Mumbai: A team of ten officers – eight men and two women – from the National Investigation Agency (NIA) reached the residence of Dr Jenny Rowena, an associate professor at Miranda House, at 7:30 am on Sunday (August 2). The team searched her Noida residence as a part of the ongoing investigation in the Elgar Parishad case, in which Rowena’s partner Hany Babu M.T., Delhi University associate professor of English, was arrested on July 28.
Babu was the 12th person to be arrested in the case. Several prominent human rights activists, lawyers and academics have been in jail since June 2018.
Rowena told The Wire that the team knocked at her door at 7:30 am and left at 11 am. “They suddenly landed up at my place. Me and my daughter were home alone. They (NIA officers) said this was a part of their evidence collection process. They took away some hard disks and material related to (G.N. Saibaba’s) Defence Committee,” Rowena said. The NIA had come equipped with a search warrant issued by the special NIA court in Mumbai.
Rowena said that she was able to call up a few friends and inform them about the raid. “I stay away from the [university] campus. I barely know anyone here. I told the officers that I would allow them in only if they let me inform a few friends,” she said. Her friends, she said, came near her building within a few minutes and stayed put through the process. “They were allowed to come over towards the end of the raid,” she added.
The documents that the NIA has seized are all a part of the literature generated as a part of the ‘G. N. Saibaba Defence Committee’, Rowena said. These documents have all been in the public domain and publicly disseminated during several public demonstrations and talks organised in support of Saibaba, a Delhi University professor who was convicted for his alleged links with the Maoist movement. Saibaba is currently serving a life sentence at the Nagpur Central Prison.
Babu, who is a vocal anti-caste crusader, had also participated actively in the committee work. Most of Babu’s work revolved around caste discrimination and lack of adequate Bahujan representation in educational institutions. He spoke and wrote several research papers about how the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) have been systematically kept away from decision-making positions, particularly in higher education.
The NIA took over the Elgar Parishad investigation in January this year. Earlier, the case was handled by the Pune police. As soon as the Bharatiya Janata Party government fell in Maharashtra and the new coalition government of the Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party and Congress was formed in the state, the case was abruptly handed over to the NIA. In April, the NIA arrested academic Anand Teltumbde and journalist and activist Gautam Navlakha.
Those arrested by the Pune police 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.
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 BJP 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 was the mastermind behind the Elgar Parishad.