21, Apr 2018 | Sushmita
Recently police raided the homes of well-known human rights activists and even a lawyer on the pretext of gathering information about their alleged complicity in fomenting hate and violence in Bhima Koregaon. Oddly enough the Maharashtra Chief Minister said the raids were conducted due to their ‘Maoist’ links. The fact that two parallel and equally ridiculous narratives are emerging to justify the raids should ring enough alarm bells. Moreover, the manner of raids were conducted has raised several questions on the necessity of such an operation.
The Pune police headed by ACP Gawade conducted simultaneous searches on April 17, 2018 starting in wee hours of the morning at homes of prominent activists in Maharashtra namely Sudhir Dhavale (Dalit activist, Republican Panthers), Harshali Potdar (Woman activist, Republican Panthers), Ramesh Gaychor, Jyoti Jagtap, Sagar Gorkhe, Rupali Jadhav and Dhawala Dhengle (all Kabir Kala Manch activists) purportedly in relation to the violence that ensued on the day of bi-centenary celebrations of the battle of Bhima-Koregaon on January 31, 2018 and the subsequent bandh.
The Pune police also conducted search at the residence of senior advocate Surendra Gadling based in Nagpur. Search was also conducted at another activist Rona Wilson’s house. Rona is not even a resident of Maharashtra and is based out of Delhi.
CJP has been following the events that unfolded after the attack on Dalits at Bhima Koregaon. From the conduct of the administration to quell the protests following the attack, to large scale combing operations targeting innocent members of the Dalit community, CJP has been demanding justice for the wronged, the vulnerable and the marginalised. To support CJP’s quest to get justice for Dalits, Donate Now.
Targeting a people’s lawyer
Adv. Gadling, though his name doesn’t appear in any FIRs, was called out as an accused of Bhima Koregaon Elgar Parishad program. The supposed raid was done by 8 police officers supported by over 100 more security personnel. His house was cordoned off from all sides and a dramatic scene was created with all the vehicles parked in the vicinity so as to create a scary picture in the minds of onlookers and neighbours. Adv. Gadling argued with the police about unnecessary deployment of forces, after which some of them left the spot.
During the ‘search operations’ in the name of seizing incriminating material, police seized all possible compact discs, including CDs of wedding and birthday celebrations, software program CDs, Project Law (which has compilation of judgment collected by him over period of 25 years), Bollywood movie CDs, videos of Khairlanji agitation, fake encounter fact finding videos, etc.
The ‘search operation’ did not end there. They took away hard discs of all the computers in the family. Adv. Gadling shares his house with his elder brother and hard discs pertaining to his niece’s computer used for educational purposes were also taken away. Computers that were in use by his juniors to do research and drafting work were also seized. Though Mr Gadling pleaded and requested not to seize educational material on the computer hard-disc, all such requests were refused by the authorities.
Why Target Adv. Gadling
Notably, Adv. Gadling is the General Secretary of IAPL and was instrumental in fighting cases of various activists and people from marginalized sections especially Dalits, tribals, workers from various backgrounds. Being a Dalit himself, Adv. Gadling played a crucial role in the pursuit of justice in the aftermath of Khairlanji massacres, Ramabai Nagar agitations, cases pertaining to fake encounter etc.
He was also appointed as Special Public Prosecutor by State Government in some gender violence cases. He played a major role in cases related to backward communities, in defense of reservation, in defense of independence of judiciary. He was instrumental in organizing many mass awareness public meetings in the court and outside alike. Further he has conducted many fact findings in association with senior retired High Court and Supreme Court judges.
Gadling played a significant role in defending those incarcerated under draconian laws of TADA, POTA and UA(P)A including that of Sudhir Dhavale, Prof. G.N. Saibaba and also in defending rights of tribals arrested by the police under fabricated FIRs. He himself has been resisting the anti-people stance of the state as a Human Rights activist and People’s Lawyer and due to this popularity, has even contested Bar Council elections for Maharashtra and Goa.
Search Operations against people’s activists and leaders
Similarly, Harshali Potdar of the Republican Panthers Caste Annihilation Movement alleged that the police raid on the morning of April 17 on their office was unconstitutional and the manner of raid was ‘conspiratorial’ and a forcible intrusion. “Not only materials of the Bhima Koregaon Shaurya Din Prerana Abhiyan, but also booklets in Marathi and Hindi on Rohit Vemula’s institutional murder entitled ‘Who killed Rohit Vemula’ brought out by the Joint Action Committee for Social Justice-Mumbai have been seized.”
Harshali Potdar has played a crucial role in the anti-caste movement in Maharashtra, leading from the front on various occasions. She is the convener of the Joint Action Committee (JAC) for Social Justice, Maharashtra. JACs for social justice emerged in various parts of the country to confront the issues of caste based discrimination in university campuses after Rohith Vemula’s institutional murder in January 2016.
Another activist, Rupali Jadhav of the Kabir Kala Manch said that the police raids on her house (along with that of Sagar Gorkhe) led to the police seizing the booklets and pamphlets that they possessed which had been brought out by the Bhima Koregaon Shaurya Din Prerana Abhiyan, a coalition of 260 mass organisations that had conducted the Elgaar Parishad of December 31, 2017. The absurdity of the search and seizure can be seen in the fact that they have even seized all the works of Babasaheb, Annabhau, Savitribai, etc where they found such words like ‘Vidroh’, etc (vidroh meaning rebellion)!
Not merely this, laptops and electronic instruments of guests, personal photographs etc. were also seized as part of the ‘search operations’!
Bhima Koregaon protests an excuse to harass?
On January 1, 2018 the day after Elgar Parishad was organised, those commemorating the event at Koregaon were attacked by saffron flag bearers, who, as it later turned out, were reportedly instigated by Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote. These two right wing activists are closely connected with the ruling BJP and the Sangh Parivar and this attack was part of a pre-meditated plan.
Following this attack, the Dalit community and sections from the Other Backward Castes (OBC) and Muslim communities participated in a State wide Bandh calling for the arrest of Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote. The police, rather than arresting these two instigators of the violence, retaliated by conducting massive combing operations in Dalit bastis and arbitrarily searching homes and arresting up young men. Thousands of people were detained illegally. FIRs under sections 153A, 505(1), 117 and 34 of IPC were registered against activists including Sudhir Dhavale, Harshali Potdar, Ramesh Gaychor, Jyoti Jagtap, Sagar Gorkhe and also againstJignesh Mevani (an elected Gujarat MLA) and Umar Khalid (a student leader) for participating in the Elgar Parishad.
While the city police maintained that the search operations were conducted to investigate “their role in the event” the state government and Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said that it was done to look into their alleged links to Maoists! While, Maharashtra DGP Mr. Satish Mathur confirmed that no arrests were made, text messages asking for clarification for the reason behind the raid, i.e if it was related to Bhima Koregaon or Maoist links, remained unanswered at the time of filing this tsory. Pune Police Commissioner Rashmi Shukla earlier confirmed that the searches were conducted by six police teams as part of an investigation into the offence lodged by Tushar Damgude (37) of Katraj, at the Vishrambag police station on January 7, in the aftermath of Maharashtra bandh and Bhima Koregaon protests.
An all-out attack on People’s leaders and activists?
The manner of such targeting in the face of a massive and spontaneous Dalit upsurge is reminiscent of similar upsurges after Ramabai killings of 1997 in which state forces fired upon a group of peaceful protesters and 10 people were killed and Khairlanji massacre of 2006 in which four members of Bhotmange family were killed. In the aftermath of both these protests, there was a massive resistance which was branded as having extremist links and repressive measures used to curb the resistance of the people.
In the present situation, though such search operations are not illegal, the manner in which these were conducted is indicative of misuse of its discretionary powers by the Police. Further, the humiliating manner of search in Adv. Gadling’s house is a warning to junior lawyers to not engage in ‘activism’ and fight for the marginalized.
Instead of taking strict and timely action against the instigators of the violence that ensued in Bhima Koregaon, the state machinery sought to target activists and lawyers who are fighting regressive trends in the society. As for Advocate Gadling, his harassment is a clear case of targeting him for his persistent defence of numerous Rights activist and those arrested in fabricated cases. Gadling’s name was not even mentioned in the FIR, wherein the Pune Police have sought action. Being a dalit lawyer and activist, seems to be the rationale for making him a ‘natural’ target of the Pune FIR. Similarly, Rona Wilson is the publicity secretary of CRPP and part of the defence committee for GN Saibaba and had no involvement in organising Elgaar Parishad. So, is the entire operation based on a figment of the state’s imagination? Or an attempt to crush the rising Dalit resistance ?
Several organisations such as IAPL, Democratic Advocates Association for Constitutional Action (DAACA), Indian Association of Lawyers, Caste Tribe Lawyers Association, CRPP and others have condemned the actions of Pune police and organised protests against this high handedness.