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Padyatris detained: Why's UP police feeling so insecure? Sandeep Pandey asks Yogi

Counterview Desk 

Well-known academic and Magsaysay award winning social activist Sandeep Pandey in an open letter to Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, alluding to a recent protest padyatra he and his colleagues had planned in support of the Azamgarh farmers' opposition to the international airport, has wondered: why, when their contingent was as small as about a dozen persons, his government was feeling so insecure as to send a huge police force to block it?
Accusing the UP police of resorting to illegal ways of violating the fundamental rights of freedom of speech and expression, assemble peaceably, form associations or unions, and move freely, Pandy, who is, general secretary, Socialist Party (India), said, "It is unclear why they have to resort to illegal ways of detaining people, snatching their mobile phones, not allowing pictures to be taken or talk to media while they are in detention without any case being lodged against the detainees."

Text:

We were to take out a padyatra during 24-27 December, 2022 from Varanasi to Manduri, Azamgarh in support of a farmers’ movement going on at Manduri since 13 October against a proposed international airport which would involve taking over of 670 acres of land belonging to 8 villages uprooting close to ten thousand people. This padyatra was to mark the completion of 75 days of the daily sit-in observed by mainly women at Khiriya Bagh, an open space in Manduri.
I and the leader of the movement in Azamgarh, my friend Rajeev Yadav, were in touch with the intelligence personnel of UP police to inform them about all details. The padyatra was to have 10-15 people walking for 4 days, distributing pamphlets and not holding any big meeting on the way. The padyatra was to terminate in the daily meeting at Manduri on 27 December. We assumed that since the movement was being allowed to take place, the padyatra will also proceed unhindered. Earlier 13 farmers and activists from Unnao, Barabanki, Kanpur and Lucknow had travelled in two vehicles from Kanpur to Azamgarh.
After boarding the train from Lucknow on 23 December late evening within half an hour a UP police personnel arrived in the coach in which 5 of us were travelling. Soon it became clear that he was there to keep a watch on us and to inform his seniors about our location. As was expected, a large posse of police was waiting for us at the Varanasi Cantonment Railway station early morning. We were taken to the Sigra police station and then to the police lines. It was clear that the UP government did not want this padyatra to take place. I don’t understand why does your government feel insecure with a padyatra of small number of people who would have just distributed about ten thousand pamphlets on the way?
While at the police lines the police did not want us to use our mobiles phones, they made an attempt to snatch the phone of my colleague that I was using and relented only when I threatened that I’ll get involved in physical tussle if they pursued. Friends had come to meet us and were waiting outside but the police would not let us meet them. They did not even allow our breakfast to be let in which was brought by a friend Ranju. I had to then go on a sit in inside the police lines. I moved from the sofa in the room to the ground. My 5 colleagues did likewise. I also communicated that I will not talk to any senior police officers until my friends who had arrived outside would be allowed to come in to meet us. Finally, when Assistant Commissioner of Police Dr Atul Anjan Tripathi arrived he allowed my friends in on the condition that they will not take any photographs inside. Additional Commissioner of Police Rakesh Kumar Pandey also arrived soon. Meanwhile, I noticed that my 5 colleagues who had come with me were separated from me and the pamphlets, banner and placards that we had bought were stolen. I complained about this to Additional CP. He said there was no room to seat my 5 friends. I moved to the ground and said that if some of us sit on ground space can be created. When he realized I was going on a sit-in again he ordered my 5 colleagues to be brought in and promised to return our publicity material when we left. He wanted to send us to Azamgarh. With his permission we conducted a meeting with friends from Varanasi and Azamgarh who had come to see us and decided that we’ll go to Lucknow and come to Azamgarh only on the 75th day of the movement, 26 December.
Seven of us including Amit Maurya, Sant Ram from Barabanki, Ram Shankar and Ramshankar from Unnao, Shyam Bihari from Hardoi and Adil Ansari from Kannauj were sent back in a police vehicle to Lucknow around noon time. Bhagwan Awaghade who had arrived from Satara, Maharashtra to participate in the padyatra decided to accompany Rajeev Yadav to Azamgarh.
ACP who had promised us that we would be allowed to give interviews and our pictures taken once we were outside the police lines campus fooled us by asking the driver not to stop our vehicle as it left the campus.
Actions of UP government are not going to reflect positively in attempt to seek foreign and national investments for business
Rajeev had hardly reached 22 kms outside Varanasi in a vehicle driven by his brother Vinod Yadav, when at about 2:30 pm they were confronted by a group of plainclothesmen in an unnumbered vehicle claiming to be from Special Task Force. They thrashed Rajeev and Vinod and forced them to sit in their vehicle, snatched the vehicle keys from Vinod’s hand and sped away in the direction to Varanasi but to return to go to Azamgarh after a while. For one hour they grilled Rajeev on the question of his involvement in the movement against international airport, about inviting leaders like Medha Patkar and Rakesh Tikait to the movement, about my organizing the padyatra, about the source of his funds, etc. Meanwhile I had sent messages to senior police officers including Additional Director General of Police, Ram Kumar about Rajeev and Vinod’s kidnapping by unidentified men. A person Vinod Dubey, among the kidnappers, was communicating with Superintendent of Police, Azamgarh. Finally they brought Rajeev and Vinod to Kandhrapur police station near the movement spot in Manduri and then took them to a District court to sign a self-bond so that they could be released. Apparently, a case was filed against them but we don’t know for what offense.
Your government claims that law and order situation has improved in its rule. However, the fact is that police has become repressive. It is unclear why they have to resort to illegal ways of detaining people, snatching their mobile phones, not allowing pictures to be taken or talk to media while they are in detention without any case being lodged against the detainees. If the Azamgarh police wanted to question Rajeev they could have done that in a straightforward manner by inviting Rajeev for a dialogue. What was the need of involving Crime branch to stage a kidnapping and treat the leader of a movement as criminal while themselves acting as hoodlums? Police is obviously acting unprofessionally and resorting to illegal ways violating our constitutional fundamental rights under Article 19 (a) to freedom of speech and expression, (b) to assemble peaceably, (c) to form associations or unions, and (d) to move freely throughout the territory of India.
Please ensure that UP police acts in a professional manner and doesn’t stoop to illegal methods of operation. Such actions by your police and government are obviously not going to reflect positively in your attempt to seek foreign and national investments by business corporations.

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