The country needs an anti-fascist force, says activist acquitted after 40 months in jail

Sudhir Dhawale, a dalit rights activist accused of having Maoist links, was declared innocent on May 15.
Photo Credit: Aarefa Johari
On May 20, after spending three years and four months in Nagpur Central Jail for crimes he did not commit, dalit rights activist Sudhir Dhawale finally walked out as a free man.

His arrest in January 2011 had outraged social activists in Maharashtra. Dhawale is a well-known poet, political commentator and publisher of Marathi magazine Vidrohi, and had attended a dalit literary gathering in Wardha district just before he was detained by the police. He was charged with sedition and, under the controversial Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, accused of being a member of a terrorist organisation and waging war against the state. Meanwhile in Mumbai, the police barged into his modest home where his young sons were alone, gathered several books as evidence and allegedly coerced his wife to sign the list of seized articles.

Last week, after the prosecution failed to prove even a single case against him, the sessions court finally acquitted Dhawale – and eight other political prisoners – of all charges. His acquittal has come four months after Arun Ferreira, another Mumbai-based social activist who spent five years in jail for being an alleged Maoist, was cleared of all charges against him. Just two weeks before Dhawale’s release, however, GN Saibaba, a Delhi University professor, was arrested by the Maharashtra police for allegedly having links with Maoists.

Despite being forced to spend 40 months in prison without bail, Dhawale is cheerful and completely unresentful. “I have been saying for a long time that the Indian state is fascist, anti-people and has been involved in the atrocities committed against marginalised people,” Dhawale told Scroll.in in Mumbai just before a meeting with members of the organisation that he founded, the Republican Panthers Jatiya Antachi Chalwal (annihilation of caste movement). The group works across Maharashtra to organise marginalised groups and respond to hate crimes, and Dhawale has already plunged back into work.

Unsurprisingly, his biggest concern these days is India’s newly-elected Bharatiya Janata Party-led Democratic Alliance government under Narendra Modi. “As such, the BJP and Congress are two sides of the same coin, with similar ideologies that disregard the poor and the marginalised,” said Dhawale. “But the BJP – which is essentially the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh] – is more openly fascist, so we will have to be prepared for more oppression.”

For nearly a year, the BJP has been criticising the former Congress-led government for being too soft on Naxalism, despite the fact that thousands of paramilitary troops are stationed all over central India’s Maoist-affected areas. “Usually, actual military forces are used to protect foreign borders, not fight a country’s internal wars. But who knows, the Modi government could do anything,” said Dhawale.

Most of the development that Modi has been promising, he claimed, will actually benefit multinational companies. “Most of these multinationals have their eyes set on acquiring land in central India, which is rich in natural resources but is also the place where most adivasis live,” said Dhawale.

Throughout his jail term, Dhawale had been occupied with trying to understand the nature of fascism and people’s movements. He wrote five political commentaries in prison, of which two have been published. One is about the Shiv Sena’s deceased founder Bal Thackeray. The second is on Anna Hazare and his movement against corruption. “Hazare did start a jan andolan, but it was obvious that it was a movement for the middle-classes, attempting to address only the symptoms of a corrupt system and not the system itself,” said Dhawale.

While Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal have become the face of people’s movements, Dhawale believes the focus needs to shift to the many smaller, scattered grassroots movements across the country that are already working for the marginalised. “With this new government, it is time for all these movements to come together, be vigilant and create a strong anti-fascist force.”

 
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