The arrest of five human rights activists from different parts of the country is being spoken about a lot of late. With a topic that involves as much history and sentiment as this does, there are more questions than answers. Here is to answering some of them
What happens every January at Bhima-Koregaon? What happened this year?
On the 1st of January 1818, forces lead by Peshwa Bajirao II attacked Maharashtra to overthrow the British East India Company, and were defeated after a 12 hour long battle. Seeing that the Peshwas were high-caste Brahmins, this victory is seen as a significant point in the history of the long-oppressed Mahar Dalits, who formed a majority of the Bombay Native Infantry. To commemorate this victory, Dalits gather near the 60ft high obelisk every year on this day, to pay respects to the soldiers who lost their lives in battle.
At the 200th anniversary of this legendary battle, large-scale violence broke out at Koregaon, between the Dalit and Maratha groups, leading to the death of one and injury of numerous others. This, being the 200th year attracted larger crowds of people to the conference held at Shaniwar Wada, the seat of the Peshwas until 1818, where caste cast clashes led to shutdown of local transport and vehicle damage all around the state.
Who were the five activists arrested in relation to this case?
In pursuit of a probe with relation to the Bhima Koregaon violence, the Pune police on 28th August, conducted nationwide raids in Ranchi, Delhi, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Faridabad. According to police sources, “incriminating documents” were discovered in the search, which led to their arrest. The five activists who were arrested are:
Sudha Bharadwaj – a trade union activist, lawyer and a visiting professor at National Law University, Delhi. She is the National Secretary at the People’s Union for Civil Liberties and has worked in Chattisgarh for three decades as an advocate for civil and human rights of Dalits, farmers, labourers and tribals.
Varavara Rao – founder of “Revolutonary Writers’ Association” and a renowned Telugu poet, critic, writer and advocate for tribal rights.
Arun Ferreira – human rights activist and lawyer. He was arrested under charges of sedition under UAPA in 2007. Over the four years after imprisonment, 11 cases have been filed against him under unlawful Activities Prevention Act and Arms Act. He was arrested from Mumbai.
Gautam Navlakha – human rights activist, journalist and member of People’s Union for Democratic Rights. In 2011 He was charged with Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code for unlawful assembly with an intent to disrupt peace, and was denied entry into the Srinagar airport and has to return to Delhi.
Vernon Gonsalves, who, like Ferreira, was arrested in 2007 for alleged Maoist links. He was also convicted in June 2013, under various sections of Unlawful Activities Act and Arms Act. 17 of the 20 cases filed against him by Security agencies have been acquitted. He was arrested in Mumbai.
What is the Communist Party of India? What is their role in this situation?
The Communist Party of India (Maoist) is a left-wing organisation that believes in destruction of status quo as the right path to revolution. On the national level, they supported the Indian National Congress led UPA government, until July 8th 2008, when the party announced its withdrawal of support from the Congress following their decision to go ahead with the United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act. Several of their members have been arrested under the Prevention of Terrorist Activities Act, hence, the party has been banned by the state governments of Odisha, Chattisgarh, and Andhra Pradesh. Following the ban, the Maoists are liable to arrest under the UAPA.
The Maharashtra police on 5th September told the Supreme Court that these five were arrested based on evidence found of their links to banned Maoist Outfits. They were not arrested because of their dissent against the government but because they were allegedly planning large-scale violence and destruction of property which could destabilize society. Material gathered from previous searches based upon which these five arrests were made clearly show that they were involved in mobilizing and distributing money, facilitating selection and purchase of arms and deciding routes in India for smuggling of arms to distribute amongst cadres.
What response has this incident received?
Following the arrest of these activists, several individuals and organisations have voiced their opinions.
Civil Liberties advocate accused BJP of “attacking intellectuals physically and mentally torturing them”.
Retired Judge GB Kolse Patil who played a part in organizing the event, strongly denied any links that these activists might share with the CPI.
CPM General Secretary Sitaram Yechury called these surprise raids and arrests a “blatant attack on democratic rights in the country”.
When questioned by the Supreme Court, the Pune police claimed that those arrested were planning to overthrow the Central Government and planning a “Rajiv-Gandhi style” assassination on PM Modi, which Shiv Sena termed “sheer-stupidity”.
What is the current situation?
A day after arrests, on 29th August, the Supreme Court adjourned the hearing ordering that the arrested be placed on house arrest until September 6th. On the last hearing held on 6th the house arrest was extended to September 17th.