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Controverial Gujarat arrest of tribal leader under PASA: Civil society bodies asked to flood protest letters

By Our Representative
The Adivasi Kisan Sangharsh Morcha (AKSM), a fast-growing people’s organization of South Gujarat, has asked all civil society bodies across Gujarat and India to flood letters to the Gujarat government to “remove” the charges under the Prevention of Anti-Social Activities (PASA) Act, which led to the controversial arrest senior tribal farmer leader Jayram Gamit in January-end. Gamit was taken to Rajkot, about 400 km away, soon after the arrest. The AKSM’s appeal comes close on the heels of a belated statement by dozen-odd senior Gujarat activists led by Indukumar Jani, a Gandhian, “condemning” the arrest and calling it “unconstitutional”.
A senior activist who participated in a civil society meeting two days back at Ahmedabad’s Khet Bhawan, where the civil society's belated statement was prepared, told Counterview that several NGOs, including some that vow by human rights, were “openly reluctant” to stand by Gamit and AKSM, saying they take "radical stances". “People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) office bearers were present at the meeting, where the statement was prepared. It is difficult to understand why the PUCL hasn’t taken up Gamit’s cause”, the participant wondered.
Gujarat PUCL general secretary Gautam Thaker, responding to a Counterview query, said, "We have not responded to the arrest of Gamit because we came to know about it only on February 10. Nobody informed us about it earlier." Asked whether the PUCL was considering to approach the Gujarat High Court, whose especially appointed committee alone is empowered to decide on PASA cases, he said, "I am in the midst of collecting facts and see what can be done." Gujarat PUCL president Prakash N Shah, when asked about Gamit's arrest, he said, "I've no knowledge about it, what happened?"
Pointing towards the "urgent need to unite" against such the strong-arm tactics of the state government by imposing such “draconian Acts like PASA on activists, the top activist, requesting anonymity, insisted, “The impression one got at the meeting was that several us do not want Dalit or Adivasi leadership to emerge and take up human rights issues. We fear loss of hegemony.” While Gamit is a tribal, AKSM chief Romel Sutariya, who is 24, is a Dalit, and calls himself a “radical follower of Dr BR Ambedkar".
Notably, following Gamit’s arrest in January-end, the Gujarat government came up with a stange  order dubbing entire Chhotaudepur district as “terrorist prone” in order to impose curfew in all its blocks till February 14. The arrest of Gamit and subsequent declaration of Chhotaudepur as “terrorist prone” following the AKSM’s decision that, starting on February 2, it would begin indefinite sit-in in front of the Chhotaudepur district collector’s office to protest against “illegal sand mining”, destroying adivasi farmers’ crops and alluvial soil.
“Despite repeated representations, the Gujarat government did next to nothing to stop sand mining. There is a clear nexus between the establishment and the mining mafia. This forced us to decide to begin the sit-in, which was going to totally peaceful and non-violent”, said Sutariya, adding, “Yet, we began being seen suspiciously, as if we were terrorists. Top cops in personal talks even asked me where did I have Naxalite training. This is ridiculous.”
Referring to Gamit’s arrest under PASA, and his detention in a jail in Rajkot since February 1, Sutariya said, the tribal leader's name “does not appear as on involved in illegal activities in any of the earlier police complaints. The decision to impose PASA on Gamit, calling him a mastermind in provoking an attack on foresters was an afterthought.” He added, “The sessions court found nothing against Gamit in the provocation against the foresters, and hence granted him anticipatory bail. This made the officials to impose PASA.”

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