The National Investigation Agency inquiring into the Bhima Koregaon case in Maharashtra has summoned Delhi University associate professor MT Hany Babu to appear before it in Mumbai on July 15. The summons were delivered to him by an officer on Saturday. Babu described the agency’s move as “harassment”.
“They are asking me to travel to Mumbai in the middle of a pandemic,” Babu told Scroll.in. “It is not just a health hazard to me but also to my family. I live in Noida and there are so many restrictions to even travel to Delhi.”
Babu teaches in the university’s English department and is well-known as an anti-caste activist. He is a member of the committee formed to defend GN Saibaba, a former Delhi University professor who is currently serving a life term in Nagpur for his links to the Communist Party of India (Maoist).
Babu’s home was searched by Maharashtra police in September 2019 as part of the investigation into violence that broke out in Bhima Koregaon village near Pune on January 1, 2018, a day after an anti-caste event called the Elgar Parishad was held. In raids that took place in April and August 2018, the Maharashtra police had arrested 10 civil rights activists and lawyers, accusing them of instigating the violence as part of a conspiracy to assassinate the prime minister and overthrow the government. The NIA took over the case in January 2020.
The summons to Babu come in the wake of NIA’s heightened activity in the case. In May, the agency secured permission from a court in Maharashtra to move one of the accused, journalist and activist Gautam Navlakha, from Delhi to Mumbai, ignoring a pending bail petition filed by him in the Delhi High Court.
The NIA has also consistently opposed bail applications filed by the other accused, including poet Varavara Rao, whose family held a press conference on Sunday, drawing attention to his deteriorating health inside the prison.
‘Act of intimidation’
Babu said he was served a vaguely worded document that asked him to appear before the NIA for answering questions related to the Bhima Koregaon case “along with supporting documents.” The academic said he does not understand what the NIA means by supporting documents, as he had made it clear that he was in no way associated with the case.
The summons mentioned an NIA file number, but carried no details on the applicable first information report, he said. His lawyers have told him that summons issued under Section 160 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which authorises the police to call witnesses for questioning, should contain information of the FIR for which the summons are being issued.
Babu said the summons were a continuation of the intimidation activists like him were being subjected to, even though they had no connection to the Elgar Parishad event.
During the raid on his house in September, the Maharashtra police had seized many of his electronic devices, including the laptop that had all his academic work, he said. “I told them that taking the laptop away was akin to taking my life away,” he said. The NIA had asked him to approach the court if he wanted a copy of the electronic data. “But this means I have to go and approach the court in Pune. I live in Delhi,” he said.
Babu added that during the search, the police also seized some books related to the anti-caste and Maoist movements – books that are openly available in the market. Besides, he said he had hundreds of books in his collection, including those on the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. “As an academic, my reading includes a wide range of topics. But they picked certain books alone, perhaps to create an image about me.”
The associate professor said his association with those who have been arrested in the Bhima Koregoan case was purely in the course of his activism and academic work. He said even those activists have been booked on specious grounds.
Violence broke out between Dalits and Marathas in the village of Bhima Koregaon near Pune on January 1, 2018. This came a day after an event in Pune called the Elgar Parishad was organised to commemorate the Battle of Bhima Koregaon in 1818 in which the Dalit Mahar soldiers fighting for the British Army defeated the Brahmin Peshwa rulers of the Maratha empire. One person died in violence during a bandh called by Dalit outfits on January 2.
The investigating agency named 11 of the 23 accused in the FIR, including activists Sudhir Dhawale, Shoma Sen, Mahesh Raut, Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, Varavara Rao, Sudha Bharadwaj, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha. Except Teltumbde and Navlakha, the others were arrested by Pune Police in June and August 2018 in connection with the violence. They were accused of having links with the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist), and are still in prison.