On Monday, the day before writer and activist Anand Telbumbde is due to surrender to prison authorities for allegedly being involved in a conspiracy to foment violence between Dalits and Marathas on January 1, 2018, and to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he wrote an open letter to the people of India detailing how the authorities manufactured prejudice against him and others in the case.
“I have an unblemished record of service for nearly five decades to this country in various roles in corporate world, as a teacher, as a civil rights activist and a public intellectual...,” Teltumbde wrote. “But at the fag end of my life, I am being charged for the heinous crime under the draconian UAPA [Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act]. An individual like me obviously cannot counter the spirited propaganda of the government and its subservient media.”
Nine other activists and lawyers have been in jail since 2018 and face trial for allegedly participating in the conspiracy.
On April 8, the Supreme Court had given a week’s time to Teltumbde and rights activist Gautam Navlakha to surrender to prison authorities. They have been charged under the provisions of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and various sections of the Indian Penal Code following violence between Dalits and Marathas in the village of Bhima Koregaon near Pune on January 1, 2018.
The clashes came a day after an event in Pune, called the Elgar Parishad, had been organised to commemorate the Battle of Bhima Koregaon in 1818 in which the Dalit soldiers fighting for the British Army had helped to defeat the Brahmin Peshwa rulers of the Maratha empire. One person died in violence during a bandh called by Dalit outfits on January 2.
The Pune Police alleged that Teltumbde and Navlakha were among a group of people with Maoist links that had conspired to organise the violence and have also alleged that they plotted to kill Modi.
The inquiry was later taken over by the National Investigation Agency.
Here is the full text of Teltumbe’s letter.
I am aware this may be completely drowned in the motivated cacophony of the Bharatiya Janata Party-Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh combine and the subservient media but I still think it may be worth talking to you as I do not know whether I would get another opportunity.
Since August 2018, when the police raided my house in faculty housing complex of Goa Institute of Management, my world turned completely topsy-turvy. Never in my worst dream, could I imagine the things that began happening to me. Although, I was aware that police used to visit the organisers of my lectures, mostly universities, and scare them with enquiries about me, I thought they might be mistaking me for my brother who left family years back.
While I was teaching at IIT Kharagpur, an officer of BSNL phoned, introducing himself as my admirer and well-wisher, informed me that my phone was being tapped. I thanked him but did nothing, not even to change my SIM. I was disturbed by these intrusions but comforted myself that it might rather convince the police that I was a normal person and there is no element of illegality in my conduct.
The police generally dislike civil rights activists because they question the police. I imagined, it might be due to the fact that I belonged to that tribe. But again I comforted myself that they would find that I could not perform that role either because of my full-time engagement with my job.
But when I got an early morning phone call from the director of my institute, informing me that the police had raided the campus and were looking for me, I was wordless for a few seconds. I had come to Mumbai on official work just a few hours before and my wife had come earlier. When I learnt of the arrests, of the persons whose houses were raided that day, I was shaken by the realisation that I escaped that fate just by whiskers.
The police did know my whereabouts and could arrest me even then but for the reasons known only to them, did not do so. They did open our house too, forcibly getting a duplicate key from the security guard, but just video-graphed it and locked it back.
Our ordeal began right there. At the advice of our lawyers, my wife took the next available flight to Goa, and lodged a complaint with Bicholim Police Station that the police had opened our house in our absence and that we would not be responsible if they had planted anything. She volunteered giving our telephone numbers should the police want to inquire with us.
Strangely,the police had started holding press conferences soon after they embarked on the Maoist story. It was clearly meant to whip up prejudice in public against me and other arrested with the help of obliging media. On August 31, 2018, in one such press conference, a police officer read out a letter purportedly recovered from the computer of previous arrestees as an evidence against me. The letter was clumsily constructed with the information on the academic conference I had attended which was easily available on the website of American University of Paris.
Initially I laughed it out but next, decided to file a civil and criminal defamation suit against this officer and sent a letter on September 5, 2018 to the government of Maharashtra for sanction as per the procedure. There has been no response from the government to date. The press conferences of the police, however, were stopped when High Court reprimanded them.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh hand in the entire case was not hidden. My friends told me that one of their functionaries, Ramesh Patange, had written an article in their mouthpiece Panchjanya targeting me in April 2015. I was identified as “Mayavi Ambedkarwadi” along with Arundhati Roy and Gail Omvedt. Mayavi in the Hindu mythology refers to a demon meant to be destroyed.
When I was illegally arrested by Pune Police while still under protection of the Supreme Court, a cyber-gang of Hindutva vandalised my Wikimedia page. This page is a public page and for years I was not even aware of it. They firstly deleted all information and only wrote, “He has a Maoist brother… his house was raided … he was arrested for links with Maoist”, etc.
Some students later told me that whenever they tried restoring the page, or editing the page, this gang would pounce upon and delete everything and put up derogatory content. Ultimately, Wikimedia intervened and the page stabilised with some of their negative content.
There was a media blitzkrieg, reeling off all kinds of canards through the RSS’s so-called Naxal experts. My complaints against the channels and even to the India Broadcasting Foundation did not receive a response. Then in October 2019, the Pegasus story came out that the government had inserted a very pernicious Israeli spyware on my phone, among those of several others. There was a momentary uproar in media but this serious matter also has died.
I have been a simple person who has been earning his bread honestly and helping people to the extent possible with my knowledge through writings. I have an unblemished record of service for nearly five decades to this country in various roles in corporate world, as a teacher, as a civil rights activist and a public intellectual. In my voluminous writings comprising over 30 books, and numerous papers/articles/comments/columns/interviews, published internationally, not an insinuation of support to violence or any subversive movement could be found.
But at the fag end of my life, I am being charged for the heinous crime under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. An individual like me obviously cannot counter the spirited propaganda of the government and its subservient media. The details of the case are strewn across the internet and are enough for any person to see that it is a clumsy and criminal fabrication.
A summary note on All India Forum for the Right to Education website may be read. For your benefit, I will provide its gist here: I am implicated on the basis of the five letters among the 13 that the police purportedly recovered from the computers of two arrestees in the case. Nothing has been recovered from me. The letter make reference to “Anand”, a common name in India, but the police unquestioningly identified it with me.
Notwithstanding the form and content of these letters, which was trashed by experts and even by a justice in Supreme Court, who was the only one in the entire judiciary who went into the nature of the evidence. the content does not refer to anything that could be remotely construed as even a simple crime. But taking shelter under the draconian provisions of the UAPA Act, which renders a person defenceless, I am being jailed.
The case may be depicted for your understanding as follows: suddenly, a police posse descends down on your residence and ransacks your house without showing any warrant. At the end, they arrest you and lodge in the police lockup. In the court, they would say that while investigating a theft (or any other complaint) case in xxx place (substitute any place in India) police recovered a pen drive or a computer from yyy (substitute any name) in which some letters written by a supposed member of some banned organisation were recovered that had a mention of zzz who according to the police is none other than you. They present you as part of deep conspiracy.
Suddenly, you find your world turned topsy-turvy. Your job gone, family losing house, media defaming you about which you cannot do a damn thing. Police will produce “sealed envelopes” to convince judges that there was a prima facie case against you that needs custodial interrogation. No arguments about there being no evidence would be entertained as judges would answer that it would be seen in trial.
After custodial interrogation, you will be sent to jail. You beg for bail and the courts will reject them as the historical data shows that the average period of incarceration ranged from four to 10 years before they got bail or acquitted. And this can happen literally to ANYONE. In the name of the “nation”, such draconian legislations that denude innocent people of their liberties and all constitutional rights are constitutionally validated.
The jingoist nation and nationalism have got weaponised by the political class to destroy dissent and polarise people. The mass frenzy has accomplished complete derationalisation and inversion of meanings where destroyers of the nation become deshbhakts and selfless servers of people become deshdrohis.
As I see my India being ruined, it is with a feeble hope that I write to you at such a grim moment. Well, I am off to National Investigative Agency custody and do not know when I shall be able to talk to you again. However, I earnestly hope that you will speak out before your turn comes. Anand Teltumbde