Last week, in defiance of a Supreme Court order, the Pune police decided to arrest academic and writer Anand Teltumbde for his alleged role in the Bhima-Koregaon caste violence last year.
Despite no sign that Teltumbde had attempted to abscond, the police chose to make the arrest at 3.45 am, treating the noted author like a petty criminal. The process reeked of vendetta: the case was brought before the sessions court on Friday, the last working day of the week, to limit his chances of a quick appeal. The police chose to deliberately misinterpret the Supreme Court order that had stayed Teltumbde’s arrest till February 11 to allow him to seek remedy from the competent authorities.
However, the Pune Sessions Court finally saw through these attempts to put the writer in jail. It refused to commit Teltumbde to custody as he still had the option of moving the Bombay High Court for pre-arrest bail. This was a rare occasion when a lower court has stood up for the rights of an accused against state pressure.
This was not the first time the Pune police has acted in an arbitrary manner in the case, which is based on dubious letters allegedly obtained from computers and hard drives of human rights lawyers and activists during searches. So far, ten people have been arrested on allegations that they were involved in a Maoist conspiracy to overthrow the Indian state and also in a plot to kill Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
On August 28, the Pune police tried to arrest lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj and human rights activist Gautam Navlakha in New Delhi with a transit warrant that was set up with tutored witnesses. The two were presented warrants and documents in Marathi, a language they did not understand. In the meantime, the police also detained activist Vernon Gonsalves and lawyer Arun Ferreira in Mumbai and Telugu poet Varavara Rao in Hyderabad in the same case.
The next week, the Bombay High Court pointed to wholly inappropriate actions by the Pune police. While the police refused to share case material openly in the court, officers held press conferences in Pune at which they cited seized documents that they alleged showed a conspiracy to kill the prime minister. The officers even questioned the rationale of the court admitting public interest litigation against the arrests filed by historian Romila Thapar and other eminent personalities, prompting the Supreme Court to warn the police about their behaviour. However, the Supreme Court decided not to interfere in the case. In the meantime, the Delhi High Court quashed the arrest of Navlakha, whose petition to be discharged from the case is still pending before the Bombay High Court. He is free and under court protection till February 18.
Over the months, the Maharashtra police have consistently violated established processes and ignored court orders in the case. It even delayed filing the chargesheet beyond the stipulated time, something that is now pending before the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court refused to intervene in the case in September. But given how the Maharashtra police has continuously undermined the law, it is time the court took serious note of the demands for the case to be alloted to another agency and that the trial be moved out of Maharashtra to ensure fairness.