Who is Sudhir Dhawale?

Who is Sudhir Dhawale?

Sudhir Dhawale

Nov 2019

By Mumbai Rises to Save Democracy

Sudhir believes that every revolution has to be “unique”

Sudhir Dhawale’s rm commitment to activism is grounded in his belief in justice. Growing up in Indora , a centre of Ambedkarite politics in Nagpur, Sudhir has since his younger days, been actively involved in the struggles for human rights and dignity. He was part of people’s movement in Nagpur until 1994 then moved to Bombay in search of work opportunities.

From 1995, Sudhir Dhawale dedicated his life towards ghting against the atrocities on Dalits and other marginalized communities.. He was active in the streets and in the courts and has worked on incidents of Dalit atrocities such as the Ghatkopar Ramabai Nagar Dalit Hatyakand, in which 10 Dalits were gunned down by the Mumbai police for agitating against the desecration of a Dr. Ambedkar Statue in 1997. He was also involved in the Khairlanji agitation (against the massacre of a Dalit family in 2006), the Baban Misal murder in Ahmadnagar district in 2008, the ruthless murder of Sahebrao Jondhale in Marathwada in 2008, the Sadashiv Salve Guruji murder in Beed district in 2009, the Manorama Kamble gang rape and murder case in Nagpur in 2009, the Rohidas Tupe murder in Palgaon near Aurangabad in 2009, and many more cases of atrocities against Dalits in Maharashtra.

In 2002, following the Gujarat pogrom massacres, he started a Marathi magazine named Vidrohi. It started as a four-page magazine and soon doubled into eight pages. In a few years, it took the shape of a full- edged magazine which was published twice every month and spoke of pertinent issues concerning the country. It continues to play a pivotal role in bringing in the Dalit voice on human rights abuse of Dalits and other minorities across India, and also publishes fact- nding reports and valuable literature.

After the Khairlanji massacre took place in 2006, many Ambedkarite, left and other progressive organizations felt the need to form and drive a movement based on anti- caste politics with a concrete long-term program of caste annihilation. With this understanding, on December 6, 2007 at the Chaityabhoomi in Mumbai, the Republican Panthers Jaatiya Antachi Chalwal (Republican Panthers Caste Annihilation Movement) was formed. Sudhir, one of the founding members of this organisation, with years of experience and political intellect, evolved a new theoretical framework for the Republican Panthers situating the caste annihilation program at its centre. As a cultural group, Republican Panthers brought their revolutionary music and street theatre to the slums, trade unions, school and protests, to describe the atrocity that is the Hindu caste system.

In 2011, the Maharashtra police arrested Dhawale on charges of sedition and of being a member of and providing support to a terrorist organisation. In May 2014, after Dhawale had spent 40 months in incarceration, RG Asmar—a judge presiding over a special UAPA court in Gondia, a district in Maharashtra— pronounced a judgment acquitting Dhawale and eight others of all charges. The judgment was strongly worded, and the court came down heavily against the state police for its investigation.

It is believed that it was the magazine Vidrohi that brought the ire of the establishment and became the reason for his arrest. Upon his release Sudhir did not only increase the reach of Vidrohi but also led many protests and marches on di erent social issues. He was actively leading several joint fronts formed against caste atrocities, like the Jatiya Atyachar Virodhi Kruti Samiti, the Joint Action Committee for Social justice, the Bhima Koregaon Shaurya Din Prearna Abhiyan and many more.
Incidentally, the lawyer who represented him in the 2011 case was Surendra Gadling, his co-accused in the current Bhima Koregaon case.

Sudhir also incorporated his political experiences and understanding on the paper. It was not only through the Vidrohi magazine, but also many books that he wrote and edited, on diverse socio-political issues. During his time in prison, he has written three books. His writings are sharpened through the assimilation of the pain and struggle of the masses.

Sudhir along with others, had called for the Elgar Parishad on December 31, 2017, bringing together Dalit, Maratha and Muslim leaders on one platform to commemorate the two- hundredth anniversary of the Bhima Koregaon battle and to discuss the State’s crackdown on the marginalised sections of the society.

As an organizer, writer, poet, playwright, freelance journalist and editor of Marathi magazine Vidrohi, Sudhir Dhawale has tried to bring the issues of injustice and atrocities against Dalits in the public domain to make democracy a substantive force and movement in the country.

Sudhir’s words are active, gritty, and capable of moving stones.
Sudhir explains that every revolution has to be “unique”.
To our own unique Revolution…

“What sort of a city is this?

What sort of people are you?

When injustice is done there should
be a revolt in the city.

And if there is no revolt,

It were better that the city should
perish in fire before the night falls…”

Lines from The good Person of Szechwan
a play written by Brecht. The lines
in Marathi were quated in the fir for
`provoking´ the crowd present in Elgar Parishad.

Who is Sudhir Dhawale?

By India Civil Watch

After spending close to four years (2011-2014) in jail in India (where he was denied every kind of human right) on charges of being a ‘Naxalite’, Sudhir Dhawale was acquitted of all charges. Reflecting on his traumatic experience, Sudhir soberly identifies his private struggle as being part of a much larger public and collective struggle for democratic values. Sudhir:

“I have been politically active since my student days. I knew then what I was fighting against and its character. Definitely, it [the government] doesn’t have a pro-people character. As a student, then later as a literary person and as a political activist, we have had only one goal in mind, to build people’s struggle, participate in their struggle and create a truly democratic society. It is this aspiration that drives lakhs of people like me to enter the domain of democratic struggle. You can call this a war if you wish. The military and police of this country have taken up arms against its own people and the people have become compelled and are trying to fight back. This is the reality today. You can call it whatever name you want but this is a war. The form may keep changing. Speaking for the people, participating in the people’s struggle is like fighting in a war. The consequences of this war also need to be understood. Those who understand this have no problems going to jail. I don’t believe that I lost four years of my life. This is also a part of our struggle. I am one among the hundreds and thousands of people who fought for our rights and went to jail and I am also part of the hundreds and thousands who have been hounded by fabricated charges and sent to jail. In both cases, people have been dogged by repressive laws and continue to be crushed. My suffering is not separate from these. This is part of people’s suffering. And thus, there is nothing I can underline as exceptional about it.”

Sudhir, is however, back in jail in June 2018, this time accused of being part of an ‘urban naxal’ plot to overthrow the government. The charge is based on his leadership and participation (along with thousands of others) in a public rally on December 31, 2017 in the village of Bhima Koregaon near Pune in western India. The event was held to commemorate the 200th anniversary of historic military victory of a small British battalion, largely comprising soldiers from the oppressed Mahar (Dalit) caste, over an army of dominant ‘upper caste’ Peshwas. Dhawale was one of the organisers of the Elgar Parishad, the main forum coordinating the event. On the day of the bicentenary celebrations, mobs of people carrying saffron flags attacked the predominantly Dalit gathering at Bhima Koregaon. A week later, the Pune Police registered a first information report in relation to the violence, in which Dhawale was named as an accused. Following this FIR, Dhawale and four others were arrested on June 6, 2018. They have been charged under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) including on charges of being a member of, providing support to and raising funds for a terrorist group.

Who is Sudhir Dhawale? – A silent organiser
Born to a Dalit family in the slums of Indora, an Ambedkarite hub in Nagpur, Sudhir Dhawale has been working as freelance journalist and full time social worker since 1995. He is a well-known name in any fact-finding exercises conducted by civil society groups post any human- rights violation in Maharashtra. Over the last many decades, Sudhir has been a civil liberties organizer and activist participating in protests against various injustices including the much publicized ‘suicide-institutional murder’ case of the Dalit student Rohit Vemula. Some of the cases of social injustice that Dhawale was involved in actively bringing to public view are: Murder of Rohidas Tupe in Palgaon near Aurangabad, Baban Misal murder in Nagar district, murder of Sadahiv Salve Guruji at Mazhil in Beed district, murder of Rohan Kakade in Satara, rape and murder of Manorama Kamble in Nagpur, murder of Sahebrao Jondhale in Hingoli district, Saujanya Jadhav case in Navi Mumbai, a case of Meera Kamble who was paraded naked at Reay Road, Mumbai, Ahiwale case in Satara district, and the murder of an old Adivasi couple at Mauda in Nagpur district. He had also played prominent role in Khairlanji protests.

On 11 July 1997, when the police gunned down 10 innocent Dalits in Ramabai Nagar (in Ghatkopar, Mumbai) while protesting the desecration of Dr Ambedkar’s statue, Sudhir got actively involved in the Committee formed to get the culprit, a petty police sub inspector Manohar Kadam, punished. In 1999, he played a leading role in organizing a Vidrohi Sahitya Sammelan, opposing the state sponsored Brahmanical literary extravaganza, in Dharavi slum, which was presided over by the late progressive Dalit litterateur Baburao Bagul. The Vidrohi literary conference transformed into a Vidrohi Sanskrutik Movement (Rebel cultural movement), of which Sudhir was the main organizer. As a part of this movement, he launched a Vidrohi Prakashan with small donations and loan and soon began publishing a monthly ‘Vidrohi’, of which he was the editor.

He also started a cultural-political organisation called ‘Ramabai Nagar-Khairlanji Hatyaakand Virodhi Sangarsh Samiti’ in 2006 following the lynching, rape and mutilation of four members of a Dalit family in Khairlanji in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra. The organisation, however, disintegrated soon after and another organisation, the Republican Panthers Jaatiya Antachi Chalwal (Republican Panthers Caste Annihilation Movement) was born on December 6, 2007, at the Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar memorial in Chaityabhoomi, Mumbai.

Besides, he has been writing and publishing pamphlets and booklets which helped spread awareness about the plight of dalits and adivasis. Sudhir thus became an integral part of the progressive movement in Maharashtra. He actively worked along with others for reaching relief to victims of caste atrocities and helping them get justice.

Falsely charged and imprisoned, 2011-2014
In his younger days, Dhawale actively participated in the activities of the political party, Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) or CPI(ML). As he reminds us of how the state ‘frames’ cases against politically active citizens:

“I am from Nagpur. I was actively involved in activities of CPI (Marxist-Leninist) People’s War, which was not a banned organization [the CPI-ML splintered into various factions, some of which morphed into the banned CPI (Maoist) in 2004]. Until 1994, I was very active in the movement in Nagpur along with senior leaders like Kobad Gandhy and Anu (Anuradha Gandhy). While people started going underground around 1992-93, many like me moved to Mumbai in search of jobs and livelihood. There was nothing illegal to associate with an organization that was legally constituted. Ever since it was banned, I have not participated in any activities. In fact, at the time of my arrest, I even told the police about my past work. I never hid anything from the police.”

Yet, the police used decades old photographs of Sudhir posing with well-known Maoist leaders, to frame charges of conspiracy and sedition against him. Telling, Sudhir talks in his interviews now about how most of the individuals who were with him in jail, charged with being Maoists, were either Dalit or Adivasi (indigenous, ‘tribal’) youth:

“Dalits have always been an easy target, both for the State and the savarnas. Over hundreds of cases have been slapped against the protestors. Caste atrocity is a part of state oppressions. It is their conspiracy. As our voices became sharper, the State found it difficult to handle… I along with several other activists have been very active on the anti-caste front. It is not just the savarnas [upper-castes] who are responsible for caste atrocities, but the State, too. I, through my writings have tried to expose the state. It caused a lot of restlesness”.

Interestingly, Sudhir continues to support Naxalism through his speech and writings and is rather candid about it: “Talking about naxal movement, I have no qualms in saying I support it. I have several books in support of the naxals. I have openly said so in the past and will continue to say so.” Nonetheless, as many High courts and the Supreme Court in India have ruled on multiple occasions, ‘guilt by association’ is an invalid charge in a court of law in India, and hence being a ‘Maoist sympathizer’, holding Maoist beliefs, having Maoist literature does not constitute a crime. The burden of proof is on the state to show how material support has been provided to banned activities. This has clearly not been the case with Sudhir Dhawale who was finally released after 40 months in jail.

Indeed, the court’s ruling that set Dhawale free in 2014 is a very strongly worded condemnation of the abuse of state power under the UAPA. It is worth reproducing it here.

“From the evidence on record there appears not single piece of evidence that the accused persons had organized any terrorist camp, or having recruited any person for terrorist acts.”

Noting the “conflict” between security and personal liberties, the judge added:

“The curtailment of civil liberties and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution is held permissible only where the acts in question would involve a tendency to create an imminent danger of disturbance of law, or where the acts would amount to a clear and imminent incitement to violence.”

Since one of the main basis of the prosecution in the current 2018 case against Dhawale is his speech at the Elgar Parishad in which he supposedly called for ending the modern-day Peshwa rule, another part of the same judgment too maybe relevant to reproduce here:

“Therefore to constitute a ‘Terrorist act’ there needs to be an ‘act’, ‘intention’, and use of Specific weapons like bombs, dynamite, other explosive substances, inflammable substances, firearms or other lethal weapon , poisons or noxious gases or other chemicals or any other substances whether biological or otherwise of hazardous nature. In absence of these three ingredients no terrorist act can be attributed against the accused.”

India Civil Watch
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