Over 1,000 academics and members of the scientific community on Wednesday released a statement, expressing “deep concern” over the actions of the National Investigation Agency in the Bhima Koregaon violence case. They protested the arrest of academics, lawyers and activists in the case.
“Instead of investigating those responsible for the actual violent clashes in Bhima-Koregaon, the NIA [and earlier, the Pune police] has focused on the Elgaar Parishad event – a large cultural and political gathering – where the main organizers were reportedly two eminent retired judges,” the signatories said. “Surprisingly, in this process, the investigating agencies have arrested several illustrious citizens – including academics, lawyers and prominent activists.”
The signatories said most of the arrested individuals were not even present at the event, so it is unlikely that the government will manage to get them convicted in court. However, the signatories said, by using the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act against the accused, the government has prevented them from getting bail.
“Therefore, it appears to us that the NIA’s claims of investigating the ‘conspiracy’ in the Elgaar-Parishad case are actually a flimsy cover for cracking down on ‘urban naxals’ – who, in reality, are only dissident intellectuals – and keeping them in prison indefinitely,” the signatories said.
The signatories condemned the arrest of Delhi University professor Hany Babu on July 28. “Most recently, we understand that the NIA has summoned the well-known scientist and activist, Professor Partho Sarothi Ray, of the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research [Kolkata] to Mumbai on 10th September for questioning in this case,” they said. “Separate from his outstanding scientific work, Professor Ray has also been deeply involved in social causes.” They said Ray has also been coordinating efforts in Nadia district of West Bengal to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
The signatories said Ray is on record saying that he has no knowledge of the Bhima Koregaon incident and has never visited the area. However, the good professor has been critical of the Centre’s response to the pandemic, and this may not be unrelated to his summons, the signatories said. They said they feared Ray would be arrested on false charges.
“We call on the government to immediately end its crackdown on dissidents, release those whom it has arrested in the Elgaar-Parishad case, and instead focus on identifying and prosecuting the true perpetrators of the Bhima-Koregan violence,” the signatories concluded.
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. They have been charged under the anti-terrorism law, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, facing charges of participating in a Maoist conspiracy to overthrow the government and assassinate the prime minister.
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.