As protests over self-immolation by Dalit activist Bhanu Vankar seeking land for Dalits spread to several parts of Gujarat, including Gandhinagar, Ahmedabad, Unjha and Patan in Mehsana district and Saurashtra Sunday, the government made frantic attempts to calm down the tension aggravated by the detention of Dalit leader and Independent MLA from Vadgam, Jignesh Mevani.
Police detained Mevani and several of his supporters from Kalupur in Ahmedabad around 10 am Sunday while they were on their way to stage demonstrations at Sarangpur. As news of Mevani’s detention spread, some unidentified people set a car on fire in Vadaj area of the city, police said. At Sami town in Patan, a Dalit woman suffered burn injuries during protests, creating a flutter in the district administration.
While city Crime Branch officials claimed that Mevani did “not behave properly” with the police during his detention, the MLA tweeted that he was pulled out of a car by police in a “very uncivilised manner”.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Ahmedabad Police Commissioner A K Singh said, “Mevani and his team members were detained under section 68 of the Gujarat Police Act. He was proceeding to organise a programme without prior permission. In order to ensure that there is no breach of peace or tranquillity we have detained them. They will be released in a couple of hours”.
Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) J K Bhatt said that since Mevani is a sitting MLA, the Crime Branch will send a report to the Speaker of the Assembly.
Two companies of anti-riot Rapid Action Force (RAF) and three companies of the State Reserve Police (SRP) were deployed in the city in view of the growing protests and bandh called by Mevani.
But Mevani’s detention evoked strong reactions from protesters. Vankar’s wife, Indu, refused to accept her husband’s body till Mevani was released by the police. “Even if my husband’s body is here (at the hospital mortuary) for the next 10 days, it is alright. I want Jigneshbhai to be released first. Till Jigneshbhai is released, we will not discuss the matter further (with the administration),” she said in a video that went viral.
Vankar’s family members were allowed to talk to Mevani over the phone while he was under detention. “ We have not yet decided to accept the body. We were told that Jigneshbhai will be released if we tell them that we will accept the body. We are not going to give any statement at the moment,” Vankar’s son Bhargav told The Indian Express.
By 8 pm, Mevani was released by the police as hundreds of Dalit protesters gathered outside the Gandhinagar Civil Hospital where Vankar’s body is kept in a mortuary following the post-mortem examination.
“The government has agreed to all their demands. We are not giving anything in writing. We are waiting for a decision from the family about accepting the body. I have been sitting at the hospital and having discussions with the family members,” said Satish Patel, Collector of Gandhinagar, told The Indian Express.