Round Table India spoke to writer and political activist Sudhir Dhawale in Mumbai last week, after his release from a long term spent in prison due to false charges of being involved in Naxal activities. Arrested in January 2011, he was acquitted last week by Gondia’s sessions court after the police failed to produce substantial evidence against him. Here is the text of the interview:
Round Table India: Forty months behind bars and finally you have been cleared off all charges, are there any plans ahead?
Sudhir Dhawale: Immediately after Khairlanji killings several political parties, Dalit activists, and lawyers came together. A need to have our own political front was felt. We launched ‘Republican Panthers’, on December 6, 2007. The front’s mandate was to construct a common political platform for Dalit activists along with left-leaning activists. Most of us either got targeted by the State or were forced to stay away from any political activities. I hope to revisit this front and revive it.
RT: Will it be a political party or work for social causes.
Dhawale: No we do not wish to enter the political fray. Our work, as it was earlier, would focus on agitation, confrontation and providing the much needed support system to the victims of caste atrocities.
RT: What about your magazine Vidrohi. Did you manage to come out with the magazine after your arrest?
Dhawale: We managed to bring out four editions. But the team fell apart. My magazine was the first casuatly of my arrest. A ‘voice of dissent’ that we had so painstakingly built, was silenced by the State. But this is the first project I will begin now. Have to restart Vidrohi, with similar vigour. It will be a challenge to get the magazine published, but we will find a way out.
RT: Where you bothered by the police before your arrest? Most activists have complained of being stalked and harassed by the police for years before they are finally booked. It has happened in the case of Kabir Kala Manch activists, too.
Dhawale: Somewhere in 2006, around 200 different social groups from across Maharashtra had come together to attend one State level Parishad (conference). I was invited, too, as a speaker at that conference. It was organised by a Bhandara based women’s organization called Prabodh Mahila Sanghatana. Political, non-political organizations participated in it. BSP, RPI and other Dalit parties had participated too…
The then superintendent of police, Suresh Sagar sent out a circular saying Dhawale, a senior Naxal leader is participating and hence the conference can not be allowed. Sagar, also a Dalit officer, was SP during the Khairlanji massacre. But he did not care much about the atrocities. His role was just that of an officer of the ‘Anti Naxal Operations’ in the State.
RT: Was there constant fear looming over your head and others who vocally criticized the State?
Dhawale: Khairlanji made us all very restless. We were on the street seeking justice. This was seen as a direct threat by the State. I knew I will be picked up soon.
RT: The police in its chargesheet had documented your activities since early 1990’s. According to the chargesheet you were an active member of CPI (Maoist) for over two decades.
Dhawale: I am from Nagpur. I was actively involved in activities of CPI (Marxist-Leninist ) People’s War, which was not a banned organization. Until 1994, I was very active in the movement in Nagpur along with senior leaders like Kobad Gandhy and Anu (Anuradha Gandhy). While people started going underground around 1992-93, many like me moved to Mumbai in search of jobs and livelihood.
I had no criminal case (against me). A few small and insignificant ones like preventive detention and unlawful assembly charges were slapped against me for participating in protest. But it never went to the court.
RT: But they kept a close check on your movement?
Dhawale: Yes, they recognised all of us. We are old hands in the people’s movement. The ANO (Anti Naxal Operations) has a brilliant archive system in place. In my case, the police put together over two decade old pictures with Gandhy, seniors maoist leaders like Milind Teltumbde and Tushar Bhattacharya. Each time some one is arrested, they use these pictures to build their case. But it is not a solid evidence to prove anyone a naxal.
RT: Since 2006, several Dalit activists, professors, lawyers from Nagpur, and other parts of the State have been booked. Either under UAPA or rioting charges. Almost all of them had protested against the Khairlanji killing.
Dhawale: Dalits have always been an easy target, both for the State and the savarnas. Over hundreds of cases have been slapped against the protestors. Caste atrocity is a part of state oppressions. It is their conspiracy. As our voices became sharper, the State found it difficult to handle.
RT: Do you personally support CPI (Maoists)?
Dhawale: At that time (early 1990s)…yes. I did. You see, it was not a banned organizaton then. There was nothing illegal to associate with an organization that was legally constituted. Ever since it was banned, I have not participated in any activities. In fact, at the time of my arrest, I even told the police about my past work. I never hid anything from the police.
It is funny how the state machinery works. They use old pictures to pin us down. I must have met R R Patil some four-five times in his cabin. Will that mean I am government’s person. It is bizarre.
RT: Your books have supported naxal violence. Also, you have spoken of Naxalism as the only alternative.
Dhawale: I along with several other activists have been very active on the anti-caste front. It is not just the savarnas who are responsible for caste atrocities, but the State, too. I, through my writings have tried to expose the state. It caused a lot of restlesness. Talking about naxal movement, i have no qualms in saying I support it. I have several books in support of the naxals.. I have openly said so in the past and will continue to say so.
RT: Most arrests happened during the UPA government’s tenure. You are returning to face the NDA front. What is the feeling?
Dhawale: (Laughs). Achche din aa gaye hain. They are two sides of the same coin. Things will not be any different. Not that congress was pro-people and worked for its downtrodden and needy. It will continue to remain just as bad. Just days after getting elected, a man was burnt at Gondia. BJP man is allegedly involved in it. Fascism in the Congress’ period was covert. It will be overt now. Economic policies will continue to exclude the ‘antim vyakti’. Ambanis will continue to flourish, the poor will continue to get poorer..
RT: And what about the left front?
Dhawale: How different are they? What have they done for the people? Who got SEZs approved in parliament, what was their role during Nandigram and Singur agitations?
I am only glad they have finally been thrown out. This was bound to happen.
RT: In most Naxal cases, while the State goes overboard in booking and arresting people, similar approach is not seen in court. In almost all cases the police has failed in proving the cases. Be it Arun Ferreira’s case or Vernon Gonsalves’ case, most cases fell apart. However, almost every one spent five-six years behind bars.
Dhawale: Yes, in past most cases did end up in acquittal. But now the State with all its might is fighting the cases. They have started appointing special public prosecutors in cases where UAPA charges are applied. In my case too, a special public prosecutor appeared.
RT: How was the judiciary’s role in your case?
Dhawale: I applied for bail four times before the sessions court and three times before the HC. Several false claims were made by the police and the court bought it each time and rejected my bail application. The case was expedited by the HC and was to be concluded in three months, but it took over three years.
RT: An independent court proceeding is rare.
Dhawale: On the day of my judgement they engaged C-60 commandos all around the court. Four SDOs were put on the job. They had cordoned off entire court premises. Such high level pressure was put on the judge. The police made it look like a dreaded criminal was ferried to the court and high- level security was a must. Four Tata sumos, C-60 commandos deployed. Court was not allowed to work freely.
RT: What were the grounds given for your acquittal?
Dhawale: It is on a very technical ground. Norms as laid down under UAPA were not met. State sanctions, police mishandling of my case, coupled with lack of evidence led to my acquittal.
RT: How many youth are inside Nagpur jail, booked for Naxal activities?
Dhawale: There were some 60-65 of them when I was arrested- all Adivasi and Dalit boys and girls. After every naxal attack, young boys and girls get picked up and dumped in the jail.
RT: How are their cases handled, any legal recourse available for them?
Dhawale: It is a joke. No legal support is available. Cases get committed to the Sessions court, but these boys and girls are never taken to the court. The police make use of Video conference link for their production, all in the name of security. Their families are so poor that it is beyond their capacity to even travel to Nagpur to meet their children. No jail mulakat, no legal aid, these boys and girls are rotting in the jail. It is a mockery of the justice system.
RT: What cases are these?
Dhawale: Some are booked under UAPA, some for murder, attempt to murder. Everytime police is attacked in an armed retaliation by the Naxals, villagers are picked up. At the time of my release 44 youths- 36 boys and 8 girls were behind bars.
RT: What roles do you see Ambedkarities playing in the present political scenario?
Dhawale: Most Dalit parties are divorced from Ambedkar’s principles. One can not invoke Ambedkar and claim that he/she is an Ambedkarite. People like Udit Raj and Ram Vilas Paswan have been wooed by BJP. Ramdas Athawale, a panther from this State has been completely saffronised. It is a tough scene to expect any thing out of these leaders.
When was the last time that the so-called Ambedkarities came together. It took one Ramabai incident of 1997 to have people come under one platform and agitate. And then again everything went silent until 2006 when the Khairlanji incident happened. We have to be woken up from our deep slumber every now and then. Now there is some noise made after Nitin Aage’s killing.
The principled movement of the old days is scarce. Now it is all about being in power. So even if in the process you are betraying your own people, it does not matter. It is quiet gloomy. Prakash Ambedkar, a few years ago wrote a book on how the Ambedkar movement had died long ago. I completely agree with this. If one has to move forward, it has to start all over again. The rot is beyond any repair.