WSS strongly condemns the arrests of its member Advocate Sudha Bharadwaj, and activists Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira, Gautam Navlakha, Varavara Rao, and the raids at the homes of Father Stan Swamy, Dr. Anand Teltumbde, Prof. K. Satyanarayana, Pavana, Anala, Kurmanath, Kranti Tekula and others conducted by the Maharashtra police along with the state police of Telangana, Jharkhand, Goa and Delhi. These searches and arrests are a diversionary tactic to draw attention away from the spine chilling revelations about Hindu Sanatan Sanstha and Hindu Janjagruti in connection to the assassinations and bomb terror which they have been masterminding.
On the 28th of August, in a coordinated operation, days before the 90 day period for judicial custody period of the five arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case end, several well known academics, lawyers, writers, poets, priests and journalists have been arrested and their homes raided by the police. Just under three months following the arrests of Professor Shoma Sen, Advocate Surendra Gadling, activists Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson and Mahesh Raut, the Maharashtra police appear to be persistently cracking down on all voices that have stood in solidarity with them. This coordinated effort to harass and malign human rights activists all over the country is intended solely to create a sense of terror amidst the democratic people of this country and must be seen as a war against democracy. Despite the fact that no incriminating evidence has emerged in these cases, with no respect or regard for the law, the police continues to arbitrarily arrest and detain activists, lawyers, writers and professionals who have dedicated their lives to ensure that justice is served where it is due.
Following orders sent by the Swargate police station in Pune, all of those targeted through raids and arrests today have the following charges against them – IPC Section 153, 505, 117,120B; UAPA Sections 13, 16, 18, 18b, 20, 38, 39, 40. These charges include promoting enmity between people, public mischief, abetting commission of offences, criminal conspiracy, unlawful activities, terrorist acts, raising funds for terrorist acts, recruiting for terrorist acts, being members of terrorist organisations, support for terrorist organisations and providing funds for terrorist organisations. With these charges, the police are making all efforts to brand democratic activists as ‘terrorists’ and ensure that they are kept in custody for extended periods of time. It is well known that the use of draconian laws like UAPA in cases, when contested in court, invariably fall apart. But the time spent by those charged under these laws is meant as a punishment even if they are eventually acquitted of all charges. Thus, the tactics of the police force is clear. It is meant, now, not merely to spread a sense of fear amongst all those who oppose its brutal ways but as retribution for daring to speak out.
Sudha Bharadwaj, who is a WSS member, is a lawyer and trade unionist who has been tirelessly advocating for the rights of workers, adivasi communities and other marginalised groups for the last three decades in Chhattisgarh. Since 1986, she has been working with the labour movement in Chattisgarh that grew out of the work of the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha, advocating for the rights of workers in the mining belt of Bhilai and other areas. Sudha is also a part of a legal organisation called Janhit which takes up cases of illegal land acquisition, violations of forest rights and environmental issues. Janhit has supported democratic movements like Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan, which takes on issues of forced evictions, movements in Sarguja fighting against violations of laws like the Forest Rights Act and Panchayats Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA), etc. Apart from the scores of cases she has fought for workers across the state, Sudha has also argued cases of human rights violations against Adivasi communities in the Chhattisgarh High Court. She has extended her support to different democratic groups working for constitutional rights such as the Peoples Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), which she represents currently as its National Chairperson, the Indian Association of Peoples Lawyers (IAPL). She is also a visiting professor at the National Law University, Delhi.
Sudha Bharadwaj has been facing harassment since June’18 when Republic TV produced a fabricated letter charging her of unlawful and terrorist activities along with Arun Ferreira and Gautam Navlakha. In July this year, Father Stan Swamy and 19 activists, writers, and professionals were charged with sedition by the Jharkhand police. Today in early morning raids across the country, the Maharashtra police have simultaneously targeted the homes of all these human rights activists, seized all electronic devices, including Sudha and her daughter’s phones, laptops, pen drives, and password to social media accounts, and diaries with empty pages – raising concerns of potential police tampering and fabrication of evidence. Father Stan Swamy had to endure hours of questioning along with raids where they seized his phone, laptop and all electronic items they found at his residence. Gautam Navlakha was taken to Saket court, where the division bench of Delhi High Court has stayed his transit remand to Pune. The irony of holding Gautam Navlakha under UAPA is not lost on us, as he has been outspoken about the draconian and undemocratic nature of UAPA, and earlier POTA, TADA. Varavara Rao’s home in Hyderabad was ransacked by an extraordinarily large contingent of police that gheraoed his apartment complex and deliberately created panic amongst the residents. His daughters and sons-in-law Pavana and K. Satyanarayana, and Anala and Kurmanath’s homes were also raided, as was the home of journalist Kranti Tekula. Dr. Anand Teltumbde’s home in Goa was searched in his absence after taking the key from the guard outside raising alarms about potential fabrication and planting of evidence as well as clearly indicating trespass on private property.
Vernon Gonsalves’ family, including partner Susan Abraham, clearly stated that they have no idea why he has been arrested as no reasons were given. Arun Ferreira has also been picked up from his home in Thane by the Mumbai police in the afternoon after being interrogated all morning. All of them are expected to be taken to Pune to the Vishrambagh police station. It is crucial to note that Arun Ferreira and Susan Abraham were representing the five arrested in connection with the Bhima Koregaon case. By arresting the lawyers of the five arrested in June, the police has essentially crushed the judicial process and further vitiated the environment of fear.
All this continues while those responsible for the violence at the traditional Bhima-Koregaon celebrations are not only roaming scot free, but also enjoying the utmost support of those in power. The Hindu Sanathan Sanstha, Milind Ekbote and Sambaji Bhide are being treated like royalty and mass murderers are being garlanded by ministers, while those carrying on Ambedkar’s fight for justice and protecting constitutional values of Liberty, equality and fraternity are being arrested as a ‘threat to national security’ and for spreading ‘ disaffection in society’!
This repression, along with the terror unleashed in Maharashtra after Bhima Koregaon and in many states after the 2 April protests, not only reveals the anti-dalit nature of the State, but it also makesclear that creating a sense of terror and helplessness amongst the democratic people of this country is the primary intention of the Maharashtra police. In this open assault on democratic people of this country, the police force – both state and central – have played the role of agents of terror instead of upholding the law. The Modi-Shah regime has brought fascism to our doorsteps. The arrests of well known democratic rights activists from across the country, with the police trawling for any and all persons it considers a threat, is particularly targeting activists who have stood resolutely by the dalits, adivasis, Muslims, and worked all their lives for the betterment of marginalised sections of the country, in line with a true democratic spirit. This is meant to strike terror amongst the vast majority of people who have been daring to speak out against the anti-people policies of the state – be it opposing land acquisition, against relentless loot of resources, displacement and brutal violence committed by the security forces against the people of this country and standing tall in the face of Brahmanical fascism in all its forms. By using terms like ‘Urban Maoists’ for democratic rights activists, the police working with the BJP and RSS makes an effort to malign and isolate those raising uncomfortable questions while shielding right wing leaders like Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide despite all evidence. Today, we are faced with the challenge of standing united against a ruthless state apparatus that abuses the law to its own ends. The use of several sections of IPC and UAPA reveals the desperation of the state to project intellectuals, activists, lawyers, writers and journalists as criminals. The BJP-RSS machinery uses the institutions of the state to serve its own ends while blatantly trampling on democratic principles. The retributive nature of the Maharashtra police is an extension of this policy that can only be termed fascism. We are now living under a state of emergency.
Laws like UAPA have no place in a democratic country. The law has been routinely used to suppress dissent and disagreement with those in power. Such laws give the state and its apparatus undue power to define and brand people as “terrorists” at will. Such a branding is not just arbitrary but also is an abuse of power and vindictive. In times when the “terrorists” have come to find an image and identity in our mind, such actions by the government are ways of branding and defaming people. Additionally, the same charges seem to be conspicuously missing when people are killed and maimed in the name of cow “protection”.
It is up to us to fight back and reclaim our democratic space in this country. The arrest of Professor Shoma Sen, the harassment of Professor GN Saibaba’s partner Vasantha, the harassment and now arrest of Advocate Sudha Bharadwaj, three of our members who have been working across the states of Delhi, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra, to expose instances of sexual violence and abuse by the police and right-wing agents are now finding themselves facing the might of the state. In light of these arrests of democratic rights activists, WSS is determined to remain united and fight back against this assault on our democratic rights with unwavering conviction and resolve. We demand the immediate and unconditional release of all arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case.
We appeal to all citizens to rise as one and defend the country against the current decimation of the Rule of Law and the terror being unleashed by the State against its people.