05, Sep 2018 | CJP Team
Civil society groups, activists, students and citizens gathered in Mumbai on September 5, the first death anniversary of journalist Gauri Lankesh, to honour her by continuing her legacy of speaking truth to power, in wake of the State’s unprecedented crackdown on civil and political rights activists.
Hundreds of people turned up outside Dadar Railway Station at the protest titled “Kis Kis ko Qaid Karoge?” held on September 5, 2018 in Mumbai.
CJP stands in solidarity with the human rights defenders targeted by a vindictive state. A healthy democracy needs voices of dissent. We also need human rights defenders and social activists to work tirelessly to uphold our shared values of equality, peace and justice. Join CJP now!
Peace activist Dolphy D’Souza minced no words as he denounced the baseless police action against dissenting voices. “The Police have no proof that can be presented before a court. Now is the time for them to show some spine and conduct a thorough, free and fair investigation,” he said.
Activist Haseena Khan said, “The State is targeting us for having banners, cameras. It is telling us that ‘if you speak against us we will call you anti-national or urban naxal and put you behind bars’. Moreover, they are politicising our food!”
According to a statement released earlier by the organisers, following demands have been made of the Indian Government:
- Immediate unconditional release of those arrested under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and during combing operations after the attack in Bhima Koregaon.
- Immediate end to the impunity granted to right wing leaders and outfits, and arrest of Milind Ekbote, Sambhaji Bhide and members of Sanatan Sansthan for their illegal acts.
- Immediate end to the illegal raids of the citizen’s houses and unjustified arrests of activists which is creating terror and fear of reprisals in the citizens, hurting dignity and undermining democratic rights of citizens and breaking all kinds of laws and court orders.
- Repeal draconian UAPA law used as a tool to curb dissent and political opposition, and uphold the citizen’s right to dissent.
A video of the protest may be viewed here:
Decoding the arrests: State hounding activists
On January 1, 2018, Elgaar Parishad was organised by Justice Kolse Patil and Justice PB Sawant to discuss the mounting violence against the Dalits and Muslims across the country. The day was the 200th anniversary of the victory of an army comprising primarily Dalit Mahar soldiers over the Savarna led Peshwa army and marks an important event in the historic Dalit struggle against the Peshwahi rule in Bhima Koregaon.
Thousands of Dalits for years have visited Bhima Koregaon to celebrate the anniversary of the Bhima Koregaon battle. Despite tight security, some youth with saffron flags pelted stones at the gathering culminating in unprecedented violence and death of a 28 year old youth Rahul Phatangade.
The violence against families gathered to commemorate a historical event outraged Dalits and Ambedkarites across Maharashtra who took to the streets to express their anguish over the violence. An FIR was filed against Milind Ekbote (Executive President of Samasta Hindu Aghadi and Gau Raksha Abhiyan) and Sambhaji Bhide (founder of the Shivpratishthan Sanghatana, former member of RSS) on January 3rd 2018 for allegedly instigating the violence that transpired in Bhima Koregaon, however no arrests were made at that time.
However, on January 8th, 2018, the Pune police filed FIRs against student leader, Umar Khalid and Gujarat MLA, Jignesh Mewani, who were among the speakers at the Elgaar Parishad, an event held on December 31 in Pune, alleging that the duo incited people to take to the streets in ‘retaliation’.
It is alleged that the Pune police did so at the behest of BJP backed RSS, to subvert the attention from the violence in Bhima Koregaon and the role of Ekbote and Bhide in propagating it. Later on March 15, 2018 Milind Ekbote was arrested as a prime accused in Koregaon violence, but was granted bail on April 20.
State’s Witch-hunt through police
The counter FIR filed by the Pune police led to a series of allegedly manipulated FIRs, biased narratives, concocted letters, and illegal raids and arrests of rights activists across the country including the ones who had nothing to do with either the Bhima Koregaon violence or the Elgaar Parishad!
Maharashtra police has since been illegally arresting and raiding houses of rights’ activists. Various lawyers, civil and political activists, professors, writers, and journalists have been hounded and illegally arrested.
On June 6, 2018, six months after the incident, the Pune police made their first round of arrests by illegally incarcerating rights activists, Shoma Sen, Surendra Gadling, Sudhir Dhawale and Rona Wilson for allegedly having traced money trails between Naxals and Naxal sympathisers ahead of the Elgaar Parishad. The activists were arrested and booked under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Offences were registered against these activists for inciting violence by their ‘inflammatory’ speeches at the Elgaar Parishad. Chargesheets are yet to be filed against the arrested.
In a fresh round of arrests and raids on August 28, the Maharashtra police illegally arrested and detained human rights defenders from across 6 states. They arrested Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira, Varavara Rao, Sudha Bharadwaj and Gautam Navlakha who are known dissenters and have been constantly targeted by the State. Apart from this, homes of academics like Anand Teltumbde and activist Father Stan Swamy were illegally raided. Sudha Bharadwaj was made to wait outside on a dimly lit stretch of the street in the middle of the night even as the Chief Judicial Magistrate deliberated on her future, though she had secured a stay on her transit remand from the Punjab and Haryana HC.
This kind of a targeting by the State has sparked criticism and condemnation from civil rights groups and opposition leaders. The police have attempted to stifle any voices that have raised objection to these attacks. A group of protesters were reportedly arrested in Hyderabad for organising a demonstration against these arrests. However, the Supreme Court came to the activists’ rescue when in a partial reprieve, it allowed them to remain under house arrest till the next date of hearing (September 6, 2018).
The actions of the State are a clear indication of its efforts to subvert the attention from the casteist perpetrators of the violence to the rights defenders who have dissented and questioned the State by falsely labelling them as Urban Naxals. The subversion is a clear political agenda of the extreme right wing supremacists to protect their foot soldiers who promote targeted violence against the marginalised sections of this country. Concerned activists and citizens have publicly expressed their indignation towards the State’s agenda to hound dissent, to structurally support the perpetrators of violence giving them complete impunity while also creating false propaganda through its media and cyber wings. This is a full-blown attack on the Constitutional Principles and Democracy. If this isn’t an undeclared emergency, what is?