Mumbai saw more than 40 rights organisations, trade unions, students and more register their condemnation of the continued hounding and reprisals by the state of human rights activists arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case
Mumbai: The members of civil society and more than 40 rights organisations including women’s rights organisations, Dalit rights organisations, Adivasi mass organisations, legal aid and research organisations, environmental groups, trade unions, students and more, held a joint meeting held at the Mumbai Press Club under the title ‘Mumbai Rises to Save Democracy.’ They came together on October 27 to register their condemnation of the continued hounding and reprisals by the state of human rights activists arrested allegedly in the Bhima Koregaon case.
Stretching to the very last day of the temporary relief of house arrest granted by the Supreme Court vide order dated September 28, 2018, in Romila Thapar & Ors. v. Union of India, the Sessions court in Pune rejected the bail applications for Advocate Sudha Bharadwaj, Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves, who were arrested allegedly in the Bhima Koregaon case on August 28, 2018.
Lawyer and activist Arun Ferriera and Vernon Gonsalves have been taken under custody by the Pune police on October 26 and have produced before the Pune Sessions Court on Oct 27, which has granted remand until November 6. Advocate Sudha Bharadwaj has also been taken under custody a short while back by the Pune police, who were stationed at her house since Oct 26.
October 26 witnessed high power drama in various courts- Pune trial court, Mumbai High Court and the Supreme Court -hearing and delivering orders on various pleas ranging from rejecting bail application of Sudha Bharadwaj, Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferriera by the Pune Sessions Court; Mumbai High Court rejecting a plea for the extension of house arrest of Arun Ferriera and Vernon Gonsalves and adjournment of the hearing until October 31 on application for quashing of FIR of Father Stan Swamy and until November 1, of Gautam Navlakha, and Anand Teltumbde; Supreme Court hearing the review petition filed by Romila Thapar & Ors. v. Union of India from the Supreme Court’s order dated September 28, which was rejected earlier today.
Background of arrests, Romila Thapar’s petition and the court cases
After the arrests and simultaneous raids on the houses of activists Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Sudha Bhardwaj, Gautam Navlakha and Varavara Rao; and raids on houses of Stan Swamy, Anand Teltumbde, Kranthi Tekula, Susan Abraham, KV Kumaranath, Prof. Satyanarayana on August 28, an urgent petition was filed by five eminent personalities in the Supreme Court on the question of arbitrariness of the arrest and curbing of dissent.
Justice Chandrachud while delivering a dissenting judgement (2:1) on September 28 in SC, laid bare the entire petition and discussed various points of law rigorously, striking at the heart of the matter — the utter violation of due process as per the provisions of the CrPC and the UAPA and the attack on dissent. The majority judgement authored by Justice Khanwilkar and signed by the then Chief Justice Dipak Misra, in all but a few lines noted that the Pune Police is responsible and can be trusted to carry out the investigation following due process. Although the dissenting judgment grants the demand for an SIT, the majority judgement extended the house arrest of the five rights activist for four weeks allowing them to seek other remedial measures in the trial court and the Supreme Court.
A review petition on the above judgement was filed in the Supreme Court which was listed for a chamber hearing incidentally on October 26- the last day of the house arrest. While no order was passed on October 26 leaving much ambiguity, the review petition now stands rejected by an order passed earlier today. Similarly, the order, rejecting the bail application for Sudha Bharadwaj, Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferriera was filed in the Pune session court and was also delivered on the last day. A matter concerning the extension of the house arrest of Arun Ferriera and Vernon Gonsalves was also adjourned on the last day of the house arrest without the grant of interim relief. As a result, this gave no time to the three activists – Sudha Bharadwaj, Arun Ferriera and Vernon Gonsalves, to seek legal recourse.
In the case of Gautam Navlakha, Delhi High Court had released him from house arrest on October 1. The petition seeking the quashing of the FIR against Gautam Navlakha, Anand Teltumbde and Father Stan Sway also came up before the Bombay High Court on October 26. The Bombay High Court has granted interim relief against arrest to Navlakha and Teltumbde until November 1 and Swamy until October 31. Hyderabad High Court on October 25 extended the house arrest of Varavara Rao for three weeks allowing him to move the local court in Pune and Mumbai High Court for quashing of FIR by Pune police.
This is not the first spate of attack by the State on rights activists. The first to be arrested were eight workers of Reliance Infrastructure in the month of January by the Anti-terrorist Squad (ATS) in relation to the Bhima Koregaon violence. They have been charged under various section of draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and are yet to get bail even after months of being under custody. Incidentally, the chargesheet filed in their case finds no mention of the Bhima Koregaon violence!
On June 6, 2018, five others were arrested —Sudhir Dhawale, the editor of the progressive Marathi magazine Vidrohi and one of the organisers of the Bhima-Koregaon Shaurya Din Prerna Abhiyan; Professor Shoma Sen, the then head of the Department of English, Nagpur University; Advocate Surendra Gadling, general secretary, Indian Association of People’s Lawyers; Mahesh Raut, anti-displacement activist from Bharat Jan Andolan and a former fellow at the Prime Minister’s Rural Development (PMRD); and Rona Wilson, public relations secretary, Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners. The planned raids and subsequent arrest of June 6 were similar to the ones on August 28.
On October 24, the Bombay High Court quashed the Pune Sessions Court order granting extension of 90 days to the state to file the charge sheet in the matter pursuant to arrests on 6th June 2018 of the earlier five activists - Professor Shoma Sen, Advocate Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut, Rona Wilson and Sudhir Dhawale, paving way for the possibility of their bail. A stay was granted until November 1, to allow the state to appeal from the order. The state has filed an SLP challenging the order in the Supreme Court which is fixed for hearing on Monday.
Motive of State- targeting activists
The State has played foul in the entire investigation. To begin, with no action has been taken against the right-wing leaders Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote, against whom the first FIR (2/2018) was filed for inciting violence. State-sponsored news channel displayed the ‘sensitive’, ‘controversial’ letters allegedly written by Bharadwaj to some comrade in national channel even before they made it to the courtrooms. Joint Commissioner of Police in one instance and ADG (Law and Order) in the other, breaking all codes of neutrality and discretion, conducted press conference where all the alleged letters which have formed the basis of the investigation were handed out to the media organizations, paving way for a vicious media trial. Even the dissenting judgement of Justice Chandrachud chided the Pune police for the purported and disturbing intention to carry out a media trial against the accused.
Interestingly, Bhima Koregaon and the FIR under which the activists are arrested are not even the important factors in the case anymore. Very slyly, these alleged letters have been used to slap the draconian UAPA against the activists who have been striving to bring out the anti-people policies of the present ruling government, BJP.
Condemnation of bail rejections and arrests
We, at MRSD question the grounds of rejection of bail despite there being no substantial evidence against activists Arun Ferriera, Vernon Gonsalves and Sudha Bhardwaj. MRSD extends their continued and whole-hearted support to the activists facing the reprisals. The manner in which the state has been hellbent on depriving the liberty of the activists, while openly violating every norm of natural justice throughout the investigation in the case, is appalling and an assault on democracy. On the other hand, there is a clear attempt to divert attention from the investigation into the role of Hindutva groups in attacking the Bhima Koregaon visitors and prosecuting the real culprits, which has been pushed to the sidelines to protect the perpetrators of violence. We urge the conscientious citizens and media to highlight the lapses in the investigation and the criminalisation of these activists by the state.
We emphatically condemn the continued use of the draconian UAPA in a concerted manner to target dissenting and inconvenient voices alike. UAPA, an act that came into existence in 1967, has no place in a democratic society. UAPA has been regularly used against Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis, Activists, Lawyers, Journalists etc. in order to spread a reign of terror. UAPA especially makes it difficult to get bail and has stringent provisions, on account of which people can be perpetually imprisoned without any trial. It is a draconian law that can be invoked on vague and untrue grounds.
We would like to draw the attention of media organisations to the Bhima Koregaon Judicial commission hearings that are going on to investigate the failures of Maharashtra government in being able to control the violence that ensued after alleged Hindutva groups attacked Dalit Bahujans at Bhima Koregaon memorial on January 1. We would like to strongly urge the Maharashtra government to take stringent immediate action on the original FIR lodged in the Bhima Koregaon case which implicates Hindutva leaders Manohar Bhide and Milind Ekbote and to stop the diversionary tactics being employed to falsely implicate and target activists with long-standing credibility working for the rights of the people. In the wake of news reports of the police having dropped criminal cases against the two Hindutva leaders for rioting in the past, there is a strong suspicion of foul play to protect these individuals with criminal antecedents.
We Demand –
1. The immediate and unconditional release of democratic rights activists, workers, families falsely arrested in alleged connection to the violence at Bhima Koregaon.
2. That the false UAPA charges against the activists, workers, Dalits, Muslims, Adivasis be dropped.
3. That the real culprits of the Bhima Koregaon violence, Hindutva leaders Manohar Bhide and Milind Ekbote who instigated and planned the attacks on visitors to Bhima Koregaon, be arrested and prosecuted under law.
4. That the draconian UAPA be repealed.
5. That the attacks, criminalisation and reprisals by the state on dissenting voices in civil society, democratic rights activists and to stifle constitutional freedoms be stopped immediately.
MUMBAI RISES TO SAVE DEMOCRACY Participating organisations
1. People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL)
2. Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR),
3. Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP)
4.. New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI)
5. Trade Union Centre of India (TUCI)
6. Student Islamic Organisation (SIO),
7. Ambedkar Periyar Phule Study Circle (APPSC), IIT
8. Police Reforms Watch
9. Lokraj Sangathan
10. Spark magazine
11. National Confederation of Human Rights Organisations (NCHRO)
12. Bebaak Collective
13. Forum Against Oppression of Women (FAOW)
14. LABIA- A Queer Feminist LBT Collective
15. Jagrut Kamgar Manch (JKM)
17. Indian Muslims for Secular Democracy (IMSD)
18. Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS)
19. Bharat Bachao Andolan (BBA)
20. Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF)
21. People’s Commission on Shrinking Democratic Spaces (PCSDS)
22. Human Rights Law Network (HRLN)
23. Cause Lawyers Alliance
24. National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM)
25. Kashtakari Sanghatna, district Palghar.
26. Sarvahara Jan Andolan, district Raighad
27. Shramik Mukti Sanghatna, district Thane.
28. Human Rights Defenders Alert (HRDA)
29. Innocence Network
30. Association for Protection of Civil Rights (APCR)
31. Students of St. Xavier's
32. Students Tata Institute of Social Science (TISS) students
33. FTII Alumni
34. The Leaflet
36. Bastar Solidarity Network (BSN)
37. Satyashodhak Feminist Collective
38. Indian Christian Women's Movement - Mumbai Chapter
39. Nivarra Hakk Suraksha Samiti
40. Jagrut Kashtakari Sanghatana, Raigad
41. Justice and Peace Commission and Others
Noted Rights' activist Teesta Setalvad, Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP)
Adv Nilima Dutta, Trustee, Lawyers Collective
Police reforms activist Dolphy D'souza, Police Reforms Watch
Adv Susan Abraham, advocate practising in Bombay High Court