October 23, 2017 | By Parmjeet Singh
New Delhi: Authorities in Haryana must drop fabricated charges against Rajat Kalsan, a Dalit lawyer and human rights defender, and ensure that he receives adequate protection against violence by dominant caste members, Amnesty International India said today.
“Attacks on human rights defenders in India are becoming an everyday phenomenon,” said Karthik Navayan, Programme Manager at Amnesty International India. “It is alarming that authorities appear to be misusing the justice system to harass activists, instead of protecting their rights.”
Rajat Kalsan has frequently represented Dalits in Haryana who have faced discrimination and violence by members of dominant castes, including in cases of gang-rapes, killings and house-burnings. He has been harassed and intimidated in the past for his work defending the rights of Dalit people. In 2011, he was provided police protection. The protection was withdrawn in 2016 without any apparent reassessment of the risks he faces.
In July 2017, Rajat Kalsan assisted Dalit villagers from Bhatla, Hansi, to file a criminal complaint after a social boycott was imposed against them by members of dominant castes. Subsequently, he received several death threats from dominant caste villagers. On 2 September, he was forced to flee from Batla village fearing assault by a group of dominant caste members, after he tried to assist a fact-finding team constituted by the Punjab and Haryana High Court.
On 14 September, the police registered a case against Kalsan which alleged that he had tried to instigate Dalit villagers to file false complaints. The First Information Report in the case mentioned offences including extortion, promoting enmity between different groups, providing false evidence and criminal conspiracy. The High Court of Punjab and Haryana granted Kalsan pre-arrest bail on 29 September. If convicted, Rajat Kalsan could face life imprisonment.
Kalsan also faces charges of rioting, public disruption and other offences in two cases filed in 2015 and 2016, following his participation in protests related to caste-based discrimination. Amnesty International India believes all these charges to be politically motivated in order to obstruct Rajat Kalsan’s work defending Dalit rights. Kalsan has been forced to suspend his legal practice and leave his home town, fearing violence and arrests on other fabricated charges.
Rajat Kalsan told Amnesty International India that the district police had recommended that the Bar Council of Punjab and Haryana to cancel his lawyer registration license. The District Superintendent of Police, Hansi, refused to answer questions about this measure. Amnesty International India is concerned that this measure may have been taken to further harass and intimidate the lawyer.
Amnesty International India urges authorities to ensure that Rajat Kalsan is adequately protected and allowed to pursue his work in a safe and enabling environment. Authorities must further conduct a thorough, independent and impartial investigation into the threats and attacks he has reported, and bring those responsible to justice.