were verbally abused. In response, the adivasis and Dalits took out a rally on April 30 and demanded action against those who had used vulgar language in the earlier rally. Several people submitted formal complaints to the police.

 

In view of the growing pressure, the police was forced to register an FIR against the Sangh and BJP supporters. However, all those who were charged were conveniently declared absconding. The men who had used vulgar language in the BJP-Sangh rally were primarily traders and simply stayed away from their shops for a few days. However, they were all present in the town on the day of the demonstration seeking their arrest. The police did not take any action against them as most of them were state BJP office-bearers. Clearly, it was due to political pressure that despite the presence of the IG, DIG and other police officers, no arrests were made.

A video recording clearly shows the BJP office-bearers making humiliating comments against the tribals and the Dalits. However, the FIR was registered against others.

It was only after Vivek Kumar was granted bail that he took the matter to the court and Satish Dubey, a BJP office-bearer, was arrested. Yet, the others named in the FIR still remained absconding. Another private complaint was filed in court but nothing happened. All this, after nearly 1,000 adivasis had filed an affidavit along with their formal complaint at the police station for the arrest of these people. The population of the place is less than 5,000 and 1,000 of them protesting on streets was not an insignificant number. But despite that, no action was taken.

The charge-sheet against BJP leader Satish Dubey’s was to be filed within 20-25 days of his arrest but his father passed away and he was released on parole – this, despite the fact that his bail plea, along with those of others, had been rejected by the High Court. Several noted BJP leaders were present at a condolence meeting for Satish Dubey’s father including the chief minister Raman Singh’s son and BJP MP Abhishek Singh. After this, there was immense pressure on the administration not to arrest Satish Dubey for a second time. It was made to appear that his father’s demise was caused by his arrest. The charge-sheet was finally filed in the court after 62 days. By then, all other accused had got bail and the High Court had granted bail to Satish Dubey as well.

Protest by Dalits, tribals and OBCs at Manpur against the insult of Mahishasur on 30 April 2016

It is truly astonishing that none of the senior members of the BJP named in the charge-sheet were ever touched. But those demanding their arrest and those working for the betterment of the adivasis were arrested and put into jails, where some of them still remain. After the arrest of Vivek Kumar, another nine people who had shared his post were also arrested.

• Vivek was attacked by Hindutvavadis in jail
• Threats were issued to his family members from jail
• Vivek’s business was badly hit
• His more than Rs 1 crore has got stuck in the market

Police excuses and absent judges

According to Vivek Kumar, his case is being deliberately allowed to drag on. Last hearing in his case in the court was in December 2016. “I am given a date after every 14 days and I have to travel 160 km from Raipur to Ambagadh Chowki but the hearing is adjourned. Sometimes the prosecution witnesses don’t turn up, at other times the judge is absent or there is some other reason.”

It was the same for Vivek Kumar even when he was in jail as he was presented in the court only once. All kinds of excuses were dished out for not presenting him in the court despite the availability of video-conferencing facility.

While Vivek was in jail, some anti-social elements associated with the BJP were also there for crimes like murder and assault. There were more than 300 inmates in a jail with a capacity of 150. “These criminals were given ‘supari’ for murdering me in the jail so that the Adivasi-Dalit community gets scared and their movement comes to a stop. Some members of the Dharma Sena had attacked me in the jail. They used to call me ‘son of Mahishasur’ and ‘Rakshas.’ Thankfully, the rest of the inmates were on my side and were ready to take on the others. This allowed me to survive in the jail without any physical harm. I was advised to always stay in the view of the camera, otherwise they would kill me. I had spoken to the SP as well as the SDM on the matter. I had even written to the SDM to get a thorough checking of the jail done. During this checking, these men were found to be in possession of daggers, swords and other weapons but no action was taken against them. My statements in the case were recorded two months after my release on bail and no action has been taken in the matter so far. Mobile phones are not allowed in the jail but these men had 25-30 mobile phones on them. In my case, even the newspapers were censored,” he says
Vivek’s family was threatened from jail

Vivek Kumar with his wife

Vivek’s family was often called up by the BJP supporters in the jail and threatened. Their audacity can be gauged from the fact that even Vivek’s lawyer was threatened to drop the case. The media was dancing to the tune of the administration. Not a single word was written in the newspapers when thousands of tribals held a demonstration demanding the arrest of Sangh-BJP members.

More than Rs one crore unrecovered

Vivek’s arrest took a toll on his business. Earlier, he had two retail counters but now he has only has one. He has to realize more than Rs one crore from the market. There are not many businessmen from the backward communities and most of them are Brahmins and Banias, who favour the BJP. Most of Vivek’s creditors are BJP supporters and since the BJP is ruling the state, he cannot even file an FIR against them.

The struggle will continue

Vivek says that the police continue to use force to suppress the struggle and have unleashed a reign of terror in the area. During the recent Patthalgadi movement, the police arrested more than a dozen vocal tribal leaders and put them in jail under the Public Protection Act. In another case, an elderly Adivasi social worker – Tulabi Dada – was murdered. These events have caused much unease in Manpur. “But they will not be able to break our morale. The fight for our identity and dignity has reached every home. Since assembly elections are due in November, many Hindu outfits are hyperactive. At the same time, preparations are on in the area for celebrating Mahishasur Martyrdom Day,” he says. But Vivek is undeterred. “They can stuff us into jails on false charges but they cannot break our morale,” he says with a smile.

Translation: Susmita Mukherjee Copy-editing: Amrish Herdenia


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The Case for Bahujan Literature

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Dalit Panthers: An Authoritative History

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The Common Man Speaks Out

Jati ke Prashn Par Kabir

 

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