Ashok Garg , publisher Sangam Publictaions, Samana and poet editor Sukhwinder Swatantar, and Amit Mittar of Tarak Bharati Publication, Barnala and poet editor Jagjit Singh Sahoke arrested on 15 Sep in two simulataneous FIRS in Samana and Barnala where the two DSPs are also complainants were all out on bail by 29 September. They had been arrested under SC & ST Prevention of Atrocities Act Sec. 3. 1 (x) and Sec 153 (A) IPC (Promoting enmity between different groups) allegedly for printing collections of late 19th to 20th century poet Babu Rajab Ali containing references to old caste appellation Choorha. While SC- ST Act cases have been withdrawn against Sukhwinder Swatantar and Jagjit Singh Sahoke,a ll four are still accused under S. 153 IPC. The SC-ST Act cases still stand against Garg and Mitter. The anti- democratic nature of the government, electoral and identity politics and the conflicted nature of ‘rule of law’ stand exposed in the current events:
1) The controversy and protests are motivated is obvious from the publications being classics of Punjabi literature prescribed on syllabi.
Moreover, the credibility of those arrested is apparent from the protests against their arrests in which intellectuals as well as several Mazdoor and kisan organisations as well as democratic rights groups such as AFDR, Punjab came out in support. Tarak Bharti Prakashan’s(2006) publications include book s on science, against superstitions, on mental illness, progressive literature, collections of poets, histories of the freedom movement and biographies of heroes like Bhagat Singh, children’s books and translations.
2) By all accounts the four accused have been targeted as they as they are progressive and Left voices supporting rights’ struggles of farmers and labourers across communities. And hence undesirable voices opposing the agrarian and industrial policies, as well as the casteist and communal politics of the ruling government.
3) The continued application of Sec 153 which is applied is a cognisable offence with a punishment of 3 years means constant harassment and intimadition, with the law being used as a means of continuing surveillance and control of ideas and expression.
4) The only reason why charges under SC-ST(P of A) Act against Jagjit Singh Sahote and Sukhwinder Singh Swatantar have been dropped is that it has suddenly dawned on the Punjab police that the two are Dalits and unde the SC/ St Act only non- SCs and non-STs can be accused of atrocities.
5) Local electoral and caste politics over benefits of reservations have played a hand. Allegations of casteism have been made by some Balmiki and Majhabi Sikh (part of the erstwhile ‘Choorah’ community). It is no co-incidence that the current SAD- BJP combine is supported by Balmikis. Balmiki organisations have been agitating for sub-reservations of 12.5% alleging that the benefits of reservation are garnered largely by the Chamar community. The Badal government has assured them of restoration of the sub-reservation. The acts of omission and commission on the part of the administration stand explained.
This case is another instance of a) the muzzling of dissent of any kind b) how existing laws are being used to target them and rewrite past histories so that they remain in sync with dominant political relations. Sections of the IPC eg those on sedition, and S.153 IPC are pieces of legislation under ‘normal’ whose very content is undemocratic are being arbitrarily used all over the country, one of the most recent being the arrest of APCL activists holding a meeting on Telengana, again under Sec 153 earlier this month. In the light of the above
- Dropping of all charges against the accused.
- Arrest of concerned officers under the SC- ST Act for atrocities against Swatantar and Sahoke, and for wrongful arrest.
- Arrest of those responsible for filing false FIRs.
- Removing of S. 153 and all such undemocratic sections from the IPC.
Asish Gupta and Kranti Chaitanya
Member Organizations: Association for Democratic Rights (AFDR, Punjab), Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee (APCLC), Association for Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR, West Bengal), Bandi Mukti Committee (West Bengal), Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR, Mumbai), Coordination for Human Rights (COHR, Manipur), Human Rights Forum (HRF, Andhra), Lokshahi Hak Sangathana (LHS, Maharashtra), Manab Adhikar Sangram Samiti (MASS, Assam), Naga Peoples Movement for Human Rights (NPMHR), Organisation for Protection of Democratic Rights (OPDR, Andhra), Peoples Committee for Human Rights (PCHR, Jammu and Kashmir), Peoples Democratic Forum (PDF, Karnataka), Peoples Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) Chhattisgarh, PUCL Jharkhand, PUCL Nagpur, PUCL Rajasthan, ,PUCL Tamilnadu, Peoples Union For Democratic Rights (PUDR, Delhi), Peoples Union for Civil Rights (PUCR, Haryana), Assansol Civil Rights Association (West Bengal).