Mumbai: Expanding its net further, the National Investigations Agency has now issued summons to academics and a journalist from Hyderabad and Kolkata for questioning in connection with the ongoing Elgar Parishad investigation. Among those summoned are 51-year-old professor at the English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU) K. Satyanarayana, journalist with The Hindu K.V. Kurmanath and 42-year-old Kolkata-based molecular biologist and associate professor at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research in Kolkata Partho Sarothi Ray.
Since the NIA is expected to file a supplementary chargesheet – the third in the case so far – against senior journalist and activist Gautam Navlakha and academic and civil liberties activist Anand Teltumbde in the coming month, several people have been summoned for questioning over the past weeks. Besides activists and academics, the NIA has strangely also summoned lawyers representing the arrested activists in the case.
In a public statement issued on September 7, Satyanarayana has stated that the recent summons have only added to his stress. Satyanarayana and Kurmanath are both son-in-laws of jailed poet, writer and veteran political activist Varavara Rao.
In August 2018, the Pune police – the earlier investigating agency in this case – had raided houses of both Satyanarayana and Kurmanath along with Rao’s house in Hyderabad. Talking to The Wire then, Satyanarayana had expressed his anguish over the police action. His personal property was ransacked, and computers were seized from his home. In that search, Satyanarayana had lost several of his yet-to-be published books’ manuscripts and also several important feminist writings by his wife K. Pavana. The Pune police had handed over a piece of paper to Satyanarayana with some matter typed in Marathi. Satyanarayana had then said he did not know what was written on it and had to do as the police had directed him to do. Later, when some of his Marathi-speaking colleagues had intervened, it became evident that the warrant did not mention him or his wife but assumed that his father-in-law Rao lived with them.
In an interview to The Wire then, Satyanarayana had mentioned that the police could have done what they did also because of his Dalit caste location. “They mentioned my caste and my wife’s caste several times during the search. They kept asking her (Pavana) why she did not wear any traditional ornaments that a Hindu married woman would usually wear. They told her, ‘Your husband is Dalit but you are a Brahmin, why don’t you follow any traditions’. They said obnoxious stuff.”
Similar raid and seizures were made from Kurmanath’s house in Hyderabad too.
“I have stated then that I was in no way connected to the Bhima Koregaon case. The fact of Varavara Rao being my father-in-law was used to raid my house and cause mental agony,” Satyanarayana has stated in his press statement. He further writes, “It is a fact that I am related to Varavara Rao but I reiterate that I have no connection with the Bhima Koregaon case.”
Both Satyanarayana and Kurmanath are apprehensive of travelling to Mumbai at a time when COVID-19 infection is spread across the city. “Our father-in-law is already in their custody and is deeply affected by both prolonged incarceration and the viral infection. In such a situation, the NIA wants us to travel to Mumbai now. It is distressing,” Kurmanath told The Wire.
Partho Sarothi Ray too has called the NIA’s move to summon him in the case a “harassment tactic”. The NIA had first approached Ray sometime last week and asked him to come to Mumbai for questioning. But since the agency had not issued an official summons, he refused to travel. Ray is a well-known civil rights activist and one of the founder members of a Leftist magazine, Sanhati. In recent times, Ray was among the community of scientists who engaged with the World Health Organisation (WHO) to study of the virus and also has been actively involved in setting up a COVID-19 facility at Nadia district in West Bengal. Ray says he will be leaving crucial work behind to attend to the NIA’s summons.
“Since I have been working on the ground continuously in the past months, I am at a high risk of being exposed to the virus. And making me travel at such times is not just risky for me but also for everyone I will come in contact with,” Ray says.
Although this is the first time Ray has been summoned, he was, last year, a target of a malware attack. In November last year, Ray had received a suspicious email which later, in a detailed joint investigation conducted by Amnesty International’s digital team based in Berlin and The Citizen Lab, a research organisation which works out of the University of Toronto, was found to be a part of a larger surveillance conspiracy “specially crafted to bait journalists or activists”. Yahoo Mail had also sent a warning to Ray stating that his email account “may have been the target of government-backed actors” which tried to gain access to his information.
Although Ray is not named as an accused in the case, his name is mentioned a few times in the chargesheet. “It is strange. I hadn’t even know about the Elgar Parishad case until I read about it in the press. And then to have me in this situation is really strange. It is a clear attempt to harass and intimidate me,” Ray says.
While Ray has been summoned under Section 160 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) for “appearing to be acquainted with the facts and circumstances of the case; and such person shall attend as so required”, Satyanarayana and Kurmanath have been issued summons under Section 91 of the CrPC. Under Section 91 of the CrPC, the investigating agency or the court can ask for “production of any document or other thing is necessary or desirable for the purposes of any investigation”.
While the notices only classify all three as witnesses, they are worried after what happened with Delhi University associate professor of English, Hany Babu M.T. The NIA had summoned Babu has a witness in the case and he was later arrested on July 28.
In all, the police have arrested 12 persons – nine were arrested by the Pune police and the remaining three by the NIA which took over the investigations in January this year.
The first round of arrests in the case had begun in June 2018, with the Pune police arresting 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, advocate Arun Ferreira, advocate Sudha Bharadwaj, writer Varavara Rao and Vernon Gonsalves were taken into custody. The NIA later arrested academic Anand Teltumbde and activist Gautam Navlakha on April 14 this year, and finally Hany Babu in July.
The first chargesheet was filed by the Pune police, 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 is the mastermind behind the Elgar Parishad.
While the initial investigation was handled by the Pune police, as soon as the BJP government fell, the Ministry of Home Affairs suddenly transferred the case to the NIA in January. After taking the case over, the NIA has arrested academics Anand Teltumbde and Hany Babu and activist Gautam Navlakha.