Jean Dreze is a world-renowned activist. Together with two colleagues, he refused to sign an oath of loyalty to the government. For him, democracy in India "is shrinking". Meanwhile, “people survive by eating rats,” says Sajan K George, and what does police do, they place people “in preventive custody for an unauthorised meeting”.
Mumbai (AsiaNews) – A Belgian-born Indian economist was arrested and then released by police in the Indian state of Jharkhand for participating in a protest in favour of the "right to food".
Jean Dreze has embraced the "Right to Food" movement, a worldwide campaign, and is taking it to Indian villages. The authorities, however, stopped him for allegedly not having the permits for a public protest.
“This is appalling,” said Sajan K George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), speaking to AsiaNews.
“In Jhanrkhand, people survive by eating rats and Jean Dreze is placed in preventive custody for an unauthorised meeting. People there are starving and officials continue to deny the truth."
The arrest took place yesterday in Garhwa, about 220 km from Ranchi. According to witnesses, the economist was demonstrating peacefully when he was surrounded by police.
The agents are said to have asked him and two other colleagues to sign an oath of "loyalty" to the government. When the three activists refused to sign, the agents took them to the police station, where they remained for about two hours.
News of their detention spread quickly on social media, sparking outrage and anger on the part of activists and civil society groups.
Police justified the arrest saying the protesters did not have permission and violated the Model Code of Conduct (MCC). However, as criticism mounted on social media, the three activists were released.
After he was let go, Dreze said that no one told him and his fellow activists they could not organise a protest.
“It is very important to hold peaceful, non-political meetings during elections’” Dreze said. “Nowhere in the MCC is it written that we cannot hold such meetings.”
He is also upset at the unfairness, noting that police took no action against a public meeting held in the area the evening before. “This is double standards,” he said. Sadly, “the understanding of democracy is shrinking.”
Dreze, 59, is a well-known economist who teaches at the Delhi School of Economics and is a Visiting Professor at the Department of Economics, Ranchi University. He was a member of the National Advisory Council of India.
He arrived in India in 1979, and eventually became naturalised. He has been fighting for years against hunger, famine and gender inequalities.
By choice, he decided to live in the most extreme simplicity, giving up luxuries and comforts.
In the 1980s, when he taught at the London School of Economics, he lived with the city’s homeless. As a result of his activism, several shelters were set up for panhandlers.
Today he lives with his wife in Delhi, in a one-room mud house.