Author Arundhati Roy on Wednesday criticised the government’s “relentless and ongoing incarceration of activists, academics and lawyers” in the Bhima Koregaon-Elgar Parishad cases. Roy’s remarks came a day after the National Investigation Agency arrested Delhi University professor MT Hany Babu in Mumbai in connection with the Bhima Koregaon case.
On July 11, the central agency had summoned Babu to appear before it in Mumbai on July 15. The investigating agency has claimed that Babu was a co-conspirator in the case and had been “propagating” Maoist activities and ideology.
In a statement on Wednesday, Roy said the actions of the Narendra Modi-led administration was a manifestation of its understanding that the “nascent, emerging secular, anti-caste and anti-capitalist politics that these people represent provides an alternative narrative to Hindu fascism”. Her statement added that the people against whom action has been taken also pose a cultural, economic and political threat to the current government’s “disastrous Hindu Nationalist politics”.
She further said that the Modi government’s politics has led India “into a crisis that has blighted the lives of hundreds of millions of people which ironically includes its own supporters”.
Babu teaches in the Delhi 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).
Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association
The Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association also condemned the “systematic hounding of academics and activists, and this wholesale criminalization of ideas”. The association said that the statement released by the NIA on Babu’s arrest revealed the “utter lack of foundation” of any case against him, and against Elgar Parishad.
“The press statement makes reference to vague allegations (‘propagating Naxal activities [sic] and Maoist ideology’) totally unconnected to anything concrete,” the association said in a statement. “The best allegations the NIA can come up against the Elgar Parishad is that it ‘encouraged unlawful activity’.”
The group said that for the past two and a half years, the Pune police first, and now the NIA, have been conducting a “blatant witch hunt” in the name of investigations in the Bhima Koregaon-Elgar Parishad cases, by “raiding and arresting activists, academics and even lawyers who have stood with the most marginalised”. “Our colleague from Delhi University, Hany Babu, has become the 12th person to be arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case,” it said.
Referring to the Elgar Parishad event in Pune in 2017, the association said it was the Hindutva groups led by Milind Ekbote and Shambaji Bhide who had “unleashed a reign of terror on Dalits who were gathering for the celebrations”. It said that 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 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 statement added. “The police made stunning claims, including that those arrested – poets, trade unionists, writers, and academics – had been planning to assassinate the Prime Minister.”
“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 NIA and its masters are clearly uninterested in pursuing,” the statement said. “Their interest is only in whitewashing the actual violence that took place, and to supplant instead a narrative of danger posed by so-called ‘Urban Naxals’ – a catch-all category in which all those who question, dissent, and refuse to buy the fairy tales being peddled to us, are to be corralled.”
The Delhi University professor had described the NIA summons 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.”
The academician’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.
Meanwhile, the Campaign Against State Repression on Tuesday 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”.
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