Mumbai: The National Investigation Agency (NIA) on Tuesday, July 28, arrested Delhi University associate professor of English, Hany Babu M.T, in connection with the Elgar Parishad case. With Babu’s arrest, 12 people — all activists, lawyers and academics — have been arrested in the case.
Fifty-four year old Babu, who resides in Delhi, was summoned to the agency’s office on July 23. Since then, he has been questioned everyday for long hours until his arrest around 4.30 pm today, his wife Jenny Rowena, also an academic teaching at Miranda House, confirmed.
Rowena, who has been in touch with Babu through these six days of gruelling questioning told The Wire that the NIA has been asking him about a disk partition that existed in his computer between February and April 2019. “Babu kept telling them [NIA officials] that he never made these partitions. But they insisted that it existed and contained 62 files with “incriminating details” about his involvement in the Maoist movement,” Rowena shared.
Disk partitioning refers to the creation of one or more regions on secondary storage, so that each region can be managed independently of the other.
Rowena says the NIA sleuths also said that while Babu’s track record has been “clear”, there is a possibility that someone had planted incriminating material in his laptop while it was left unguarded. “The officers interrogating him kept asking him if he suspected his students, co-workers or anyone else who could have perhaps done this. They wanted him to implicate more people,” Rowena shared. This information, she said, was relayed to her by Babu, every evening, after he had spent long hours in the NIA office in south Mumbai.
On September 10, last year, the Pune police, which was handling the Elgar Parishad-Bhima Koregaon case before the NIA took over early this year, had raided Babu’s residence in Noida. Soon after the raid, Babu had told The Wire that Pune police had asked him specific questions about Bhima Koregaon case and if he knew any one who had been arrested in the case. “My laptop, mobile phones, two booklets printed for the G.N. Saibaba defence committee, and two books were confiscated,” he had then said.
The two books that the police had then seized include Yalavarthi Naveen Babu’s From Varna to Jati:Political Economy of Caste in Indian Social Formation and Understanding Maoists: Notes of a Participant Observer from Andhra Pradesh by N. Venugopal.
Babu is a vocal anti-caste crusader and an active member of the committee formed for the defence of G.N. Saibaba, a Delhi University professor who was convicted for his alleged links with the Maoist movement. Saibaba, who is over 90% disabilities is at present serving a life term at the Nagpur Central Jail.
The academic is well-known for his work on caste oppression, linguistics and the government’s suppression of dissent in universities. His articles include ‘Breaking the Chaturvarna System of Languages’, ‘Converging struggles and diverging interests: A look at the recent unrest in universities’ and ‘Unequal rights: Freedom, equality, life and liberty of citizens and “others”.’
Babu was also actively involved in implementation of OBC reservation in universities and has, on several occasions, emphasised on the need for a caste Census in the country.
Babu was first called for questioning on July 15. He, however, had sought time and visited the agency on July 23. Along with him, another Hyderabad-based journalist and poet, Kranti Tekula, was also summoned for questioning. Tekula, however, was let to go today [July 28] and has been summoned again tomorrow. Cultural and political activists associated with Pune-based Kabir Kala Manch organisation have also been questioned.
The NIA in a statement issued soon after his arrest claimed, “During further investigation, it was revealed that accused Hany Babu Musaliyarveettil Tharayil was propagating Naxal activities and Maoist ideology and was a co-conspirator with other arrested accused. The arrested accused will be produced before NIA Special Court at Mumbai on 29.07.2020 and his police custody will be sought for custodial interrogation.”
Others arrested in connection with the case include Sudhir Dhawale, a writer and Mumbai-based Dalit rights activist, Mahesh Raut, a young activist from Gadchiroli who worked on displacement, Shoma Sen, who had been head of the English literature department at Nagpur University, advocates Arun Ferreira and Sudha Bharadwaj, writer Varavara Rao, activist Vernon Gonsalves, prisoners’ rights activist Rona Wilson, and Surendra Gadling, a UAPA expert and lawyer from Nagpur.
While Sen and Bharadwaj are currently lodged at Byculla women’s prison, others are at Taloja Central jail. Rao, who has been ailing with severe neurological problems and has tested positive for COVID-19, is undergoing treatment at Mumbai’s Nanavati hospital.
The first round of arrests had begun in June 2018 and in November that year, the Pune police filed its first chargesheet in the case, which ran over 5,000 pages. The police had claimed that those arrested had “active links” with the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) and had helped organise the ‘Elgar Parishad’ of December 31, 2017, under the banner of the ‘Bhima Koregaon Shaurya Din Prerana Abhiyan’ in Pune.
The police’s case is that this cultural gathering in Pune’s Shaniwarwada area, known to be a predominantly Brahmin hub, had incited Dalit youth across Maharashtra against the Bharatiya Janata Party and ‘Brahmin-oriented Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’, leading to violent retaliation across the state. The speeches given at the Elgar Parishad were allegedly inflammatory, and carried the intention of “harming the democratic fabric of the country”.
A supplementary chargesheet was filed later in February, 2019 and the state police had claimed that fugitive Maoist leader Ganapathy as the mastermind behind the Elgar Parishad.