Members of the Vimukt community of Madhya Pradesh have written a letter to Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan asking him to reconsider the recent amendments made in the state’s Excise Act. Along with this, he has also demanded the inclusion of his community in some of the exemptions given to the tribals in the law.
New Delhi: Members of the Vimukt community of Madhya Pradesh have written an open letter to Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan asking him to reconsider the recent amendments made in the Madhya Pradesh Excise Act, 1952. This letter has been supported by 83 activists, lawyers and academicians across the country.
The Madhya Pradesh Excise Act is a colonial-era law that regulates the import, export, sale, manufacture and transportation of all liquor in the state.
Two important issues have been raised in this letter – first, the amendment increases the seriousness of certain offences, providing for the death penalty for repeat offenses of death by spurious liquor. Second, while the Chief Minister has announced that tribals will now be allowed to make and sell Mahua, and that minor cases registered against them under the Excise Act will be withdrawn, such exemptions have not been given to the denotified communities.
Earlier this year, the Criminal Justice and Police Accountability Project released a report detailing how the 1952 Act was used to target the Vimukt, SC, ST and OBC communities.
The full letter from members of the Vimukt community can be read below.
Hon’ble Chief Minister,
We are writing you this letter/petition with reference to the announcement made by you on 5 October 2021. In the tribal convention organized in Jhabua, you had said that the tribal brothers and sisters will get the freedom to make and sell traditional liquor under the new excise policy. We appreciate your announcement and would like to share with you our concerns and demands related to this.
As you know that there are 51 denotified, nomadic and semi-nomadic communities in Madhya Pradesh. The lifestyle and culture of some of these communities is similar to that of the Scheduled Tribes. In the Kanjar and Kuchbandiya communities, Mahua liquor is traditionally used in all the festivals from the birth of a person to his death and the people of the community also make a living by selling small quantities of Mahua liquor for their livelihood.
But our communities will not get the benefit of the amendment related to Heritage Liquor (Traditional Liquor) made in the Excise Act in August 2021 because despite such equality, we are not counted in the category of Scheduled Tribes.
Our only demand from your government is that in this new excise policy, the exempted communities can also get the freedom to make and sell liquor of Mahua, such a provision should be made. With this step, our livelihood and culture will also be protected and the people of our community will be saved from false cases and police repression.
In the second part of your announcement, you said that minor criminal cases against people belonging to Scheduled Tribes will also be withdrawn. This is a very commendable step. In this context, we would like to place before you some concerns and facts related to our communities.
It has been observed that police target our communities in excise related crimes or other minor offences. A research shows that 56% of the arrests made under the Excise Act between 2018-2020 were of Adivasis, Dalits, Other Backward Classes and Vimukt communities. Especially the number of accused of Vimukt community is more than their general population. Moreover, in most cases, they are arrested for the offense of possessing very small quantities of alcohol from their homes and private places.
This research also found that the direction given by the Supreme Court in the case of Arnesh Kumar v State of Bihar (2014) regarding arrest is not being followed.
In this case, the Hon’ble Court has identified some conditions for the arrest, which are mandatory to fulfill. One of these marked conditions is that in cases where there is a provision of imprisonment for a term of 7 years or less, arrest shall not be mandatory.
The said research also found that most of the cases have been registered under section 34(1) in which the term of imprisonment is less than 7 years, and unnecessary arrest in these cases can be avoided to a great extent. That is why we demand that such secondary cases against the denotified communities also be withdrawn.
Also, the provision of capital punishment by amendment in section 49A is very worrying from the point of view of our community. On the basis of the above research, it would not be an exaggeration to say that this provision can also be misused against our community. That is why we demand that the amendment should remove the death penalty.
Therefore, we expect your government to take concrete steps by accepting these long standing demands of our community:
1. In the new excise policy, exempted communities will also be allowed to make and sell liquor of Mahua.
2. To withdraw minor criminal cases registered under the Excise Act against the exempted communities.
3. Amendment made in the Excise Act will remove the death penalty.
The full letter and the names of those who supported it can be read at the link below.
Vimukta Communities Letter to MP CM by The Wire on Scribd
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