Mumbai: The reading habits of Vernon Gonsalves, one of those arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case, came under judicial scrutiny on Wednesday with the Bombay high court asking him to explain why he kept “objectionable material” like a copy of War and Peace at home.
The question was raised by the single-judge bench of Justice Sarang Kotwal during the bail hearing of Gonsalves and others. According to PTI, the judge also said that “such books” and CDs as the police said they had gathered prima facie indicated they contained some material against the state.
War and Peace became a point of contention during the day’s hearing after the Pune police probing the case claimed that it was part of the “highly incriminating evidence” it had seized from Gonsalves’ house in Mumbai during raids conducted a year ago.
PTI reports that the Pune police read out the titles of several other books and CDs allegedly recovered from Gonsalves’ house which included CDs titled ‘Rajya Daman Virodhi’ released by Kabir Kala Manch, ‘Marxist Archives’ and ‘Jai Bhima Comrade’; books War and Peace, Understanding Maoists and RCP Review, and copies of a circular issued by the National Study Circle.
“The title of the CD ‘Rajya Daman Virodhi’ itself suggests it has something against the state while War and Peace is about a war in another country. Why did you (Gonsalves) keep objectionable material such as books like War and Peace and CDs at home? You will have to explain this to the court,” Justice Kotwal was quoted by PTI as saying.
War and Peace is Leo Tolstoy’s celebrated classic novel about Russia during Napoleonic wars but there is some confusion about whether the police were referring to another book by the same name, War and Peace in Junglemahal: People, State and Maoists, by Biswajit Roy.
Why the judge referred to the book being about a ‘war in another country’ is not immediately clear.
Gonsalves was arrested by the Pune police under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act after raids at residences and offices of several activists in connection with the Bhima Koregaon-Elgar Parishad case.
The police had claimed provocative speeches made at the Parishad on December 31, 2017 were responsible for the caste violence around Bhima Koregaon village in Pune district the next day during an event to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the battle of Bhima Koregaon. One person was killed and others were injured in the violence.
Other arrested accused in the case include activists and academics Shoma Sen, Rona Wilson, Sudha Bharadwaj, Arun Ferreira and Gautam Navlakha.
Gonsalves’ counsel Mihir Desai told the high court that the Pune police had based the entire case against him on the basis of some emails and letters recovered from the computers of other people.
“None of these letters or emails were written by Gonsalves, or were addressed to him. Therefore, in the absence of any cogent incriminating evidence against him, Gonsalves shouldn’t be denied bail,” Desai argued.
Opposing the bail application, advocate Aruna Pai, who is representing the Pune police, said while police did not find any electronic evidence against Gonsalves from the computer and hard disk recovered from his house, the raid had yielded “highly incriminating evidence” in the form of “books and CDs with objectionable titles mentioned above”.
Desai countered the prosecution argument saying “mere possession” of such books and CDs “did not make Gonsalves a terrorist, or a member of any banned Maoist group”.
Agreeing with the defence that mere possession of such material does not make anyone a terrorist, Justice Kotwal, however, said Gonsalves will have to explain why he kept such material at his home.
The judge also said that the Pune police too have to do “much explaining” to convince the court that the material found on such CDs and in the books is incriminatory against Gonsalves.
“So far, the police have failed to provide details of what was on the CDs or in the books and pamphlets recovered that linked Gonsalves to the case. Merely stating that they have objectionable titles is not enough. Have you tested these CDs? What if they turn out to be blank inside?” the judge asked.
“If you (prosecution) do not place on record the content and details of such material, the court will have to ignore them,” said Justice Kotwal.
The bench also directed police to provide details of the source of the emails and letters, and their authors and recipients.
The arguments are likely to continue on Thursday.
With inputs from PTI