Wednesday, Jul 06, 2022

'Aghast And Shocked': Out On Bail, Jignesh Mevani Recalls His Tale Of Two Arrests

Jignesh Mevani tells Outlook that the case against him was an attempt to tarnish his image and it was beyond 'cheap' and 'mean'.

Dalit leader and independent MLA Jignesh Mevani File Photo

Gujarat MLA and Dalit activist Jignesh Mevani has been released on bail from a jail in Assam, over 2,000 km away from his home state, following his highly public arrest last month. Just before his arrest on April 19, Mevani, the Vadgam legislator, was attending the marriage of a girl from the Dalit community in Dhota Gaon of Palanpur in Gujarat. 

In an interview with Outlook, Mevani describes what happened that night. He says, “I had food at the wedding, met a lot of people and also took some selfies with them. I was talking to them about elections and politics. I was really feeling positive that day.” 

Little did Mevani know that he would be spending the rest of the night in flights and would be brought to the other corner of the country and put in jail.

A week prior to his arrest, communal clashes were reported from three places in Gujarat – Himmatnagar, Khambat, and Dwarka – during the celebration of Ram Navami. What caused his arrest was apparently a tweet by him on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 

After changing two flights, Mevani reached the Guwahati airport the next day. He recalls finding 20-25 police personnel outside the airport with rifles. 

He adds, “An atmosphere was staged to show that some big criminals were being caught. I know these psychological tactics were meant to play with my mind. But in my head, I was calm. I have been like this since my childhood.”

At the time of his arrest, however, Mevani recalls he was not given the copy of the FIR before boarding the flight to Guwahati. He says, “This is a blatant disregard of guidelines set by the apex court. It was only after the media arrived at Ahmedabad airport along with Gujarat Congress leader President Jagdish Thakor and my lawyer Paresh Vaghela, upon whose insistence I was provided with a copy of the FIR.”

On April 25, Mevani was granted bail after a day in judicial custody. However, the good news was followed by another FIR filed against him on the same day in Barpeta police station, a nearby district. This time, various new charges including assault of a public servant and outraging a woman’s modesty was levelled against him.

While the tweet has been blocked in India, screenshots have appeared on social media.

Screenshot of Mevani's tweet
Screenshot of Mevani's tweet

“I was aghast and shocked,” recalls Mevani. Following the accusations, Mevani’s bail application was rejected and he was sent to five days of custody on April 26. According to the MLA, this case was an attempt to tarnish his image and it was beyond “cheap” and “mean”.

He adds, “The policeman said a woman police officer has alleged that I had assaulted, pushed, abused her and tried to outrage her modesty. I said that nothing of this sort happened and these were blatant lies. This case under Article 354 was a conspiracy meant to tarnish my image. I was hurt more than angry. I was also feeling sorry for that lady and thought she must have been under pressure to do it to save her job.”

The Barpeta court granted bail to Mevani after two days. According to the MLA, what the 13-page bail order did was it dismissed all cloud of suspicion against him. It pulled up the Assam Police for filing a “false FIR” and “abusing the process of the court and the law”.

He says, “Whenever I could speak to the media, I told that all these cases are nothing but a conspiracy to keep me behind the bar ahead of the polls. Now as the bail order came out, BJP’s attempt to tarnish my image turned to be a boomerang.”

This was not the 41-year-old leader’s first brush with law. Mevani, who draws huge support from the Dalit community and the Congress Party, has previously stayed in the Ahmedabad jail for four and a half days. But this time what made him emotional during his stay was his little niece not being able to call him.

Mevani tells Outlook, “You know, I have a charming niece who video calls me many times a day. I was worried thinking that she could not call me. My parents could not get in touch either. That made me emotional. Otherwise, I was in a good mood.”