Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad (Express Photo by Gajendra Yadav)
Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad’s right to peacefully challenge existing caste norms must be respected, Amnesty International India said Friday, asserting that his release was a “first step” towards “ensuring equal rights for Dalit women and men”.
Azad was arrested from Himachal Pradesh’s Dalhousie in June last year in connection with the May 5 caste violence in which one person was killed and 16 others were injured at Shabbirpur village in Saharanpur.
The Allahabad High Court had granted him bail on November 2, 2017. However, police booked him under the stringent National Security Act days before his release. Under the NSA, he was to be detained till November 1.
Amnesty India said the Uttar Pradesh government must now ensure that Azad is not targeted for his work to empower Dalits and, is not detained again without a fair trial. “The release of Azad is a first step by the Uttar Pradesh government towards ensuring equal rights for Dalit women and men who are challenging caste-based violence and discrimination,” the body said in a statement.
Asmita Basu, Programmes Director, Amnesty International India said the body was delighted that Azad had been released and will finally be reunited with his loved ones.
“He has been in jail since November 2017 without charge or trial. The Uttar Pradesh government must now ensure that Azad is not targeted for his work to empower Dalit communities and, is not detained again without a fair trial”, Basu said.
Basu added while this development is wonderful news, similar steps need to be taken across the country for human rights defenders who are being targeted under repressive laws.
Azad walked out of the jail as hundreds of his supporters wearing blue ‘Bhim Army’ caps had gathered outside the prison to celebrate his release, the Dalit group’s national spokesperson Manjeet Singh Nautiyal said. Many had thronged his residence and distributed sweets in the neighbourhood while a section of his admirers made a beeline to click a selfie with the Dalit leader.
“Azad had told an Amnesty India delegation, on September 10, that he feared that he would be re-arrested by the Uttar Pradesh government, on release. His re-arrest will indeed, raise disturbing questions about him being targeted for his activism.
“It is essential for courts to protect fair trial guarantees of all persons and ensure that the criminal justice system is not undermined”, Basu said.
The body said over 160,000 people across India had supported Amnesty International India’s campaign calling on Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath to release Azad.