Mumbai: Calling the arrest of senior advocate Surendra Gadling and four others activists and academic as “unconstitutional and done with a malicious intent”, a petition was moved before the Supreme Court today. The petition was filed seeking specific direction to be given to Maharashtra government against the ongoing “witch hunt” of the human rights defenders like Gadling, Dalit rights activist Sudhir Dhawale, forest rights activist Mahesh Raut, Delhi-based activist Rona Wilson and associate professor from Nagpur University Shoma Sen.
Advocate Nihalsingh Rathod, who filed the petition in the apex court, said that the hearing is scheduled for September 6 along with the ongoing petition filed on August 29 against the arrest of five activists a day earlier. The petition, Rathod says, was filed following the Supreme Court’s intervention in the Pune police’s attempt to jail five other lawyers and activists in to its custody. The petition on behalf of the arrested activists – filed by historian Romila Thapar, Prabhat Patnaik, Devaki Jain, Satish Deshpande and Maja Daruwala – was mentioned for urgent hearing before a five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra and heard eventually by a bench comprising the CJI, Justice A.M. Khanwilkar and Justice D.Y. Chandrachud. The Supreme Court ordered all the arrested activists to be kept under house arrest at their own homes until September 6.
“There has been a clear pattern of threat and attempts to implicate Gadling in false cases. Several times in the past, the police had resorted to unveiled threats and had tried to trap him in false cases. Similar attempts were also made to implicate Mahesh (Raut) too who has been working on the implementation of the PESA act in the Adivasi region of central India,” advocate Rathod told The Wire. Raut was one of the youngest students of TISS to be selected for the most coveted Prime Minister Rural Development (PMRD) fellowship. He on completion of his fellowship continued to work in the region and had been actively raising voice against the indiscriminate mining work carried out in Gadchiroli.
The petition also states that Dhawale who was one of the organisers of the Elgar Parishad that was organised a day before the 200th anniversary of the Bhima Koregaon battle is not involved in any unlawful activities. Dhawale, who was arrested in 2011 for his purported naxal links has already languished in Gondia prison for 40 months. He was acquitted of all charges by the sessions court in 2014.
Gadling and four others were arrested on June 6 and have been since then lodged at the Nagpur Central Prison. Gadling, soon after his arrest, had complained of chest pain and had to subsequently undergo angioplasty. In his over two decade long legal career, Gadling has handled several cases of illegal killings, police excesses, fakes cases, and atrocities against Dalits and Adivasis in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra. Along with his legal practice, Gadling was an active member of Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR) and CRPP.
He was, until his arrest, handling the case of G.N. Saibaba, a wheelchair-bound Delhi University professor jailed for alleged Naxal links. Rathod said ever since Gadling decided to defend Saibaba, the police allegedly decided to make him a target.
The Pune police have named 17 persons in the FIR so far and have arrested 10 of them. All accused have been booked under several sections of the Indian Penal Code and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. The police is expected to file the chargsheet against the first five arrest sometime next week.