Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan of Bhim Army addressed a crowd at the midnight celebrations of Independence Day, held in Bengaluru by the committee for land and housing rights. There, he said, “The cops here have made me sign a statement barring me from making an objectionable speech, but I will say what I’ve come here to say anyway. I will not stay silent from fear of arrest or of being put in jail. I have faced one and a half years of jail time in Uttar Pradesh, for being involved in the Dalit movement. Here, I am ready to fight for the land of marginalized communities and go to jail. It is a crime to stay silent in the face of injustices and atrocities, a crime we must not commit. Our fight against injustice works to keep the constitution alive.”
He added, “Several forces seek to destroy our unity in this battle, and we must not allow this to happen. I plan to raise the struggle for land to the national level. We must be the ones to teach the government to respect the constitution, and to abide by the law of the land.”
“The government must understand the seriousness of this struggle. Those who currently rule us are rich. Our rights can only be ensured once there is a government of the poor. We must compel the government to overcome its negligence and respond to the needs of the poor. We must strengthen our voice in order to be heard by its deaf ears. The rich have ruled us by leveraging the power of their wealth. We must show this government that our land cannot be seized. The government can oppress us, but it cannot make us bend or scare us away. Bhim Army is with you, it is for the rights of the poor,” he assured the people. Thousands had assembled despite the rains at Sirur Park to listen to Chandrashekhar. This was his first time in South India.
Activist Noor Sridhar, who also spoke at the event, said, “When people migrate from the village to the city, they are forced to live next to the gutters, amid terrible odor. Even these areas are now denied to the poor. Even their basic needs, of having a place to live in order to do their daily wage work, has not been met. Under Bengaluru’s bright sunshine, there is deep darkness.” His anger was clear.
“We are observing a day meant for celebration, with great sadness and pain. True independence has not reached the oppressed in this country, it has not reached Dalits and women. This day will only realize its full meaning when these sections of society are able to lead their lives with dignity and self-respect. And this is not just a rural or tribal issue. Urban workers and slum dwellers also suffer routinely. They are not demanding thousands of acres of land, but just enough to survive with dignity,” he said.
The government’s response: the call for a meeting
On the orders of the Chief Minister, his special correspondent/officer Dr. A Lokesh arrived at the protest site and promised to arrange a High Power Committee meeting to discuss land and housing issues, within two days of forming a new Cabinet. He offered to discuss all these issues then, and move towards a solution.
KJS Mariyappa, the head of the committee for land and housing rights struggle Bengaluru unit inaugurated the event. Thousands of poor, homeless & landless people from various districts went along a ‘Candlelight parade ́ and observed a satyagraha at Sirur Park, at midnight. Freedom fighter HS Doreswami hoisted the flag at midnight and addressed the crowd. He said that the liberation of the poor itself is real independence. “I will fight for this cause till my last breath,” he vowed.
The midnight celebrations were kicked off by playing drums at Sirur Park. HS Doreswami, Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan, Dr. Vijaya, Noor Sridhar, DH Poojar, Siddhanagowda Patil, R Manasayya, Indira Krishnappa, Kumar Samathala, Sirimane Nagaraj, Heggodu Prasanna, Siddhanagowda Modige, Agalaganchi and the founder of Vishwashaanti Souharda Peetha, Vijayananda Swamiji were all present. Cultural programs and slogans for the poor went on throughout the night. The committee planned to march to the parade ground if the government had not heard them by morning; however, the protest was called off at twelve, as representatives from the government arrived to hear the protestors out.