Mumbai: In its latest, the National Investigation Agency handling the ongoing probe in the Elgar Parishad case has called a 30-year-old human rights body, People’s Union for Civil Liberties, a frontal organisation of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist). The agency made the claim while arguing against the bail application moved by arrested human rights defender Father Stan Swamy. Similar claims were also made against Jharkhand-based Adivasi rights organisation Visthapan Virodhi Jan Vikas Andolan.
Swamy, who was arrested in October last year, is 83 and suffers from acute Parkinson’s disease along with several other age-related ailments. Swamy has sought bail on the grounds that the prosecution has failed to establish his involvement with the ongoing investigation. Swamy is one among 16 academics, lawyers and activists to be arrested in the Elgar Parishad case. The first round of arrests began in June 2018 when the local Pune police were handling the investigation. The NIA took over the case in January last year after the BJP government fell in Maharashtra.
Special public prosecutor Prakash Shetty while contesting Swamy’s bail plea, claimed before the court that he was actually “accomplishing the agenda of Maoists” under the pretence of voicing concerns of the tribal community. Swamy, a well-acclaimed champion of Adivasi rights has spent a large part of his life working in the tribal region of Jharkhand.
Shetty claimed that Swamy was using his social work as a pretext to “accomplish the agenda of CPI(Maoist)”. “The ghastly truth is that in the name of social causes, Father Swamy and the co-accused are actually working to achieve the goals of the CPI (Maoist),” Shetty told the court, as reported in The Hindu.
This is not the first time any human rights organisation has been branded as a Maoist front. In the chargesheet, the NIA has called the Indian Association of People’s Lawyers (IAPL), of which two arrested lawyers, Surendra Gadling and Sudha Bharadwaj, are a part of one of the frontal organisations. Kabir Kala Manch, a Pune- based cultural group too has been claimed to be furthering the Maoist agenda.
None of these organisations have a gazette notification issued by the Central government declaring them a banned organisation as prescribed under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). Experts have claimed that simply terming them as a “front “front” or a “formation” or an “off-shoot” of a banned organisation allows the state machinery to target individuals and organisations and brand them ‘unlawful’ without really having to go through the laborious process of getting them notified as per the law. And the “black hole” in the law, expert say, is retained with the very intention to misuse it.
Mihir Desai, designated senior lawyer of the Bombay high court and the convenor of PUCL’s Maharashtra chapter called the NIA’s attempt to tarnish the organisation’s reputation “ridiculous”. “They have made such ridiculous and irresponsible statements in the past too. They have been going behind every human rights organisation and now they are targeting PUCL,” Desai told The Wire.
Desai, recalling the legacy of the organisation, said, “PUCL was a direct outcome of the Emergency. It was founded by socialist leader Jayprakash Narayan. Several lawyers, including the BJP’s Ravi Shankar Prasad and Arun Jaitley, have been associated with PUCL,” he pointed out.
Four years ago, in one of his essays, Swamy had written that Visthapan Virodhi Jan Vikas Andolan is not an NGO but a “broad people’s movement” that came in existence spontaneously during the first decade of Jharkhand as a separate state. He further wrote that the movement has worked towards bringing out cases of state repression, extrajudicial killings and protecting the socio-cultural tradition of Jharkhand.