The National Investigation Agency on Tuesday arrested Delhi University professor MT Hany Babu in connection with the Bhima Koregaon case in Mumbai, reported PTI.
Babu will be produced before a special NIA court in Mumbai on Wednesday, according to The Times of India.
On July 11, the agency had summoned Babu to appear before it in Mumbai on July 15. The central investigating agency has claimed that Babu was a co-conspirator in the case and had been “propagating” Maoist activities and ideology.
Following reports of Babu’s arrest, the All India Students Association tweeted: “The Modi government has unleashed a war on intellectuals and activists who are critical of their policies and politics. We must raise our voice demanding the immediate and unconditional release of DU Professor Hany Babu who was arrested today in the Elgar Parishad case.”
Babu had described the NIA summon as “harassment”. “They are asking me to travel to Mumbai in the middle of a pandemic,” Babu had 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 the 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.
Campaign Against State Repression condemns arrest
Meanwhile, the Campaign Against State Repression condemned Babu’s arrest and called it a “blatant harassment and intimidation of persons who question the state and struggle for the rights of the marginalised and oppressed castes, classes and communities”.
The group demanded the immediate release of Babu and all other activists charged in the Bhima Koregaon case. It also called for the release of all other political prisoners, and activists who protested against the new citizenship law, the National Register of Citizens and the National Population Register.
“We are particularly appalled to hear of the efforts made by the NIA to pressurise Professor Babu to implicate himself and others as part of the fabricated Bhima Koregaon-Elgaar Parishad case,” the group said in a statement. “We demand the cessation of harassment of activists and intellectuals in the name of interrogation.”
The group said that it is evident that the NIA summons to Babu in the middle of the pandemic was merely “a ruse to force Babu into providing false testimony against other persons and accepting allegations of being a functionary of the Maoists”.
“Babu vehemently and consistently refused to agree to these ridiculous lies,” the statement added. “It is because of this that after five days of continuous harassment in the name of interrogation, the NIA, despite his presence in the NIA office, has now made him an accused and formally arrested him and is ironically seeking custodial interrogation.”
The statement pointed out that when a raid was conducted at Babu’s house by the Maharashtra Police last year, several electronic devices and books were seized. However, no hash value of any of the devices confiscated were provided. “This violation of procedure has left the seized devices open to tampering,” it added. “The investigating agencies have repeatedly denied the hash value of the confiscated devices that can actually reveal the timestamp of activities on the device.”
But unfortunately, they said, the courts have also turned a blind eye to these illegalities. The group said that Babu’s arrest shows that the “the entire conspiracy hatched in the aftermath of the violence at Bhima Koregaon” is intended to incarcerate and silence a range of activists who have been speaking about the anti-people policies of the state.
“This is also being done to divert attention away from the true perpetrators of the violence, Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote, both with ties to the RSS,” it added. “It is intended to spread fear among the democratic and progressive spirited academics, activists, artists, journalists, lawyers, poets and trade unionists.”
They said the purpose of the arrest is not to prove guilt but to “punish via a lengthy isolation and detention while being demonised by a State sponsored media witch-hunt”. “These tactics are being deployed without any consideration for the basic right to life of the persons targeted as seen in the case of the revolutionary poet Varavara Rao, GN Saibaba and Anand Teltumbde among others,” it added.
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.