Days after civil rights activist Anand Teltumbde on Wednesday appealed for public support in light of his imminent arrest by the Pune police, his friends and colleagues claim that he has been unjustly targeted by the State for his activism.
Teltumbde is an engineer, a graduate of the Indian Institute of Management (Ahmedabad), a reputed author, Dalit scholar, a former professor at the Indian Institute of Technology (Kharagpur), and now a senior professor at the Goa Institute of Management. He is one of several social justice activists booked by the Pune police for allegedly inciting caste-based violence at Bhima Koregaon on January 1, 2018.
Nine activists have already been arrested, and on January 14, the Supreme Court rejected Teltumbde’s appeal to quash the first information report against him. The Court has granted him four weeks to seek pre-arrest bail from a trial court, failing which Teltumbde could be arrested for charges under the stringent and controversial Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
On January 16, Teltumbde wrote an open letter to the public appealing for support. In the letter, he detailed the sequence of events leading up to the violence at Bhima Koregaon on the 200th anniversary of the battle that Dalit Mahar soldiers in the British army fought and won against the upper-caste Peshwas of Maharashtra. Teltumbde claimed that contrary to the Pune police’s claims, he was not involved with the Elgar Parishad meet organised by many Dalit rights groups in Pune on December 31, 2017. He claimed that the Elgar Parishad was an “innocuous event” that a “vindictive State apparatus” had falsely connected with the Bhima Koregaon violence.
On Friday, Ambedkarite organisations from around the world issued a statement in support of Teltumbde. Twenty-nine of alumni and faculty members of IIM-Ahmedabad have also issued a support statement, expressing alarm that “a public intellectual who has made selfless contributions to the nation through his scholarship, can be under the threat of imprisonment on the basis of extremely questionable and prima facie motivated evidence”.
Scroll.in also spoke to the activist’s friends and colleagues from a long career in the corporate sector, academia and activism. While emphasising the value of Teltumbde’s body of work, they claimed that the manner in which he is being prosecuted is a threat to India’s democratic fabric.
Not the IIM stereotype
Teltumbde was raised in a Dalit family in a village in Maharashtra’s Yavatmal district. After getting a degree in engineering and working for a few years, he completed a Master’s degree at the reputed Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad in 1982. Later, he also got a PhD from Mumbai University.
V Ravichandar, who shared a dormitory with Teltumbde at IIM-Ahmedabad, describes Teltumbde as very different from the usual stereotype of the brash and entitled IIM student. “He was always unassuming, studious and came across as a guy with a heart, sensitive towards the downtrodden,” said Ravichandar, who now works as a market research professional and civic activist in Bangalore.
For the past two years, Teltumbde has been visiting IIM Ahmedabad as a guest speaker at the institute’s annual “Winter School” classes on public policy and social change. “We have been inviting him because of his work on Ambedkar, caste, democratic rights and various issues of social justice,” said Ankur Sarin, an assistant professor at IIM.
Sarin describes Teltumbde as a rare scholar who looks at everything he studies with a critical eye, and is not afraid to ask questions even about Bhimrao Ambedkar. “He takes the side of reason, and such a scholar is essential for the functioning of any democratic society. He asks questions not just of the state but of everything that he studies, and it is alarming that there are no protections for people like him,” said Sarin. “It concerns me that a person could be put into prison for an undefined period of time on the basis of such flimsy evidence.”
Ravichandar said that Teltumbde’s imminent arrest is being widely discussed on an alumni group of his dormitory batch. “There is a lot of concern for Anand on the group – people are surprised at the State’s actions against him and a general sentiment that he does not deserve this harassment,” said Ravichandar. “He is clearly not what he is being made out to be, and people are willing to sign group petitions to support him. But it is indicative of the times we live in that most people don’t want to take the lead in speaking out, because everyone feels that the government is vindictive.”
‘Today it is him, tomorrow it could be anyone’
For nearly 30 years from 1980s, Teltumbde balanced his personal work as a public intellectual along with his career as an engineer at Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited, where he rose to the position of executive director, and at Petronet, where he was the managing director.
“He has been among the highest qualified people at BPCL, but also took care of any social work that came to him,” said Manohar Raipure, a former manager at Bharat Petroleum who worked with Teltumbde for nearly two decades.
Former academician and journalist Shrikant Modak has been familiar with Teltumbde’s work both as an engineer at Bharat Petroleum as well as an activist. “I used to cover the oil sector as a journalist in Mumbai in the 1990s, and I would frequently consult him. I rate him very highly as a professional and an intellectual,” said Modak, who is now a fellow-member of the non-profit Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights, where Teltumbde has been the general secretary since 2014. In the early 1990s, says Modak, Teltumdbe had led the drafting of the central government’s new oil exploration policy. “He is also a true democrat, with a strong sense of social justice.”
As an academician, Teltumbde first taught management at the prestigious IIT-Kharagpur before joining the Goa Institute of Management as a senior professor in 2016. Krishna Ladha, a senior professor of economics at the Goa Institute, believes that Teltumbde has been responsible for the success of the institute’s new “big data analytics” centre. “He is the binding force of our programme, keeping up the morale of our students and faculty,” said Ladha. “The general feeling is that he is an innocent man, and if an innocent man is incarcerated, then society will lose faith in the system. Today it is him, tomorrow it could be anyone else who raises a voice against injustice. According to me, this is the biggest threat we are facing as a society since the Emergency.”
‘The State wants to send a message’
Lawyer Mahrukh Adenwala, another fellow-member of the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights, says that she was both shocked and not surprised by the Pune police’s allegations against Teltumbde and other activists arrested in connection with the Bhima Koregaon case. “Whoever has been brave enough to question the State and its policies has been targeted,” said Adenwala. “It’s almost like the state wants to send a message that it will go behind anyone who has the guts to speak up.”
In addition to CPDR, Teltumbde is also a spokesperson for education rights, and is a member of the All India Forum for Right to Education. His colleague at the programme, Anil Sadgopal, is baffled by the police and state government’s allegations that Teltumbde and the other activists arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case are supposed “urban Maoists”.
“Anand has always said that if we don’t recognise the fascism of the Hindutva government, we will be making the same mistake as Nazi Germany,” said Sadgopal. “Criticism of the Indian State is not the same as criticism of India, and it is unfortunate that those who cannot tell the difference between the two currently have the power to label someone like Anand an urban Maoist.”
Corrections and clarifications: This report was updated to include a quote from a statement issued by alumni of the Indian Institute of Management - Ahmedabad in support of Anand Teltumbde.