Two weeks after two publishers and as many editors were arrested for reprinting late poet Babu Rajab Ali's work carrying caste-denoting words, the Punjab police claim to have found out that the two editors-cum-poets were Dalits themselves and have since withdrawn the SC/ST Act against them.
But the police's claimed lack of knowledge was actually a lie, proven by arrest documents dated September 15 that clearly mention that the two editors are Dalits.
As per the SC/ST Act, any individual belonging to the Scheduled Castes and Schedules Tribes community cannot be booked under the Act.
In the first case, on the basis of which Samana-based publisher Ashik Garg and poet-editor Sukhwinder Singh Swatantar were arrested, the 'jama talashi' (search memo), 'bakua giraftari' (arrest log) and 'naksha' (physical detail report) all mention, several times, that Swatantar is a Ramdassia Sikh.
On Saturday, while confirming that the SC/ST Act had been withdrawn against Swatantar, Samana deputy superintendent of police (DSP) Sewa Singh Malhi told HT, "We did not know initially that he was a Dalit. In that case, the SC/ST Act cannot be levied against him."
On Sunday, Malhi, the formal complainant in the Samana FIR, did not take calls.
In the other, similar case in which Barnala-based publisher Amit Mittar and poet-editor Jagjeet Singh Sahoke were arrested, Sahoke's caste is mentioned as Ramdassia Sikh in all three documents, which are signed by the DSP, Harmik Singh Deol. Deol, too, said on Saturday that the SC/ST Act was withdrawn after over 10 days since "procedures were being followed and determination of the caste of Sahoke took time".
Deol's signatures are on all three documents, which were prepared on September 15, the day of the arrest. He, too, did not respond to phone calls on Sunday.
However, the two publishers and the unnamed Delhi-based printer of both books still face the severe SC/ST Act.
In fact, the publishers, editors and the printer are all still accused under section 153 (promoting enmity on grounds of religion, race, etc) of the IPC.
Mittar and Sahoke, who were in Barnala jail, managed to get bail from the court there on Saturday, while Garg and Swatantar had got bail four days before that.
"This is sheer abuse of the law that is actually for protection of Dalits, but was used to victimise them," said Narain Dutt, a social activist from Barnala.
"The police's own record clearly shows that they knew from the very beginning that the editors are from the Dalit community. Now, afraid of the Punjab State Scheduled Caste Commission, they are coming up with lame excuses," said Dutt.
Dalip Singh Pandhi, member of the SC panel, has called the case humbug and demanded its quashing altogether.
"With the police lies now nailed, the theory that the police acted in haste after some stray protests in Moga, and possibly under pressure for political reasons, gains even more credence," said Dutt.
The two books under question carried folk poetry by Rajab Ali (1894-1979) that has been re-printed countless times. Intellectuals have argued that almost all historical texts carry caste words, even in apparently negative connotations, but these texts have literary sanctity and sociological importance.