The People’s Union for Civil Liberties on Tuesday condemned the police action against Delhi University professor Hany Babu, saying that the range of legal provisions invoked suggest that the government is on a “fishing expedition”, hoping to incriminate him “one way or the other”.

On Tuesday, the Pune Police had searched Babu’s home in Noida, Uttar Pradesh, in connection with the Bhima Koregaon case, allegedly without a search warrant. Babu was allegedly in contact with GN Saibaba, another professor convicted in March 2017 for Maoist links. He was also in contact with all those arrested earlier in the Bhima Koregaon case, police claimed.

Commenting on the searches, the People’s Union for Civil Liberties said: “The unending trial of democracy and unremitting assault on the Constitution and rule of law, in the name of Bhima-Koregaon, and the McCarthy-style witch-hunt and victimisation of constitutionally minded academics and citizens questioning anti-democratic actions of the government in the Bhima Koregaon case continues unabated.”

The human rights group said it was shocking that police seized phones of Babu’s family members to prevent them from calling lawyers and friends during the searches. The group said it was a “blatant abuse of law and high handed action” by the Pune police. “Such actions and tactics on the part of the state, blatantly trample on the constitutional rights of citizens, and amount to state terrorism,” the group added.

The group claimed Babu had no connection with Elgar Parishad, and the main accused, Hindutva leaders Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote, were roaming free. “Thanks to misuse of police machinery, which is distressingly compromised under the BJP-RSS led government in Maharashtra, the organisers of the peaceful meeting were targeted and one of them arrested,” the statement said. “This so-called investigation has instead, turned into a witch hunt in which many human rights defenders, from all parts of the country, have been gradually turned into ‘accused’ or ‘suspects’ in the Bhima-Koregaon case, and have been peremptorily arrested and are now languishing in prison.”

The Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association claimed Babu’s home was searched with no regard to lawful procedure. “The Bhima Koregaon case has become both a symptom and a symbol of how a range of laws from sedition, to speech to unlawful activity to terrorism, are invoked to silence, intimidate and incarcerate activists and dissenters,” the group said.

“It is clear that while the circle of accused has been expanding steadily for the past one year to clamp down on democratic voices of all manner, the real accused Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote, responsible for violence against Dalits at Bhima Koregaon during the Elgar Parishad event continue to be protected by the police and the political establishment in Maharashtra,” the association added.

The case

On December 31, 2017, the Elgar conclave was held at Shaniwar Wada in Pune before the 200th anniversary of the Bhima Koregaon battle. Police said that speeches made at the event resulted in caste-related violence around Bhima Koregaon village on New Year’s Day last year. One person was killed and many were injured in the incident.

Ten activists were arrested in 2018 as part of the inquiry into the caste violence. They were accused of masterminding the violence and of having links with the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist).

Last week, two of the accused in the case, Surendra Gadling and Sudhir Dhawale, refused to depose before a commission that is investigation the matter. Gadling claimed that it would cause prejudice in his defence before the trial court where he was facing serious charges. Dhawale said that he did not have “faith and confidence” in the panel that was investigating the violence.

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