Hany Babu has been arrested. Even though the news was not surprising, it shocked me. It is unsettling to think that we will no longer walk past a class overflowing with students with Hany Babu inside, that we do not know how long it will take to bump into him again in the corridors of Delhi University’s Arts Faculty.

These had always been chance encounters. Hany Babu appeared, at least to me, a man of few words. Apart from knowing him as a colleague, a fellow teacher at the neighbouring Department of English, I was aware of his activities on the anti-caste front and as the person leading the Saibaba defence committee. The former Delhi University professor, GN Saibaba, is wheelchair-bound with over 90% physical disability. In 2017, he was given a life sentence for having links with Maoists.

Last year, when my father called me to tell me that the home of a Delhi University professor had been raided, I asked him whether the professor was Hany Babu. Why did his name come to my mind? My apprehension arose out of the fact he was audacious enough to spearhead the Saibaba defence committee. It was a dangerous thing to do. Saibaba is currently incarcerated in a Nagpur jail. But for the persistence of Hany Babu, Saibaba would have certainly slipped out of the public mind.

He was taking a risk and he could have avoided it as many of us do. It was September last year. His computers and hard disk were seized. And now, ten months later, the agencies claim they have unearthed incriminating material on that computer against him. So, our top investigative agencies want us to believe that dangerous conspirators keep their plans in a hidden folder on their computers.

Protecting our rights

Like the letter indicating a conspiracy to launch various kinds of terrorist activities, including the assassination of the prime minister, which was discovered on the desktop of Rona Wilson. Veteran journalist Prem Shankar Jha has ruthlessly dissected that fanciful theory advanced by the police.

The arrest of Hany Babu should alarm even those who do not know him personally. It is not necessary for them to agree with his ideology or his activities to oppose his arrest. It should be opposed for the simple fact that the government of India and its agencies are still expected to act according to the Constitution of India. It is still in vogue and we still have our rights recognised by it.

One of the rights, most sacred and essential for our existence as the citizens of this country, is the freedom to think and express ourselves in our own way. I can have a thought or ideology with which the government does not necessarily need to agree. Ideologies with which the government of the day is uncomfortable cannot be criminalised so casually.

Former Delhi University professor is currently serving a life term after the police claimed he had links with Maoists. Credit: Anumeha Yadav

It is scandalous that the National Investigative Agency can say that Hany Babu was arrested because he was spreading the Naxalite and Maoist ideology. One fails to understand what does the agency mean by Naxal activities. Also, the allegation of spreading Maoist ideology is quite vague. How is believing in Maoist ideology a crime? Can the government destroy people just because it dislikes this ideology? Why do we need to ask this question?

Why do not people who believe in the ideology of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh realise that they have lived free and also propagated their ideology for nearly 60 years when their opponents were in power in the Centre and the states. They were not destroyed even when many in power felt that the activities of the RSS were against the letter and spirit of the Constitution of India.

When we discuss this, what has been forgotten is that Hany Babu is the twelfth person to be arrested for an alleged conspiracy that led to violence at Bhima Koregaon on January 1, 2018. The authorities claim that the violence was instigated by speeches that had been made at a meeting called the Elgar Parishad in nearby Pune the day before.

The Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association rightly observes:

“Behind all the bombast and the planted stories that appear in pliant media outlets, it will do us well to remember what precisely the Bhima Koregaon case is. In December 2017, when a range of Ambedkarite organisations called for a commemoration of the 200th anniversary of victory of the Mahar regiment over Peshwa’s forces, through cultural programmes and marches, Hindutva groups led by Milind Ekbote and Shambaji Bhide unleashed a reign of terror on Dalits who were gathering for the celebrations. 

“While one FIR was booked by the Pune (rural) police to investigate Ekbote’s and Bhide’s role in fomenting violence against Dalits – the two leaders have been treated with infinite indulgence, with Ekbote arrested ever so briefly, and Bhide never at all. 

“On the other hand, the Pune (city) police booked an FIR against the Elgar Parishad and went on to claim a larger, near apocalyptic conspiracy – so enormous in fact that the police conducted multi-city shock and awe raids and arrests over days in 2018. The police made stunning claims, including that those arrested – poets, trade unionists, writers, and academics – had been planning to assassinate the Prime Minister.

“Of course, these claims remained grist for their demonisation on prime time television shows, as the government itself conceded in the Supreme Court (in Romila Thapar vs Union of India) that it had no evidence to link the accused to any such plot.”

Freedom to dissent

What has been completely erased from the public memory is the fact that “the only unlawful activity that has taken place – in plain view, for everyone to see – was the violent attack on Dalits by Ekbote’s, and Bhide’s goons, which the National Investigative Agency and its masters are clearly uninterested in pursuing”.

One need not talk about the academic excellence of Hany Babu and his achievements as a scholar or his popularity as a teacher to call his arrest most foul. I do not even need to talk about his dogged campaign against diluting caste-based reservation policies.

It should be enough for a Hany Babu, an independent mind, a free citizen to be allowed to lead an unfettered life, to criticise and oppose a government he thinks is unfit for the nation. It should not be left to the usual suspects to speak for him. It is the duty of all teachers, students and others to stand up against this most atrocious campaign that independent India is witnessing against its best minds. If we fail now, we may lose India forever.

Apoorvanand teaches Hindi at Delhi University.