The People’s Union for Civil Liberties on Sunday criticised the arrest of Delhi University professor MT Hany Babu in the Bhima Koregaon case, calling it an attempt to criminalise and silence intellectuals in India. Babu was arrested by the National Investigation Agency on July 28.

The human rights body said the government was resorting to “fabricated prosecutions” using the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act to punish activists and academics.

Babu’s home was searched by the Maharashtra Police in September 2019 as part of their 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. The police had seized several electronic devices and books from Babu’s home.

“The fact that the raid was conducted in 2019, coercively, with no search warrant, was only one among several fundamental violations of Dr Babu’s civil and legal rights by these law enforcement agencies,” PUCL said in its statement.

“It is known, for instance, that no proper inventory or hash value of the seized items was provided to Dr Babu,” the human rights body said. “The confiscated devices were thus clearly vulnerable to being tampered with. The hash value of the devices in particular is crucial, as it gives the time of the activities undertaken on the device. Any activity undertaken after seizure would thus become explicitly clear. But the police have consistently refused to provide these crucial details. Clearly, this is to facilitate the planting of fabricated evidence – a practice that is now becoming a familiar pattern with these agencies.”

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PUCL accused the NIA of acting in “sheer spite” against Babu. “In the light of this rather vengeful action, the fact that the NIA is now seeking permission to keep him for some more time, for ‘custodial interrogation’, does not bode well for Dr Babu, and is a matter of serious concern, as well as blatant violation of his civil liberties,” the organisation said.

PUCL demanded the release of Babu and other activists and intellectuals arrested in connection with the Bhima Koregaon violence and the withdrawal of all pending cases against them. Hundreds of students and teachers’ unions have also spoken out against his arrest.

Babu teaches at the Delhi University’s Department of English 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 allegations of links to the Communist Party of India (Maoist).

On July 31, a group of over 300 students of the Delhi University professor released a statement in solidarity with the activist and said the NIA’s warrant against him was a “direct attack on education, activists and the academic space at large”.

Apart from Babu, Activists Sudhir Dhawale, Shoma Sen, Mahesh Raut, Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, Varavara Rao, Sudha Bharadwaj, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha have been arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case.