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Activists, friends and families of arrested under UAPA and Bhima Koregaon speak out at People’s Convention in Mumbai

Mumbai, October 13: On a hot October Friday evening, over 500 people attended the People’s Convention against Undeclared Emergency in the Dadar Matunga Cultural Centre, where speakers spoke against the imposition of the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and demanded the release of activists charged under them. The meeting was organised by Mumbai Rises to Save Democracy, a collective of 40 Civil Society, Democratic Rights organisations and NGOs across Maharashtra.

Senior journalist Nikhil Wagle spoke about how journalists reporting against the government were routinely charged under the act. “Tomorrow if I am arrested it will not be for being a journalist but I will be charged and arrested for being a Maoist,” he said. He highlighted how the police and state are cracking down on voices of dissent.

Friends and families of the arrested activists were also present for the Convention.

Lalsu Soma Nogoti – Advocate, Forest rights activist, Zilla Parishad Member from Bhamragad, Gadchiroli demanding release of Mahesh Raut, TISS ex-student who gave up a cushy life to work for rights of adivasis and marginalised spoke on the occasion. He highlighted, “Mahesh was very committed and dedicated to the rights of Adivasis in the area and he was teaching them their rights under the provisions of Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006. There is no way these charges against him are true and he should be released unconditionally. Gram Sabhas in Gadhchiroli have passed a resolution asking the government for his immediate release.” Families of Reliance contract workers narrated the manner in which the police arrested their husbands. Sainu ji, Zilla Parishad member who worked side by side with arrested activist Mahesh Raut in Gadchiroli, says painfully “Mahesh lived with us, made us aware of our rights and cared for our problems. We are lost since he’s gone”

“Will anyone have the courage after these cases to help the poor and take up cases of the marginalised,” Minal Gadling, wife of advocate Surendra Gadling, said at the meeting. She added that her husband used to take cases of marginalised Adivasis who were charged for being Maoists and today face a similar charge.

Sagar Gonsalves, son of ex-Mumbai University Professor and activist Vernon Gonsalves, described the events of August 28, when their home was raided and his father was arrested as a “déjà vu experience.” “Once again there was a raid by the police for six hours and I saw the cycle repeating. The first time around I was 12 and felt helpless and even now it was the same thing,” said Sagar Gonsalves. “I am no more under the illusion that only bad people go to jail,” he added talking about how his early childhood experiences shaped him.

Abdul Wahid Sheikh of the Innocence Network spoke about how UAPA is not Unlawful but Lawful Activities Prevention Act as it is used to target those fighting for justice. “Six months ago I was sharing this very stage with Advocate Gadling. Our country is not democratic and secular. We live in a police state as the police can arrest anyone at anytime,” he said.

Advocate Mihir Desai of People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) provided an understanding of how the law is “used” and not “misused” by the police. “Laws like the UAPA have been created to keep people imprisoned for years without any charges,” he said. Tribal rights activist Soni Sori spoke about the repression in Chhattisgarh and said that whenever Adivasis raise their voice against the land acquisition, they are branded as Naxals and are charged with UAPA and the atrocities committed by the police. “Where do we go, when the perpetrators of the crime are the police themselves. Who do we file a complaint with,” Ms Sori said. She added that this is the time that everyone needs to come together and fight against repressive laws like the UAPA and the National Security Act.

There were cultural performances by Yalgaar Sanskrutik Manch, Rossi D’Souza from Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) and Medhraj from Lokraj Sangathan. A film was shown on the manner in which the arrests of former Reliance workers.

A resolution was also read out during the Convention, in which the organisations and individuals present at the Convention condemned the summons issued to senior lawyer and activist of Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR) on September 11 by Dr. Shivaji Pawar of the Pune police. It has been alleged in the summons that CPDR has links to the banned outfit, CPI (Maoist). The resolution said, “Suresh Rajeshwar has been a member of the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights since 1980 and is currently the Executive Committee member (Treasurer) of the organisation. The Pune police in the notice have falsely alleged that their investigation reveals that CPDR “have links with banned terrorist organisation CPI (Maoist)”, therefore, Advocate Suresh Rajeshwar’s statement is sought.” And added that we “condemn the continuing attempt by the Maharashtra Government through the Pune Police to spread a net of terror against lawyers and democratic/civil rights activists under the pretext of investigating the Bhima-Koregaon case.”

Thank you,

Mumbai Rises to Save Democracy

Participating organisations

  1. People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL)

  2. Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR),

  3. Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP)

  4. New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI)

  5. Trade Union Centre of India (TUCI)

  6. Student Islamic Organisation (SIO),

  7. Ambedkar Periyar Phule Study Circle (APPSC), IIT

  8. Police Reforms Watch

  9. Lokraj Sangathan

  10. Spark magazine

  11. National Confederation of Human Rights Organisations (NCHRO)

  12. Bebaak Collective

  13. Forum Against Oppression of Women (FAOW)

  14. LABIA- A Queer Feminist LBT Collective

  15. Jagrut Kamgar Manch (JKM)

  16. Majlis

  17. Indian Muslims for Secular Democracy (IMSD)

  18. Women against Sexual Violence and State repression (WSS)

  19. Bharat Bachao Andolan (BBA)

  20. Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF)

  21. People’s Commission for Shrinking Democratic Spaces (PCSDS)

  22. Human Rights Law Network (HRLN)

  23. Cause Lawyers Alliance

  24. National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM)

  25. Kashtakari Sanghatna district Palghar.

  26. Sarvahara Jan Andolan district Raighad

  27. Shramik Mukti Sanghatna, district Thane.

  28. Human Rights Defenders Alert (HRDA)

  29. Innocence Network

  30. Association for Protection of Civil Rights (APCR)

  31. Students Xaviers

  32. Students Tata Institute of Social Science (TISS) students

  33. FTII Alumni

  34. LEAFLET

  35. Awaaz-E-Niswaan

  36. Bastar Solidarity Network (BSN)

  37. Satyashodhak Feminist Collective

  38. Indian Christian Women’s Movement – Mumbai Chapter

  39. Nivara Hakk Suraksha Samiti

  40. Jagrut Kashtakari Sanghatana, Raigad

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