Police in Jharkhand’s Garhwa district briefly detained noted Belgium-born Indian economist and Right to Food activist Jean Dreze on Thursday before releasing him on a personal bond. The Police also released two others who were detained along with Dreze.
According to reports, the 59-year-old Dreze and the others were detained for organising a meeting without permission in the district at a time when the election season is on.
The three, which included social activist Vivek Kumar, were held at the Bishnupur police station and questioned for some time. No charges were pressed against anyone.
Following his release, Dreze told reporters that he was denied permission by the district authorities for organising a meeting under Bishunpur police station limits.
He told reporters that there is nothing in the Model Code of Conduct which says that such a committee meeting cannot be held during elections.
“We also have a complaint against the police: they have done their duty, but why did not try to prevent a major meeting that was held without permission in this village yesterday?” he asked.
According to NDTV, Dreze claimed that the organisers had sought permission in writing 10 days ago. When the administration did not respond, the organisers decided to hold the meeting, which was about food and pension, anyway.
Dreze told NDTV, “If people are not even allowed to hold peaceful non-political meetings about issues like the right to food at election time, then democracy has no meaning.”
Prominent activists and political voices condemned the detention.
“Shocking beyond words! Jean Dreze is a saint-economist, a potential Nobel awardee who lived in slums, written and done more for the poor than any economist, shunned all power and glory, took up Indian citizenship, is a pacifist,” wrote Yogendra Yadav, adding, “Nothing can be more shameful than arresting him.”
Prashant Bhushan also slammed the BJP over the incident, “Renowned economist& Co-author of several books with Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, Jean Dreze is arrested with 2 other activists in Jharkhand for organizing a meeting on Right to Food! This while goons who beat up Muslim family in Gurgaon roam free& PM tomtoms 2012 DRDO achievement!”
Dreze is known for his criticism of the economic policies of the Narendra Modi government.
Married to Bastar-based rights activist Bela Bhatia, Dreze has previously served as a member in the UPA government’s National Advisory Council.