Mumbai: The National Investigations Agency has accused the cultural group Kabir Kala Mancha (KKM) of being a frontal organisation of the banned terrorist Communist Party of India (Maoist).
The agency made this accusation while seeking custody of the two KKM shahirs (bards) who were arrested on September 7 for their alleged involvement in the ongoing Elgar Parishad case. The designated NIA court today handed both 32-year-old Sagar Gorkhe and 36-year-old Ramesh Gaichor over to the agency’s custody until September 11.
Meanwhile, in Pune, another KKM activist, Jyoti Jagtap, was summoned to the city office of the state Anti- Terrorism Squad. From there, Jagtap too was taken into NIA custody. She will be produced at the NIA court on September 9.
KKM is a Pune-based cultural troupe that was formed by youth belonging to the Bahujan community from across Maharashtra. Several working-class musicians and poets had come together after the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat and formed their own cultural group to sing songs of resistance and state repression. They have also been vocal against caste atrocities across the country.
The three arrested activists were also primary organisers of the Elgar Parishad event that was organised under the banner of ‘Bhima Koregaon Shaurya Din Prerana Abhiyan’ on December 31, 2017 at Pune’s Shaniwarwada area. The site, considered to be a quintessential Brahmin bastion was chosen as a symbol of protest against the Brahminical state order. An FIR was soon filed against the organisers and Gorkhe, Gaichor and Jagtap were named in the FIR.
Today, while seeking Gorkhe and Gaichor’s custody, the NIA claimed that the duo had visited Gadchiroli for “arms training” and have “deep-rooted connection with the Naxalites [Maoists]”.
“The arrested accused persons were in contact with absconding accused Milind Teltumbde [believed to be a top-rung leader of the banned CPI (Maoist) organisation] and the Urban network of CPI (Maoist),” the NIA has claimed. They have also alleged that the accused “during their visits to the jungle, underwent weapon and explosive training and awareness programme on various topics related to the Maoist movement.”
The NIA, similar to allegations made by the Pune police, have claimed that Milind Teltumbde had discussed details of the Elgar Parishad event with those arrested and the CPI (Maoist) had subsequently made inroads into the organisation. The alleged crime of inciting violence was “executed through the members of Kabir Kala Munch [Manch] and other frontal organisations”.
While the Ministry of Home Affairs of India has banned a number of organisations that have been proscribed as “terrorist organisations” under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, the KKM does not appear on the list. Several investigating agencies, from time to time, have accused numerous cultural and human rights organisations of being “frontal outfits” without really going through the legal processes of proving their “illegality”.
The NIA and earlier the Pune police have claimed that all 15 accused who have been arrested in the case are “urban Naxals” who were responsible for violence that had been unleashed on the Dalits visiting the Bhima Koregaon Vijay Stambh, just outside Pune, on January 1, 2018.
The duo, like several other witnesses in the case, had been summoned to the NIA’s Mumbai office on multiple occasions. Minutes after their arrest, their troupe members had released a video of Gorkhe and Gaichor narrating how they were allegedly pressured by the NIA officials to confess to false events if they wanted to escape arrest. When the duo refused, they were allegedly arrested.
In the video, recorded on September 5, Gorkhe can be heard saying, “We won’t confess. We aren’t the progeny of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar but are children of Ambedkar. We will fight back.”
These allegations that the duo was harassed by the NIA to provide their confessional statements were brought up before the NIA court today. Their lawyer, Nihalsing Rathod, argued that the duo had been harassed and cited section 163 of the Code of Criminal Procedure which prohibits any kind of inducement to be offered to the witness or accused.
“You have named my clients in the FIR in 2018, you have called them for questioning time and again. You have already conducted raids at their locations two years ago. To dispel any kind of apprehensions, it would be best that the NIA brings on record the audio and video recording of their interrogation,” Rathod argued in the court.
The NIA, however, claimed that it has not recorded the interrogation. Incidentally, the agency had also summoned Rathod for “inquiry” on September 7. Like Rathod, several other lawyers involved in the defence in the case have been summoned for questioning. They have all termed the NIA’s move as an attack on their privilege to access important information about the clients they are representing in the case.
This is not the first time that Gorkhe and Gaichor have been arrested. In a similar accusation, they were arrested in 2013, by the state ATS under the then Congress-NCP government, and had to spend four years in jail before they were granted bail. It has been over seven years and the case is still pending before the trial court. Jagtap, who was named in the earlier FIR, was not arrested then.
Arrests so far
All arrested accused have been booked under several sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, along with sections of the Indian Penal Code. Before the KKM activists, the Pune police and NIA have together arrested 12 activists, lawyers, and academics from various parts of the country. Most of them have maintained that they had no role to play in the Elgar Parishad and had, in fact, never visited Bhima Koregaon in their lives.
The first round of arrests in the Elgar Parishad case had begun in June 2018, with the arrests of Sudhir Dhawale, a writer and Mumbai-based Dalit rights activist, Surendra Gadling, a UAPA expert and lawyer from Nagpur, Mahesh Raut, a young activist on displacement issues from Gadchiroli, Shoma Sen, a university professor and head of the English literature department at Nagpur University, and Rona Wilson, a Delhi-based prisoners’ rights activist.
In the second round of arrests in August 2018, advocates Arun Ferreira and Sudha Bharadwaj, and writers Varavara Rao and Vernon Gonsalves were taken into custody.
After the NIA took over in January this year, they have arrested academics Anand Teltumbde and Hany Babu and activist Gautam Navlakha.
The police have filed two sets of chargesheet so far—the main chargesheet against the first arrestees, followed by a supplementary chargesheet against those arrested in the second round. The NIA is yet to file a chargesheet and in July, was granted 90 days extension to file their chargesheet against Temtumbde and Navlakha.