Raju Dipti*, well-known social activist, was one of those who were detained on January 18 when the cattle breeders of Hansalpur village, protesting against land acquisition for Maruti-Suzuki project in North Gujarat, were preparing for their march towards Gujarat’s state capital, Gandhinagar. In the following account, he suggests how the cops showed a high degree of insensitivity towards the protesters:
As a humble member of Jameen Adhikar Andolan Gujarat (JAAG), when I arrived in Hansalpur around 10 am on January 18, 2014 I found that the village was surrounded from all sides. The maldhari and villagers were sitting together thinking of the next steps.
After a while we proceeded to the spot where the cows from four villages had gathered. We found that 150-200 strong posse of police was deployed across the road from that spot. We also were informed that herds of cows from four other villages and a group of satyagrahis from those villages were stopped by the police and prevented from assembling in Hansalpur. Simultaneously, the police slowly started to inch towards the spot where about 800-1,000 cows had been kept. In the meantime, Lalji Desai of JAAG arrived on the scene and it seemed as if the police were determined not to allow anyone out of the village and it appeared as if they were going to arrest everyone there.
After a quick discussion as to the next step, it was decided to quickly step on to the road and begin the rally to Gandhinagar. The police and we were about 300-400 metres apart, distance wise, and had the police allowed us to proceed peacefully the cows would not have panicked. The police suddenly and abruptly rushed on to the spot where everyone was assembled and with the intention of confining us to the spot they closed off all exit points.
While the maldharis were herding the cows, the police started to run towards them with lathis. On seeing this, the cows started to run onto the road. It was sheer chaos with the cows running helter-skelter, as the dumb animals were completely startled by the behaviour of the police.
Had the police shown a little sensitivity and good sense in allowing the situation to settle down, the ensuing chain of events could have been averted.
Determined not to allow the rally to start at any cost, the police officers, mainly of the rank of PSIs and PIs, started, in the most cruel fashion, to rain lathi blows on the people assembled there. I myself ran across to the field on the other side of the road, and a lady constable over there told me that what was happening was not right. When she said this, I noticed that a male police officer was pulling at a maldhari woman by her hair.
Seeing this I ran up to another policeman who was beating up an elderly maldhari man with lathi, and told him, politely: “Sir, what you are doing is not correct”. I do not know why, but my words did affect him and he stopped the beating and left the place.
I was worried about Lalji Desai and I saw that Lalji was trying to reason with the policemen, who were abusing the maldharis (men and women), pushing them into the police vans. Lalji was asking them if they had the power to beat up people, without any reason or provocation. I saw that a plainclothes policeman, who was leading the lathi charge, was also there. I confronted him saying: “I have seen you raining most of the blows. Who are you?”
This man, his ego bruised, asked me: “Who are you to question me or challenge me?” I told him that their behaviour would not be tolerated, and that if they wanted to beat us, they could do so. Lalji told them: “Rajubhai will take your blows, but he is a senior and a respected social activist, and you ought not to misbehave with him”.
But that policeman caught me by the collar, started talking very abrasively with me, and I found myself surrounded by police. Perhaps the police may have had no intention to detain me, and no policeman till then had even lifted a hand against me. But I was punished for confronting a wrongdoing and was pushed into the van. The police personnel who had carried out the lathi charge turned away in the opposite direction.
We were initially told that we were being detained and we would be taken to the nearest police station. However, we were taken to the Viramgam police line. We protested and asked the policemen that we should be produced in the court. We also asked them to inform us of the process that we were being made to go through, as also a medical checkup of all those who had sustained injuries from lathis and rifle butts. All this was of no avail.
Even some innocent bystanders and sympathisers were pushed into the police vans, and we asked that, at least, they be allowed to go, but that too fell on deaf ears. We were taken to a hostel-like place and were almost entirely in a situation of house arrest where we remained instead of being taken for medical checkup or informing us of the next steps. Each one of us observed that they refused to provide any food to us, even tea. At last at around 4 pm they started the official process of our detention.
After our persistent demand, all those who had received injuries at 10 am were taken for medical checkup at 4 pm, and that too in a private dispensary, and we were again cheated. The police officer in charge of all of us was altogether insensitive and indecisive, and did not convey our demands to his higher ups and kept on waiting for “orders from above”. All we could do was to wait.
Yet, every one of us showed exemplary unity and determination. With a smile on their face they were feeling a deep satisfaction of having fought for their dignity and their rights and of having fought to save their precious pasturelands.
At last, the process was put into motion, and at around 10 pm we were produced before a magistrate at his residence, and we were released on bail. Some of the persons even registered a complaint against the police atrocity. In anger against this, the police again retaliated by dropping off the people in the middle of nowhere. If they hadn’t complained they would have been dropped off at their homes!
To sum up the events of the day: Jameen Adhikar Andolan Gujarat (JAAG) emerged stronger, much stronger and bolder.
* Senior social activist associated with Jameen Adhikar Aandolan Gujarat (JAAG)