NEW DELHI — Jeetrai Hansda, a professor at the Government School and College for Women, Sakchi, in Jharkhand was arrested on Saturday. A lawyer from the team handling Hansda’s case told HuffPost India that a complaint was filed against him in June 2017 based on a Facebook post he had written.
However, he was finally arrested yesterday. The lawyer, who did not want to be named, said he suspected the arrest was made after the elections were over so that the BJP did not anger the Adivasis and lose their votes before the polls. The BJP won 12 of the 14 Lok Sabha seats in Jharkhand this year, same as 2014. The government at the state is also led by the BJP under Raghubar Das.
A diary was filed against Hansda’s Facebook post in 2017 and after ‘investigating’ the complaint, inspector Anil Kumar Singh of Sakchi police station lodged the FIR. Hansda’s lawyer said that though he was asked to appear in the police station, he wasn’t arrested back then. He was only arrested yesterday and continues to be in police custody. Hansda had also moved for anticipatory bail, which was rejected.
Hansda is a prominent Adivasi activist and theatre artist and his Facebook post asserted his community’s right to eat beef.
The FIR lodged at the Sakchi police station in Jamshedpur, stated that Hansda had written a Facebook post asserting that the adivasi community in India has had a long tradition of eating beef and ceremonial cow sacrifice. It is their democratic and cultural right to consume the meat, he said. The post also said that they oppose India’s laws on eating beef and that his community also consumes peacocks, the country’s national bird. He also expressed his unwillingness to follow Hindu customs.
The FIR lodged at the Sakchi police station in Jamshedpur, stated that Hansda had written a Facebook post asserting that the adivasi community in India has had a long tradition of eating beef and ceremonial cow sacrifice.
He was booked under sections 153 (A), 295A, 505 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for insulting religious feelings and attempts to promote enmity between groups of people.
Hansda’s wife Mahi Soren told HuffPost India that the couple live in Karandih in Jamshedpur. While she denied receiving threats, a day or two after Hansda posted the Facebook status two complaints were filed against him — one at the Sakchi police station, the other at the college.
“No one contacted us personally but the letter that was sent to the college was signed off by ABVP,” Soren said.
Shortly after the complaint was filed against Hansda, Dasmath Hansdah, the chief of Majhi Pargana Mahal, a body that works for the preservation of adivasi traditions wrote to the vice-chancellor of Kolhan University. The arrested professor was employed in a college under the university.
The letter attempted to educate the vice-chancellor about adivasi traditions that Hansda wrote about and against which, allegedly the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) filed a complaint. The letter said, “We have come to know from local newspapers that you plan to expel Jeetrai Hansda on the basis of complaints for communal organisation ABVP.”
“Adivasis are citizens of India as well. We have a democratic right to follow our cultural and religious traditions like everybody else..
The letter, written in Hindi also states that there is not a single thing wrong with what Hansda had said in his Facebook post. In fact, his post is truthful representation of the cultural and religious traditions of the adivasi community and their culinary legacies.
He also said that an accurate representation of a community’s traditions cannot possibly harm the dignity of the university and neither does it promote enmity between communities. Hansdah told HuffPost India that shortly after the professor and activist put up the Facebook post in June 2017, he received a communication from the university that threatened to take disciplinary action against him. When their organisation came to know of it and that the ABVP had moved to get him expelled, they decided to write the letter to the university in order to explain what he has written is completely true and shouldn’t invite legal action. He added that he was not entirely sure if the university suspended him but ‘he stopped going to college’.
The letter then goes on to explain the various customs and traditions of the adivasis in India in an attempt to point out that the university is wrong in threatening action against the professor.
“Adivasis are citizens of India as well. We have a democratic right to follow our cultural and religious traditions like everybody else... If the Central government brings in a law banning cow slaughter, it will end our traditions and religious beliefs,” the letter said.
AK Pankaj, an acquaintance of Hansda told HuffPost India that despite the pleas of Adivasi organisations, he was suspended from the government college. Hansda’s wife Soren said that immense pressure was built on the college principal to fire Soren. “He did not quit. The principal asked him to leave and said don’t come from tomorrow,” she said.
HuffPost India has reached out to Sakchi police station who confirmed Hansda is in police custody. While the personnel couldn’t confirm if Hansda will be produced before the magistrate on Monday, he said that the activist was ‘absconding’ for months. “We got a tip off and picked him up yesterday. This is an old case,” he said.
Soren said she felt helpless as Hansda was dealing with the case all by himself — meeting lawyers and activists — and the arrest came as a shock. She added that she was not familiar with the processes and the police has been confusing at best about the fate of Hansda. “The police used to come to our house now and then and ask for him. They would come at times he was not at home. Soon they declared him absconding,” she said. She added that it was not true because Hansda was mostly home and left for either college or shows and didn’t stay out for days on end either.
“They kept asking us to tell him to surrender. But he was determined to fight it,” she said. So Soren had moved for anticipatory bail, which was rejected this April.
On Saturday, Hansda was attending a cultural function near Sakchi. “He was with some friends and they had put up in a hotel in Sakchi. That’s when the police came and arrested him,” she said.
(This is a developing story, it will be updated as more details come in.)