Can Indian citizens rise for activists when authorities look away?

Written by Sabrangindia | Published on: February 13, 2019

There were raids all over India on those who speak against injustices, but these raids did not follow the well-laid procedures. Stan Swamy talks about how his own premises were raided illegally after the Bhima Koregaon incident. 


Bhima Koregaon

India has vowed to be a socialist, secular, democratic republic. Sadly, all these values are steadily being eroded in the present political developments. About 20 intellectuals, professionals, activists who are working for the fundamental rights of the poor and marginalized and upholding the above-mentioned constitutional values are being labelled ‘urban Naxals’ and are being harassed no end either as ‘accused’ or as ‘suspects’. Their premises have been raided, their electronic devices seized, serious cases filed. Some are already in prison, others face arrest anytime. 
 
I am one of the ‘suspects’, I was also raided on August 28, 2018. Even after more than four months, Pune police have not made any charges and when I appealed to Bombay HC [No.4741 of 2018] to quash the FIR against me, my petition was rejected. Instead, it authorized Pune police to continue its investigation on me, without prescribing any time frame, to see if I have committed any offence under UAPA and if needed, take strong legal action. Really an open-ended offer to the police.
 
Several of the accused have refuted the charges against them. But the court seems to go by the police’s version with scant regard to what petitioners are saying.
 
This is an appeal to all democratically minded individuals, groups, organizations, movements, and ordinary citizens who are genuinely concerned about the steadily deteriorating human rights situation in our country and to raise their voice against it.
 
The following considerations may be taken for what they are worth:
 
Justice PB Sawant, one of the organizers of the Bhima-Koregaon ‘Elgar Parishad’ event on 1st January 2018, in an interview, testified that “For years these pilgrims had been going to Bhima Koregaon, no incident happened. Why did it happen last year only? Our sources tell us that these two people (Bhide and Ekbote) were working there at least two months before the violence because they knew many people were going to come because of the 200th anniversary.
 
This government wants to protect the Hindutva forces. They have been consistently trying to protect Hindutva activists who had indulged in violence. No Maoists were involved in the program and the activists had been arrested because they criticised the government. [Pavan Dahat for HuffPost News, 30/12/2018.]
 
Why did the Investigating Officer and courts not pay attention to the above statement by a respected judge, as a point of concern?
 
Various fact-findings took place, the most prominent amongst them was one conducted at the behest of Pune Rural IG, Vishwas Nangare Patil, wherein the ex-mayor of Pune was part of the team and visited many places and submitted its report on January 20, 2018. Summarizing the report, we find the following chronological events narrated in the report. Note the careful planning by communal forces.
 
On December 16, 2017, one person namely Kaustubh Kasture had posted on Facebook that there would be riots on January 01, 2018. This person supports Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote.
 
On December 30, 2017, Milind Ekbote took a meeting in Bhima Koregaon, where he decided to treat January 01, 2018 as a black day and ensure bandh all across the area.
 
On December 29, 2017, the memorial of Govind Mahar, a man who carries the legacy of cremating Sambhaji Maharaj, son of Shivaji Maharaj, came to be defiled.
 
This resulted in a riot-like situation in Vadu Budruk and adjacent areas, however, all the villagers acted with responsibility and sorted out the issue amongst themselves and peace was restored. By December 30, 2017, though the issue at the Vadu Budruk was resolved peacefully, it is said that Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote, instigated the villagers.
 
On December 30, 2017, a message was circulated on social media that there is a meeting called by Sambhaji Bhide in Vadu Village on January 01, 2018 and the supporters should gather in large numbers.
 
On the night of December 31, 2017, Pradip Kand, Anil Kand and Ganesh Kand were threatening hotel owners to ensure bandh on January 01, 2018.
 
Women in the vicinity had prior information about the riot on January 01, 2018, President of Tanta Mukti (dispute resolution) Committee, namely Vaibhav Yadav, had stored sticks and swords in his shop a night before.
 
Suddenly on late night December 31, 2017, a letter was sent to the police station, near Bhima Koregaon purportedly written by Bhima Koregaon Gram Panchayat, wherein police were informed about the bandh to be observed next day. [Nihal Singh Rathod in The Leaflet, 6 January 2019.]
 
The Bombay HC, while giving credence to the police version of the events, has not asked the police whether any other reports were made. Could it have asked for this report to see the other side of the coin?
 
Within a week, the Pune Rural Police registered at least 22 FIRs, including Anita Sawale’s, in multiple incidents of attacks against the pilgrims across different routes leading to the war memorial. The state government has stated before a Pune court that there are over 1,400 suspects in these cases, and estimated a total loss to public property of over Rs. 1.5 crores. In the first information report registered against her complaint, Sawale named Manohar Bhide, president of the Shiv Jagar Pratishthan, Milind Ekbote, president of the Hindu Janjagran Samiti, and their “savarna sathidars”, the savarna associates. [The Caravan News – 14 September 2018 by Sagar]
 
To my knowledge, no courts have directed the police to act upon these FIRs. It is strange that one man’s FIR has galvanized against human rights activists and the defenders of the poor, but 22 FIRs got no response and interestingly the judiciary did not comment on it.
 
The search on my premises at 6 am 28 August 2018 by Pune police accompanied by a contingent of Namkum police Thana, Ranchi, Jharkhand, was illegal. When I asked to see the Search Warrant the Pune police showed a Search Order. It was in the Marathi language which I do not know. Hence, I asked them to give me a translation of the Search Order either in Hindi or English so I could understand the nature of the order. The Pune police responded that it was not possible and that the search had to be carried out immediately. Thus, they forcibly entered my room and spent three hours scrutinizing everything. They seized my laptop computer, a tablet, a camera, a mobile phone and some instrumental music CDs.                 
 
Then they produced a report-cum-inventory of seized articles which was also in Marathi language and asked me to sign the same. At this point, I refused to sign a document in the Marathi language which I do not understand until after an oral translation was done.
 
Pune police had brought two persons from Pune as ‘Panch’ which makes the Search illegal
 
The law on Search prescribes that a few respectable civilian people in the area be present during the search and that they sign as witnesses. But Pune police had brought two ‘panch’ along with them who signed as witnesses. This is a gross violation of the law and caused injustice to me.
 
There were raids all over India on those who speak against injustices, but these raids did not follow the well-laid procedures. Its illegal nature is blatant.
 
Torture in Police Custody: Adv. Arun Ferreira, one of the accused, was tortured in Pune Police Custody.
 
“Arun Ferreira alleged in the court that he was beaten up during custodial interrogation. He said that on November 4 around 4 pm, during the interrogation that he was punched about 8-10 times by the Investigating Officer (I.O.) Shivaji Pawar. The IO also hit him in the eye. While beating up Ferriera, IO Pawar was asking him questions about the Indian Association of People's Lawyers (IAPL). On November 5, he was taken to the Sassoon hospital. Injuries and contusion near eye were noted by the doctors at Sassoon hospital while conducting his medical examination.” [Sushmita in Sabrang News, 6 November 2018.]
 
This is a serious human rights issue. Just last year when the United Nations Human Rights Council was trying to muster the nations of the world to sign the Treaty Against Torture, the Indian envoy loudly proclaimed “The very idea of torture is completely alien to Indian culture” On this basis, India did not sign the UN document against torture. But everyone knows the police everywhere in India do torture prisoners to extract ‘confessions.’
 
“And even when eminent persons who have dedicated their life for the cause of the oppressed masses are subjected to this inhuman practice, it is a matter of serious concern. This is also a violation of the Supreme Court observing ‘custodial torture’ as a violation of human dignity and degradation that destroys the self-esteem of the victim and does not even spare his personality.” [SC - SCC No. 416 / 1997 D.K.Basu vs the State of WB.]
 
But strangely enough, the judge at the Pune court did not comment on the petitioner’s mention of the torture. Silence from the judiciary on this vital aspect of human rights is painful.
 
I have thought these things aloud. I am sharing some questions that popped out. I do hope we can get answers.
 
[This Appeal was shared on the occasion of the Republic Day when India took on the mantle of a “socialist, secular, democratic Republic’.]