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Concerns over 'illegal' detention of Indian Dalits

Concerns over 'illegal' detention of Indian Dalits
From Al Jazeera - January 11, 2018

Activists in India say hundreds of Dalits have been "illegally detained" and many others are in hiding, as police in Maharashtra state moved to arrest members of the community who took part inmass protests.

Last week, Dalits from across the state took to the streets to protest against a January 1 attack on the community, during the 200th-anniversary celebrations of the Battle of Bhima-Koregaon.

In that battle, in 1818, lower-caste Dalits sided with British colonial forcesto defeat upper-caste rulers.

On Wednesday, Indian media reports quotedpolice as saying they had arrested 43 people, including three minors, in connection with the violence in Bhima-Koregaon in Pune district and ensuing protests across the state.

But Dalit organisations and activists told Al Jazeera the number of those who had been arrested exceeded 100, with 16 children among those detained.

Prakash Ambedkar, an activist and grand-son of Bhimrao Ambedkar, the architect of the Indian constitution and a Dalit icon, said he fears thousands of Dalits are being "illegally detained" in Maharashtra.

"The combing operation that is being done now by the state police is not allowed under the law. A combing operation of this kind can only be done when you have declared the region as a 'disturbed area'. That's not the case in Mumbai. So this is an illegal act," Ambedkar told Al Jazeera.

"The masses will have to decide whether they want this kind of lawlessness in the country or they want rule of law," he added.

'We were forced to flee our homes'

On January 3 and 4, police said members of the Dalit community stopped buses, blocked rail lines and shut shops in Mumbai and other parts of Maharashtra state during protests against the Bhima-Koregaon attack by right-wing groups.

Police have filed a case against two right-wing leaders, Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide, for their role in the violence. Bhide is close to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) anda former member ofthe Hindu supremacist organisationRashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh(RSS).

Many Dalits, other lower-castes, and Buddhists gather at the war memorial in the Bhima-Koregaon village to celebrate the defeat of the Hindu upper caste Peshwas, in an annual event.

A 28-year-old man was killed during the violence, according to the state government.

Santosh Gaikwad and his family - including his sisters and their children - are in hiding. They say the police are after them, following a complaint by leaders of the RSS, the ideological parent body of the BJP.

"We are forced to flee our homes and stay with relatives. If we return home, the police might arrest us," Gaikwad, a businessman in Mumbai's Vikroli area, told Al Jazeera.

"My nieces [aged 20 and 22] have also been charged, along with the rest of my family, under Section 307 of the Indian penal code [which deals with] 'attempt to murder'.

"We are unable to get to work, our lives are disrupted. We are filing for anticipatory bail now," he said, while still in hiding.

Al Jazeera reached out to the Joint Commissioner (Law & Order) of Mumbai Police, Deven Bharti, to confirm the numbers of those arrested. He asked us to send a written query instead. Al Jazeera is still awaiting response to an email sent to Bharti.

Arrested, beaten and deprived of work

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