As many as 215 Nepali writers, researchers, academics, artists and other professionals on Saturday issued a statement condemning the arrests of activists Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha in the Elgar Parishad case. Teltumbde and Navlakha surrendered on April 14, and were subsequently arrested.

“Deploying the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act [UAPA], the Indian authorities decisively moved to detain eminent Indian scholar Dr Anand Teltumbde and human rights activist Gautam Navlakha on April 14, 2020,” the signatories said. “Dr Teltumbde, friend to the Dalit movement in Nepal, has written extensively about the caste system and has tirelessly advocated for the rights of Dalits. He cared about the constitutional reforms in Nepal and wanted to see that the flaws visible to him in the Indian Constitution were not repeated in Nepal.”

The signatories alleged that Teltumbde and Navlakha had been arrested with political motives in mind. They called it a message to Dalits, Other Backward Castes, Adivasis and other minorities in India as well as to those who believe in India’s secular democracy. “On behalf of the Nepali public, we strongly condemn these unjust arrests, especially in the context when even repressive regimes in other parts of the world are releasing political prisoners in the face of the Covid-19 crisis,” the signatories added.

The signatories claimed that the Indian authorities had indulged in “bizarre persecution” of Teltumbde, Navlakha and other activists, who were arrested for allegedly planning to overthrow the government. The signatories said that even after two years of incarceration of these activists, there was no sign of a trial. They added that the Indian government has neglected the health risks to Teltumbde and Navlakha, and their deaths in custody would be “a stain on the conscience of the world”.

“It is outrageous that the Indian government, instead of defending human rights and securing the freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, is cracking down on the very people who fight for justice in India,” the signatories said. “More disturbingly, public comments by political actors have indicated that Dr Teltumbde was singled out precisely because of his Dalit identity and activism. These measures by the Indian government are effectively an attempt to create a culture of state terror in the region.”

The signatories, stressing that they stood in solidarity with Dalit rights, asked the Indian government to “live up to the spirit of the Constitution and cease these assaults on civil liberties”.

Earlier on Saturday, a special court in Mumbai extended activist Teltumbde’s custody with the National Investigation Agency till April 25. The agency told the court that it had yet to complete the investigation, and hence custody should be extended by seven days.

Elgar Parishad case

On January 1, 2018, violence erupted between Dalits and Marathas near the village of Bhima Koregaon in Maharashtra’s Pune district, where lakhs of Dalits had converged to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Koregaon. Dalit Mahar soldiers fighting for the British Army had defeated the Brahmin Peshwa rulers of the Maratha empire in the battle in 1818.

The commemoration took place a day after an event in Pune called the Elgar Parishad was organised. The Pune Police claimed that the violence in Bhima Koregaon was the result of speeches made at the Elgar Parishad event. They alleged that banned Maoist groups organised the event, and a first information report was filed in the matter.

In June 2018, the Pune Police arrested five activists and lawyers from Pune, Nagpur and Delhi, alleging that they had links to the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) organisation, and played a role in organising the Elgar Parishad event. In August 2018, the police arrested five more activists – Sudha Bharadwaj, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Varavara Rao and Gautam Navlakha. Teltumbde had at the time managed to stay out of prison by getting reprieve from the judiciary.

The case was transferred to the National Investigation Agency in January this year.