On Saturday evening, a group of 63 social activists of Soochna Evum Rozgar Adhikaar Abhiyaan, an umbrella organization which encompasses about 150 different organizations across Rajasthan working on various rights-based issues, were allegedly attacked by BJP MLA from Rajasthan, Kanwar Lal Meena, while they were holding a rally at Aklera in Jhalawar district. The state-wide yatra, spearheaded by the Mazdoor Kishaan Shakti Sanghatan (MKSS), was in the final phase of their year-long campaign across the state to create awareness about people's rights.
Of the 63 activists, 12 including some women were grievously injured, while several others had minor injuries.
Jhalawar is Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje’s home district and her constituency Jhalraptan is in the same district. Her son, Dushyant Singh, is a Lok Sabha MP from Jhalawar-Baran constituency.
Here is an eyewitness account of Radhika Ganesh, who is one of the 12 people who were seriously injured.
We usually go to a town’s market for a small rally since it is the busiest part of the town. We sing songs and play percussion instruments. We have two jeeps, and the placard and mic-set travels with us. We shout slogans and sing songs, but none of this involves any personal attack. We mention that we are not political, that we don’t belong to the Congress or BJP and that we are active citizens and civil society organizations which have come together for the yatra.
On January 16, we reached Aklera in Jhalawar district at about 4 30pm. We switched on our mics and sang songs. Shankar Singh, founder MKSS, started doing a puppet show and explaining what the yatra was about. Half an hour later Shankar ji announced saying this was the end of puppet show, and that those who were willing to donate small amounts like Rs. 5 or Rs. 10 can donate.
All of a sudden, three young men with lathis came charging towards us. One man pushed Shankar ji off the stool that he was standing on and hit him. One of the younger activists, Karthik, held the guy, but the guy dragged Karthik for about 50 meters. The other young men attacked Anurag Singh, an independent documentary filmmaker who was shooting and documenting the whole yatra. The men were trying to beat the camera off Anurag’s hand and grab it. Anurag held the camera close to him and got hit. Then they also charged towards Kamal Nath, another activist. Kamal was holding the mic as well. So Kamal, Anurag and Shankar who were easily identifiable were attacked. The crowd immediately responded and tried to help us, but the men ran away. Kamal ran behind the guy who hit him and held him. There was a police constable Babulal who was standing there, and Kamal asked him for help. But Babulal did not do anything, and when confronted said, “But I know this man.”
Shankar ji then announced that we should not get involved in any local politics, and that we were leaving. We started walking towards the exit, where our bus was standing. Within 5 minutes of the first attack, about 45-50 men armed with lathis came charging at us from two different directions. They came running and shouting, “Take the camera, take camera.”
One man in a brown jacket and orange shirt charged at Shankar ji and started beating him. Then other men thrashed the jeep and mic systems. At that point, one part of the mob started targeting the equipment. Anurag was still filming all of this while he was running. They were after him and I was trying to protect him.
Everybody was getting hit. All our volunteers were getting dragged and hit with our own placards.
I tried to stop them from hitting us, and I got hit too. I looked at two other activists, Amitha and Poorvi, and said “We can’t retaliate.” We grabbed two lathis and formed a human chain in the hope that we will stop the man in the orange shirt. He came charging towards us, and I started screaming, asking him why he was hitting us.
Then some men attacked us from behind. I was hit in the neck with a lathi, Poorvi on the back and Amitha on the leg. One man grabbed me by my neck, bent me over and started hitting me on my back.
We were begging the police to help us, they were at least 5-6 of them standing there, but they did not help us. At that point a woman in the crowd told us, “The MLA himself is hitting you, the policemen won’t do anything, go from here.” She pointed to the man in the orange shirt and said that’s the MLA.
Then I went to the MLA and started screaming at him asking why he was hitting us. He slapped me on my right-jaw. Then our human chain broke and he ran towards Anurag, who was holding the camera. We screamed at Anurag asking him to run. Anurag started running and found a police jeep parked. He tried to enter it asking for help, the constable pushed him out and locked the jeep.
A mob of about 20-25 men started running towards Anurag and he ran into a gully. Now everyone went behind Anurag, so the mob left us. Then I saw a bunch of them taking Anurag’s camera away in the other direction. I looked at the policemen near us and asked them to get the camera, but they did not respond.
We went looking for Anurag. We found him beat up inside the gully, so we picked him and brought him out. The mob had run away by then, but the policemen were just standing and looking at us. A policemen said, “MLA sir was hitting you, how can we stop you.”
(The MLA of Jhalawar is Kanwar Lal Meena of the BJP, a known history-sheeter with several charges of rioting, fraud, extortion, robbery and criminal intimidation, among other things.)
Meanwhile one activist had entered a shop to call Nikhil Dey, senior member of the MKSS. Nikhil ji immediately escalated the issue and called the CM’s office and DGP in Jaipur. About 30 minutes later a deputy SP came to the spot. He came to me and asked if I was Radhika. He wanted me to come with him. I said yes, but told him we were not moving till we account for every person in the team. Four young boys from our team we were missing.
We went to a police outpost, and the guys who beat us up came there. We started identifying them, and then a constable warned them and asked them to leave.
We found the other 4 people on the highway, and from there we went to the police station.
From left: Amitha, Atul, Radhika Ganesh, Anurag Singh, Mujeeb
We were given first aid at the police station. The Collector and SP also came there, and we narrated the story to them. The Collector called the MLA on the phone right in front of us, and he apparently told the Collector that he was there to help us since he heard that women and children were being beaten up. The Collector also asked the MLA for the camera, and the MLA said he is sending men out to search for it.
About three hours later, a young boy walked in with Anurag’s camera. The camera was broken. The tape was taken out and jammed shut with Feviquick. The young boy kept changing his version about how he got the camera.
Shankar ji gave a hand-written complaint, and the police officials tampered with the complaint. The FIR just mentioned an “MLA” and did not have his name or any details.
Now we have found a video of the MLA indulging in violence.
(Watch video below)