The Supreme Court recently rejected the bail applications of scholar and activist Anand Teltumbde, who was booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, or UAPA for allegedly fomenting violence during during the Bhima Koregaon event.
The top court gave him and activist Gautam Navlakha, one week to surrender. The week ends on April 14, when both are expected to be arrested as they surrender to the National Investigation Agency (NIA). The two, if arrested, will join the nine other respected human rights activists and lawyers who have been in Maharashtra’s jails for close to two years. Several politicians, activists, writers and scholars have condemned the hounding by police and the lack of attention by the courts.
On April 13, Anand Teltumbde penned down some of his thoughts on his impending incarceration. Written in the form of an open letter, the text has been produced in full below, with minor edits for style.
I am aware that this may be completely drowned in the motivated cacophony of the Bharatiya Janata Party and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh combine and the subservient media, but I still think it may be worth talking to you as I do not know whether I would get another opportunity.
Since August 2018, when the police raided my house in the faculty housing complex of the Goa Institute of Management, my world has turned completely topsy-turvy.
Never in my worst dreams could I imagine the things that began happening to me. Although, I was aware that the police used to visit the organisers of my lectures – mostly universities – and scare them with enquiries about me, I thought they might be mistaking me for my brother who left the family years ago.
While I was teaching at IIT Kharagpur, an officer of BSNL phoned, introducing himself as my admirer and well-wisher, and informed me that my phone was being tapped. I thanked him but did nothing, I did not even change my SIM.
I was disturbed by these intrusions but comforted myself that it might rather convince the police that I was a ‘normal’ person and that there is no element of illegality in my conduct.
The police have generally disliked civil rights activists because they question police. I imagined that it might be due to the fact that I belonged to that tribe. But again, I comforted myself that they would find that I could not perform that role either, because of my full time engagement with my job.
But when I got an early morning phone call from the director of my institute, informing me that the police have raided the campus and were looking for me, I was speechless for a few seconds. I had come to Mumbai on official work just a few hours before and my wife had come earlier.
When I learnt of the arrests of the persons whose houses were raided that day, I was shaken by the realisation that I escaped their fate just by a whisker. The police did know my whereabouts and could arrest me even then but for reasons known only to them, did not do so.
They did open our house too, forcibly getting a duplicate key from the security guard, but just videographed it and locked it back.
Our ordeal began right there. At the advice of our lawyers, my wife took the next available flight to Goa, and lodged a complaint with Bicholim police station against the fact that the police had opened our house in our absence and that we would not be responsible if they had planted anything. She volunteered giving our telephone numbers should the police want to inquire into this.
Strangely, the police had started holding press conferences soon after they embarked on the “Maoist story”. This was clearly meant to whip up prejudice in public against me and the others arrested, with the help of an obliging media. On August 31, 2018, in one such press conference, a police officer read out a letter purportedly recovered from the computer of previous arrestees, as evidence against me.
The letter was clumsily constructed with the information on an academic conference I had attended, which was easily available on the website of the American University of Paris. Initially, I laughed it out, but next, decided to file a civil and criminal defamation suit against this officer and sent a letter on September 5, 2018 to the Government of Maharashtra for sanction as per the procedure.
There has been no response from the government to date.
The press conferences of the police, however, were stopped when the high court reprimanded them.
The RSS hand in the entire case was not hidden. My Marathi friends told me that one of their functionaries, Ramesh Patange, had written an article in their mouthpiece Panchjanya, targeting me in April 2015. I was identified as “Mayavi Ambedkarwadi” along with Arundhati Roy and Gail Omvedt.
“Mayavi” in the Hindu mythology refers to a demon meant to be destroyed. When I was illegally arrested by the Pune police while still under the protection of the Supreme Court, a cyber-gang of the Hindutva brigade vandalised my Wikipedia page. This page is a public page and for years I was not even aware of it.
They first deleted all information and only wrote, “He has a Maoist brother…his house was raided…he was arrested for links with Maoists,” etc. Some students later told me that whenever they tried restoring the page, or editing the page, this gang would pounce upon it and delete everything and put derogatory content.
Ultimately, Wikipedia intervened and the page was stabilised, although with some of their negative content.
There was a media blitzkrieg, reeling off all kinds of canards through the parivar’s so called “Naxal experts.” My complaints against the channels and even to the India Broadcasting Foundation did not receive a response.
Then in October 2019, the Pegasus story came out. The government had inserted a very pernicious Israeli spyware on my phone, among others. There was a momentary uproar in media but this serious matter also has died a still death.
I have been a simple person who has been earning his bread honestly and helping people to the extent possible with my knowledge through his writings. I have an unblemished record of service for nearly five decades to this country in various roles in the corporate world, as a teacher, as a civil rights activist and a public intellectual.
In my voluminous writings comprising over 30 books, and numerous papers, articles, comments, columns, interviews, published internationally, not an insinuation of support to violence or any subversive movement could be found. But at the fag end of my life, I am being charged with heinous crimes under the draconian UAPA.
An individual like me obviously cannot counter the spirited propaganda of the government and its subservient media. The details of the case are strewn across the internet and are enough for any person to see that it is a clumsy and criminal fabrication.
A summary note on the AIFRTE website may be read. For your benefit I will provide its gist here:
I am implicated on the basis of the five letters among the 13 that the police purportedly recovered from the computers of two arrestees in the case. Nothing has been recovered from me. The letter makes reference to “Anand”, a common name in India, but the police unquestioningly identified it with me.
Notwithstanding the form and content of these letters, which was trashed by experts and even by a judge in the Supreme Court, who was the only one in the entire judiciary who went into the nature of the evidence. The content does not refer to anything that could be remotely construed as even a simple crime.
But taking shelter under the draconian provisions of the UAPA, a law that renders a person defenceless, I am being jailed.
The case may be depicted for your understanding as follows:
Suddenly, a police posse descends down on your residence and ransacks your house without showing any warrant. At the end, they arrest you and lodge you in the police lockup. In the court, they would say that while investigating a theft (or any other complaint) case in xxx place (substitute any place in India) police recovered a pen drive or a computer from yyy (substitute any name) in which some letters written by a supposed member of some banned organisation were recovered that had a mention of zzz who according to the police is none other than you.
They present you as part of a deep conspiracy. Suddenly, you find your world turned topsy-turvy, your job gone, family losing house, media defaming you, about which you cannot do a damn thing.
Police will produce “sealed envelopes” to convince judges that there was a prima facie case against you that needs custodial interrogation.
No arguments about there being no evidence would be entertained as judges would answer that this would be looked into during the trial. After custodial interrogation, you will be sent to jail.
You beg for bail and the courts will reject your petition as historical data shows that the average period of incarceration ranged from four to 10 years before they got bail or acquitted.
And this can happen literally to anyone. In the name of the ‘nation’, such draconian laws that denude innocent people of their liberties and all constitutional rights are constitutionally validated.
The jingoist nation and nationalism have got weaponised by the political class to destroy dissent and polarise people. The mass frenzy has accomplished complete de-rationalisation and inversion of meanings where destroyers of the nation become desh bhakts and selfless servers of the people become deshdrohis.
As I see my India being ruined, it is with a feeble hope that I write to you at such a grim moment.
Well, I am off to NIA custody and do not know when I shall be able to talk to you again.
However, I earnestly hope that you will speak out before your turn comes.
Anand Teltumbde is senior professor at Goa Institute of Management.