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B. Ramakant: Dalits Arrested Under Gangsters Act

Three dalit activists arrested under Gangsters Act in India

By Bobby Ramakant

The Gangsters Act was slapped on three dalit activists in Malwabar Mushahar basti of Deoria (Uttar Pradesh) causing their eventual arrest by the Deoria police. Ram Chander, Prasad and Kailash were the three dalits arrested on the night of 27 January 2008.

These three dalit people were chargesheeted after being caught 'red-handed' making illicit liquor and police recovered three drums of it as well on site of arrest.

There is more than what meets the eye. Social activist and documentary film-maker Vidya Bhushan Rawat points out the grave economic hardships and extreme impoverishment which has put this community in an extremely vulnerable situation.

"There is no denying fact that rural poor take to illicit liquor all over the country. It is not their failure but abject failure of the state" said Rawat.

The police arrested these three people near mid-night. The conditions prevailing in the Mushahar basti are such that there is no activity after 8pm. The police version doesn't look convincing to those who have been to this village.

The illicit liquor trade is not managed by the poor dalit labourers but by the influential liquor-lords or brick-kiln owners who often are themselves or close to those sitting in political corridors.

"In June 2007, I passed through this basti during my padyatra and found more than 200 children in the village with no access to any formal or informal education. There were electric polls in the village since the past 10 years but no electricity. The 'Mushahars' are one of the most discriminated among the Dalit community. During the British regime, the police would arrest them for petty theft and declared them as criminal tribe".

Without any reasonable employment opportunities, the landless mushahars also do not have the numbers to influence the political climate of their village. It is sad that in today's politics in UP, caste identity has attained a pivotal role to move equations.

The members of mushahar community are also not receiving any benefit from the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS).

In summers, one could see even the children asking for 'Tadi' (toddy, the illicit liquor).

An elderly woman, Ramrati, who lost her husband many years ago, has been mobilizing the community against making of illicit liquor. Ramrati wanted all 'Mushahar' children to study. However her happiness was short-lived as the police slapped Gangsters Act and arrested her only son Ram Chander.

"Why should the Gangsters Act be imposed against the most discriminated among the discriminated?" rightly asks Rawat.

On 4 February 2008, many activists appealed to the UP State Chief Minister Mayawati who has been heralded as a dalit leader, to take cognizance of the issue of discrimination of the most-marginalized dalits.

ENDS

**************

Bobby Ramakant is the Asian Correspondent and can be reached at bobbyramakant_AT_yahoo.com

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