NEW DELHI -- Jignesh Mevani, Gujarat MLA and Dalit leader, announced that two major demonstrations would be held against the Bharatiya Janata Party-led central government next month. The agitations, which will be led mainly by Dalits, are in response to the Pune police's arrest of prominent activists including Sudha Bharadwaj and Varavara Rao earlier this month in connection with the violence at Bhima Koregaon in January.
"We (Dalits) won't be terrorised. If the government wants to terrorise us, we will say openly that on 5 September, all Dalits, all agitators will come on the streets and demonstrate across the nation. They say they have a problem with Elgaar Parishad. In front of the BJP and Sangh, on 15 September, we will organise Lalkaar Parishads in 20 states," Mevani said at a press conference in New Delhi on Thursday evening.
Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan, writer and activist Arundhati Roy and transparency campaigner Aruna Roy, among others, also addressed the press conference. Mevani was the only one at the gathering to have participated in the Elgaar Parishad—an event held on 31 December 2017 in Pune in which nearly 250 groups from different ideological backgrounds participated. The police now claim that the arrested activists had links to Maoists and used this event to instigate the violence at Bhima Koregaon.
In June, the police had arrested five other activists in connection with the same event and even claimed to have uncovered a letter detailing a plot to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi from the houses of one of them.
Bhushan said the situation in the country today was, in some ways, worse than the 21-month period of Emergency since the arrests then were in one swoop while now, there was a slow and steady attack on democracy.
"Those who are standing up in favour of the victims of oppression are being called Urban Naxals... Before this, Kanhaiya Kumar and Umar Khalid were termed as the tukde tukde gang... People are being instigated to attack (dissenters and human rights activists)," said Bhushan.
Writer Roy read out a polemical piece that she called #MeTooUrbanNaxal. In it, she said, "In the India of today, to belong to a minority is a crime. To be murdered is a crime. To be lynched is a crime. To be poor is a crime. To defend the poor is to plot to overthrow the government."