The arrest and detention of Dalit activists in Lucknow by the Uttar Pradesh police for organising a press conference about caste-based violence violates their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Eight activists who were formally arrested from the Lucknow Press Club have since been released on bail.
The activists were planning to discuss, among other issues, the forcible return by the state police on 2 July of 43 Dalit activists from Gujarat who were travelling to Lucknow to present a 125 kilogram soap embossed with an image of the Buddha to the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister. The activists meant the present to be a symbolic protest, in response to officials gifting soap bars in May to Dalit families meeting the Chief Minister.
“The UP government is sending out the dangerous message that it will not tolerate any form of dissent. Instead of acting on reports of caste-based discrimination and violence, the government now seems to be intent on stifling all protests by Dalit activists,” said Asmita Basu, Programmes Director, Amnesty International India.
S R Darapuri, a Dalit activist and former police official who organized the press conference, said, “When I reached the press club, I found a large police presence there. Half an hour before the conference was scheduled, we got to know our booking had been cancelled. Then suddenly, police officials surrounded us and accused us of holding a meeting without permission, and took us into custody.”
The Uttar Pradesh police detained the activists under a ‘preventive detention’ provision of India’s Code of Criminal Procedure. They claimed that the protestors were planning to carry out a procession to the Chief Minister’s residence without permission.