6th June 2018. The nation’s conscience suffered yet another attack by the arrests of leading intellectuals and democratic rights activists by the Pune police in connection with the so-called Bhima-Koregaon (BK) case. These arrests snowballed into a series of arrests in subsequent months. Five years have passed, and barring a few activists out on bail, the arrested persons are still languishing in jail without a charge sheet being filed. Through this statement, the CDRO once again tries to remember the incidents leading to these arrests and subsequent events; so that people can unite in a struggle for the release of the BK-16 and the repeal of draconian laws.
On 31st December 2017, nearly 200 Dalit and left organisations organised a conference near Pune, called Elgar Parishad, to commemorate the 200th Anniversary of the victory of the Mahar regiment over Brahmin-Peshwas. The conference, inaugurated by a retired justice of the Supreme Court, PB Sawant, gave a rallying call to the masses to bury the new Peshwai represented by the Sangh Parivar. Lakhs of people attended this program to commemorate the event.
The participating Dalits, which included children and older people, were subjected to a targeted brutal attack by a two-to-three-thousand saffron armed militia. Scores of Dalits were severely injured, their property vandalised, and a Maratha youth died. Sambhaji Bhinde and Milind Ekbote, well-known Hindutva terrorists with considerable political clout in the region, had coordinated the attack on the Dalit families.
Rather than arresting Ekbote and Bhinde, against whom an FIR was registered in Pimpri, Maharashtra, police started combing operations in the suburbs of Mumbai, and over the next few days, the police picked up scores of Dalit youth, and serious charges were slapped on them. While Ekbote and Bhinde roamed freely, the homes of left activists started getting raided. As early as the first week of January, six workers/union leaders of Reliance Infra who are part of BEEU (Bombay Electricity Contract Workers Union) were picked up by police under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 (UAPA). Their cases were fought by people’s lawyers, including Arun Ferreira.
In April 2018, police conducted raids on the homes of Kabir Kala Manch (KKM) activists, the home of Republican Panthers activists Sudhir Dhawale and Harshali Potdar, as well as the homes of democratic rights activists Shoma Sen, Rona Wilson and Lawyer activist Surendra Gadling. Shoma Sen, Surendra Gadling and Rona were not even remotely connected to Bhima Koregaon. Hence, by then, the conspiracy to attack democracy rights activists was well underway with an ever-changing narrative where the Bhima-Koregaon violence makes an ad-hoc appearance.
Finally, on 6th June, Pune police arrested Sudhir Dhawale, Surendra Gadling, Rona Wilson, Shoma Sen and Mahesh Raut. The police version that came out the next day stated that these five were arrested in connection with organising Elgar Parishad, an event supposedly funded by the Maoists. As all the accused were charged under the UAPA, there was no need for police to produce any evidence, and neither was a possibility for them to get bail. The fact that the conference conveners were two retired eminent judges did not feature in the police version. Sensational stories, including a supposed letter which named all the five accused (and many others) and spoke about a plot to kill Prime Minister Narendra Modi, were released first by the most well-known intelligence agency these days, corporate media channels and later by the police!
When the date of hearing for these five activists was coming close, the police, in an attempt to shift the people’s attention away from the five activists and the finding of CBI regarding Hindutva terrorist organisation Sanatan Sanstha, once again used their primary weapon of UAPA and mounted yet another attack on democratic rights activists; it included this time Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Gautam Navlakha, Sudha Bharadwaj and Varvara Rao. This time Bhima Koregaon was not even mentioned! Subsequently, Anand Teltumbde, Fr. Stan Swamy, Hany Babu, Ramesh Gaichor, Sagar Gorkhe and Jyoti Jagtap were arrested. Because of the cruelty of the jail authorities and the indifference of the NIA and the court, Fr. Stan Swamy died on July 5 2021, while in judicial custody. If we attempt to understand what common thread unites these sixteen persons from across the country, we would see that it is their resolve to work for the upliftment of the downtrodden and their determination to fight the attempted fascist takeover of the Indian state by the BJP-RSS.
Looking back, it is clear that the BK case is a landmark event in independent India. Even keeping the dark days of Emergency in the 1970s in mind, we can say with certainty that never ever has any government arrested so many well-known citizens and forced them to be in jail for five years without filing any charge sheet. BK case has also exposed Central Government’s attempt to snoop on all activists, journalists and opposition political leaders with malicious software like the Pegasus. This last-mentioned software is made by an Israeli firm whose clients include different authoritarian regimes of the world.
Being emboldened by the success of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in choking any criticism of the government in the BK case, the government started making rampant use of UAPA, sedition charges and other draconian laws available to the state apparatus. The government’s highhandedness is apparent through its suppressing anti-CAA protests, dealing with the Delhi riot, in the JNU case, etc. As the ideological mentor of the ruling party, the RSS does not believe in the Indian constitution. Hence, it is no wonder that an anti-people preventive law, which in its very foundation is unconstitutional and has its origin in the colonial era, becomes a pet tool of this administration.
It is also not surprising that many of the activists arrested in recent times under UAPA are lawyers with the Indian Association of People’s Lawyers (IAPL)! Lawyers like Sudha Bharadwaj, Arun Ferreira or Surendra Gadling represent the last and perhaps the only line of defence for the most marginalised people in the country, be they tribals, unorganised workers, Muslims or farmers. Their arrests, therefore, open the door for the imperialists and Indian corporates to loot and plunder natural resources and the labouring masses who do not have any means of legal resistance.
Therefore, CDRO urges all democratic-minded people to observe a black day on June 6th as a mark of protest against the arrest of activists in the BK case.
- Immediate release of all prisoners arrested in the BK case.
- Repeal of anti-people NIA, whose very existence is a threat to the federal structure of our country.
- Repeal of archaic, draconian laws like the UAPA and the sedition law described in Section 124À of the Indian Penal Code (IPC)
- Release of thousands of undertrial political prisoners languishing in different jails of the country.
(Asish Gupta) (Tapas Chakraborty) (Kranthi Chaitanya)
Constituent Organisations of CDRO:
Association for Democratic Rights (AFDR, Punjab); Association for Democratic Rights (AFDR, Haryana), Association for Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR, West Bengal); Asansol Civil Rights Association(West Bengal); Bandi Mukti Committee(West Bengal); Civil Liberties Committee (Andhra Pradesh); Civil Liberties Committee (Telangana); Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights (Maharashtra); Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR TamilNadu); Coordination for Human Rights (Manipur); Manab Adhikar Sangram Samiti (Assam); Naga Peoples Movement for Human Rights; Peoples’Committee for Human Rights (Jammu and Kashmir); Peoples Democratic Forum(Karnataka); Jharkhand Council for Democratic Rights (Jharkhand); Peoples Union For Democratic Rights (Delhi); Peoples Union for Civil Rights (Haryana), Campaign for Peace & Democracy in Manipur, Delhi; Janakeeya Manushyaavakasha Prasthanam, Kerala