By Arun Srivastava
Police and intelligence agencies acting in a reckless manner driven with sense of vengeance and self-promotion has been an old machination, but the difference between the old and the latest tactics is its ruthlessness and resorting to brutality to finish the accused and his or her family if not completely eliminating the person concerned. We have heard of police jargon “case connection”, but now in the case of the case of violence that had taken place in Bhima Koregaon of Pune in 2018, we witness use of this stratagem to silence the voice of protest.
A day after the Elgaar Parishad’s December 31, 2017, meeting, caste violence had broken out when Dalits gathered at Bhima Koregaon to celebrate the bicentennial of a battle in which Dalit-dominated colonial troops had defeated the Brahmin Peshwa’s army. But this time it turned out to be show of brutal police tyranny on the participants. The police had cracked down on the plea that many wanted Maoists had gathered there and provoked the people to launch war against the state. In this process, National Investigating Agency (NIA) arrested several illustrious citizens including academics, lawyers and prominent activists.
Shockingly even after three years of the incident the police is still on the prowl to arrest some more pro-people elements on the plea of their being urban naxals. One thing is quite significant almost all the persons in this case are famous academics and scholars. Yet another important feature of the case is most of the individuals taken into custody were not even present at the Elgaar Parishad event.
Maharashtra police has arrested 14 rights activists including 81 year old famous poet Varvara Rao in connection with the Bhima-Koregaon violence. The police say that the alleged speeches made at the Elgar Parishad conclave held in Pune on December 31, 2017, led to the violence near the Koregaon-Bhima war memorial. The police, in its charge sheet also claimed that the activists also plotted to kill Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
It is worth recalling that a year back the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat had alleged that the urban Naxals were patrons of the Naxalites and Maoists active in the rural areas. It was after this the police initiated the process of witch hunt and started indiscriminate arrests. Their latest target has been Partha Sarathi Ray, a scientist at the IISER, Calcutta, They have summoned him for interrogation. The fact is Ray never visited the site of the violence.
The situation has attained such a nasty dimension that more than 1,000 scientists and scholars have expressed concern over the NIA’s actions on the Bhima-Koregaon violence in 2018, saying the agency appears to be using the probe to crack down on citizens critical of the government.Signatories include renowned names like professors Noam Chomsky, Barbara Harris-White and Jan Breman; leading writers and poets like K. Satchidanandan, Mridula Garg and Geeta Kapur; and artists like Sudhir Patwardhan and Vivan Sundaram.
The scientists said the NIA, instead of investigating those responsible for the actual violent clashes in Bhima-Koregaon, had focused on the Elgaar Parishad event, a large cultural and political gathering where the main organisers were two eminent retired judges. What is indeed shameful is the NIA has slapped the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) against the rights activists which prevented those who have been arrested from obtaining bail.
The scientists who signed the petition to the government are from prestigious institutions like Indian Institutes of Technology, Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, and the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, among other institutions. The coming together of such large number of scientists underlines the intensity of anger amongst the scholars as well as a deep disquiet in the scientific and academic community about the shrinking democratic space in the country.
The NIA summoned Prof Satyanarayana and senior journalist KV Kurmanath to appear before it on 9 September. And even as these summons were being served, the NIA has also arrested Sagar Gorkhe and Ramesh Gaichor of the Kabir Kala Manch in connection with the same case. Satyanarayana is the son-in-law of poet Varavara Rao.He was questioned earlier too, and has repeatedly held that he has no connection either to the Elgar Parishad event or the violence itself.
The statement reads “It is well known that Ray has been critical of the central government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and we suspect that this may not be unrelated to the summons that have been issued to him.” They also called upon the government “ to immediately end the crackdown on dissidents, release those whom it has arrested in the Elgaar-Parishad case, and instead focus on identifying and prosecuting the true perpetrators of the Bhima-Koregaon violence”.
Meanwhile Satyanarayana’s wife Pavana has expressed apprehension that he might be killed. “We are not sure whether they will come back or not. That’s the situation. We don’t know whether my husband and brother in law are actually called for the witness statement”. The scholars pointed out that he is being made a scapegoat because of his Dalit identity. His co-brother K.V. Kurmanath, a senior journalist, has also been summoned to appear at the same time and date.
The signatories said “this attempt to harass K. Satyanarayana and K.V. Kurmanath and the arrest of Kabir Kala Manch activists is part of the attempts by an insecure regime to browbeat critical and dissenting voices of scholars, journalists and concerned citizens in order to muzzle all kinds of democratic aspirations. We affirm that we stand with them and will continue to support critical voices like theirs, despite the attempts to scare us into submission.”
In July this year, the NIA had arrested Delhi University associate professor Hany Babu. Earlier In October 2018, in a coordinated crackdown the Pune police in different parts of India arrested five prominent scholars and journalists Sudha Bhadwaj, Vernon Gonsalves, Varavara Rao, Gautam Navlakha and Arun Ferreira under terrorism-related charges. The malafide intentions of the Modi government got exposed on 24 January 2020 when it abruptly transferred the inquiry into the Bhima Koregaon case from the Pune Police to the NIA. The decision to transfer the case to the NIA was seen by human rights defenders as an attempt to maintain control over the political narrative on this case, in which nine defenders are incarcerated and several more are falsely implicated.
It was expected of Maharashtra Chief Minister Udhav Thakeray that he would adopt a pragmatic approach and would act according to the recommendations of Special Investigating Team (SIT) set up to inquire into the case. Human rights defenders have consistently sought an independent probe in this case but unfortunately the Modi government has been backtracking. (IPA Service)