Anti-caste activist Harshali Potdar was briefly arrested by Mumbai’s MRA Marg police on Monday afternoon for sharing an allegedly inflammatory Facebook post in March 2020. By evening, she was released after being made to fill out several arrest forms.
Potadar’s application for anticipatory bail in this case had been rejected by a sessions court on January 6.
The police had filed its case against Potdar on April 4, 2020, accusing her of sharing a post by a Facebook user, Mohsin Sheikh, who blamed the Central government for targeting the Muslim community and the Tablighi Jamaat group with claims that it was responsible for spreading Covid-19 in India.
The first information report claims the post appealed to Muslims to act against Brahmins, and has booked Potdar under Section 153A (1) of the Indian Penal Code, dealing with promotion of communal disharmony.
In a Facebook live video she shared after her release, Potdar denied sharing any such post. “I have given them [the police] my statement before, whenever they have asked for it – I have not shared that post,” said Potdar in the video. “But even if the police claims I have shared it, they have listed me as accused number one, and the person who wrote the post has been listed as accused number two. And the FIR also claims the post was deleted within 30 minutes.”
Potdar was arrested despite the Supreme Court itself criticising the Central government for its handling of the media coverage of the Tablighi Jamaat event. In October and November 2020, the Supreme Court pulled up the government for its inaction towards media channels that had communalised the Jamaat event.
Connection to Bhima Koregaon
Potdar’s lawyer Ishrat Ali Khan also refuted these charges against her client. “She is being targeted because of her connection with the Bhima Koregaon case and because of her involvement in several protests and dharnas,” she said.
Potdar is a member of the Republican Panthers Caste Annihilation Movement, and was one of the organisers of the Elgar Parishad event that took place in Pune city on December 31, 2017 – a day before caste-based violence broke out near Bhima Koregaon in Maharashtra’s Pune district.
At least 16 activists and intellectuals have been arrested since June 2018 for allegedly conspiring to provoke the Bhima Koregaon violence. Meanwhile, no major action has been taken against two right-wing Hindutva leaders – Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote – who have also been accused of making provocative speeches before the Bhima Koregaon vioence.
Although Potdar was one of the accused in the case, she has not been arrested or charge-sheeted for it so far.
In her Facebook video on Monday, Potdar claimed her arrest was an intimidation tactic, likely because organisers of the 2017 Elgar Parishad have announced another Elgar event in Pune on January 30 in support of the 16 arrested activists.
“Through such false cases, the police is trying to spread fear among activists working in the Ambedkarite and progressive movements so that they don’t come forward to do their work,” Potdar said. “But they will not be able to silence us like this.”
Potdar has also questioned the MRA Marg police about the manner in which she was arrested while she was in a public place. “I was eating in a restaurant with a few activist friends when four or five police officials in civil dress surrounded us and demanded that I go to the police station with them,” Potdar said in the Facebook video. The officials did not have any summons or arrest warrant, she said, and refused to tell her why they wanted to arrest her. “They also asked me to surrender my phone, which I refused to do, since they did not have a seizure panchnama.”
At the police station, she was not allowed to speak to her lawyer or activist friends, and was told about the case in which she was arrested only after making her fill up arrest forms. “At around 6.30 pm, after informing my family and lawyer that I would be in the lock-up tonight, they suddenly told me they were releasing me,” she said. “So then what was the dramatic arrest all about? Only the police can answer.”
Officials at the MRA Marg Police Station were unavailable for comment.