New Delhi: Several political parties and civil society organisations condemned the arrests of activists and raids on their homes by the Pune police on Tuesday. Many believed that the actions were reminiscent of the Emergency. They also felt the government was trying to divert public attention from their failures by targeting democratic activists, who have raised their voices against abuse of state power, in an organised way.
Reacting to the arrests late in the evening, Congress president Rahul Gandhi tweeted:
There is only place for one NGO in India and it’s called the RSS. Shut down all other NGOs. Jail all activists and shoot those that complain.
Welcome to the new India. #BhimaKoregaon
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) August 28, 2018
Excerpts from various press statements follow.
Polit Bureau, Communist Party of India (Marxist)
The Polit Bureau of the CPI (M) strongly protests the raids conducted by police authorities on the homes of various civil rights and human rights activists and Left intellectuals.
Ever since the Bhima Koregaon violence against Dalits, the Maharashtra Police along with central agencies have been targeting Dalit rights activists and lawyers who have been taking up their cases. False charges have been levelled and the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act invoked. These constitute a brazen attack on democratic rights and civil liberties. The Polit Bureau demands the withdrawal of the cases against these activists and their immediate release.
Central Committee, Communist Party Of India (ML-Liberation)
In a move reminiscent of the infamous Emergency, human rights activists have been arrested, and the homes of activists, writers and other dissenting voices all over the country raided. The arrests and raids are reportedly at the behest of the Pune police in the Bhima Koregaon matter, in which Dalit and feminist activists and advocates have already been arrested. The attempt to project the peaceful Bhima Koregaon event as an act of terrorism is utterly baseless and condemnable. It is shocking but not surprising that under the BJP rule at the Centre and in Maharashtra, rights activists are arrested and booked on terror charges under draconian laws – while terror outfits like Sanatan Sanstha and Shiv Pratishthan unleash violence on Dalits, plot terrorist attacks, assassinate dissenters and yet are referred to by BJP leaders including the current Prime Minister of India as ‘nationalist’. The arrests and raids are an attempt to brand all dissenting voices as ‘anti national’ and intimidate them as the parliamentary polls draw nearer. Under the Modi regime’s undeclared Emergency, rights activists and dissenters are either shot at, killed, or raided, arrested and jailed.
Manoj Kumar Jha, Rashtriya Janata Dal
These arrests and detentions have once again underlined the totalitarian nature of this regime, which is a habitual offender as far as criminalisation of dissent is concerned. Under the cover of Bhima Koregaon investigation, human rights activists are now being targeted. First, you attempted to brutalise Dalits and now you are going after activists. Are we heading towards the death of democracy?
Annie Raja, Communist Party of India
The arrests and sudden raids are highly objectionable and condemnable. It shows that the BJP is hassled, nervous. When elections near, they have nothing to tell the people about their achievements. So they want to create an atmosphere of fear among the minds of people who question the government. The BJP is scared because even ordinary people are questioning and accusing the BJP-led Central government of not fulfilling any of its promises. They are targeting intellectuals because the BJP thinks these are the people who are behind ordinary people raising questions against the government. By conducting such arrests and raids, they want to silence the ordinary people.
Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan, a consortium of various workers’ organisations
We condemn the arrest of prominent human rights activist Sudha Bharadwaj and others in strongest possible words. We demand that the BJP governments should stop these conspiratorial and oppressive actions against all those like Bharadwaj who have been fighting against the state repression of the rights of Adivasis and Dalits.
Bharadwaj is a senior human rights activist, trade unionist, and an advocate in the Chhattisgarh high court. She has been associated with Shankar Guha Niyogi’s workers’ association for the last 30 years and has been tirelessly fighting for the rights of workers. She has also been fearlessly defending those vulnerable people who have been falsely accused by the police in different cases. If this is her crime, then all those who have been raising their voices against authoritarianism, fascism, and globalisation in critical and creative ways are equally guilty.
Today, there is an environment of fear and terror across the country. Dalits, Adivasis, farmers, workers, minorities are all being attacked constantly. And those fascistic forces who are behind these attacks are being protected by the state machinery. Be it in Bhima Koregaon, or elsewhere, BJP governments are ensuring that constitutional and democratic rights of people are crushed to facilitate corporate loot smoothly. Anyone who is critical, be it social workers, intellectuals, lawyers, journalists, students, or youth, are being imprisoned in false cases.
Joint statement by activists and public intellectuals
The arrests of prominent activists and intellectuals Sudha Bharadwaj, Vernon Gonsalves, Gautam Navlakha, Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira and others, are nothing but an attempt by the government to strike terror among those who are fighting for justice for the marginalised. This is also an attempt by the BJP to invent a false enemy and engage in scaremongering in order to polarise the 2019 elections in its favour. Already, the government and the media houses close to the BJP have been trying to spin a false narrative of a Maoist conspiracy since June, 2018. Terms like “urban naxals” are invented in order to stifle any criticism of the government. We have learnt that the Delhi Police, after having arrested Sudha Bharadwaj, waited for Republic TV to arrive before taking her to the court. This simply shows that the arrests are incomplete without the accompanying sensationalist media propaganda to demonise activists, human rights defenders and intellectuals.
The so-called raids carried out on the houses of these activists are aimed at creating a spectacle, as the writings and views of these intellectuals are already publicly known and are well documented. This seems like a conspiracy to divert attention from the gravity of the Sanatan Sanstha conspiracy to carry out serial bomb attacks on Eid and Ganesh Chaturthi! The same Sanatan Sanstha was also involved in the murder of Gauri Lankesh, as per the ongoing investigations by Karnataka police. Today’s arrests have been carried out in order to give cover to the murderers of Gauri Lankesh. People like Sudha Bharadwaj, Gautam Navlakha and others who have been arrested are friends of the people who have dedicated their entire lives to the betterment of the Indian public. By arresting them, the BJP is only exposing its insecurities and its intolerance to any dissent or criticism of its policies.
The arrests should be seen in continuation with the recent attacks on pro-justice voices such as Swami Agnivesh, Umar Khalid and many other student activists from Delhi to Lucknow. A BJP lawmaker from Karnataka even advocated the murder of “intellectuals.” Both the arrests and the physical attacks on justice loving people must be seen in a series of attempts to stifle dissent and deny social justice.
We demand immediate release of the arrested individuals, dropping of all false and malicious charges, as these arrests are politically motivated and unjustified.
People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL)
PUCL asserts that the arrests and raids are nothing but a targeted crackdown and attack by the police and state on civil liberties and democratic rights activists across the country in a concerted attempt to crush human rights interventions and silence voices of dissent.
Such systematic and pre-meditated crackdown on human rights activists is unprecedented and unheard of in a democracy and PUCL strongly condemns this unconstitutional crackdown by the state and police;
PUCL stands firmly in solidarity with advocate Sudha Bharadwaj, National Secretary, PUCL and the other human rights activists who faced raids and have been arrested under false and fabricated charges.
It is pertinent to note that just last month on 4th July 2018, a scurrilous, motivated, fabricated and malicious media propaganda and hate campaign was run by Republic TV and its anchor Ms. Shivani Gupta, Deputy Editor Mr. Shrawan Sen and its Managing Director, Mr. Arnab Goswami, by way of a series of programmes presented as “Super Exclusive Breaking News” and also showcased by way of a national debate on Prime Time TV. Relying on a fabricated letter allegedly addressed by her to a Maoist named ‘Comrade Prakash’, the channel repeatedly aired, completely false, unsubstantiated and scurrilous accusations against Advocate Sudha Bharadwaj, falsely profiling her as “Urban Naxal”. The allegations were categorically denied by Advocate Sudha Bharadwaj in her rebuttal statement. The programmes were aired with headers of“#UrbanNaxalsExposed” and similar allegations were made against other human rights activists like Mr. Gautam Navlakha in part 2 of the programme, via a second letter supposedly procured by the Channel. PUCL has previously issued a statement dated 7th July 2018 strongly condemning the incident and demanding strict action against the Channel. Advocate Sudha Bharadwaj also issued a legal notice in respect of the Channel’s illegal acts.
The current arrest and raids are taking place in the backdrop of the arrests of five human rights activists – Advocate Surendra Gadling, Professor Shoma Sen, Rona Wilson, Mahesh Raut and Sudhir Dhawale – who were also arrested under UAPA on 6th June 2018, relying on a similar fabricated letter produced by Republic TV allegedly addressed to the same “Comrade Prakash”, in the same Pune case. Following this, on 7th June 2018, Advocate Sudha Bharadwaj had addressed a press conference organised by the Indian Association of People’s Lawyers (IAPL) in New Delhi to condemn the arrest of Advocate Surendra Gadling of the Nagpur High Court. Susan Abraham, Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves are in fact representing the Bhima Koregaon accused in Court.
PUCL believes that the intention of the state and police in targeting the aforesaid human rights activists by foisting false and fabricated cases against them, is clear and apparent from their profiles of work. All the aforesaid human rights activists targeted in this multi-city “operation” by the police have been tirelessly involved in advocating the cause and fighting for the rights of the most poor, marginalised sections of society against serious state violations and unscrupulous corporates. They have stood for the principles of human rights enshrined in the Indian Constitution and the international standards on human rights.
This simultaneous crackdown against human rights activists across the country signals the imposition of an unofficial Emergency in our nation and is a direct attack on Indian democracy. This is a deliberate strategy of the state to target noted human rights activists in a clear act of reprisals against them for calling out the human rights violations by the state and police, and to intimidate those who are fighting for justice.
Joint response from Amnesty and Oxfam
Today’s arrests is the second of such crackdowns on rights activists, advocates and journalists who have been critical of the state. All these people have history of working to protect the rights of some of India’s most poor and marginalised people. Their arrests raise disturbing questions about whether they are being targeted for their activism.
These arrests cannot become the order of the day. The government should protect people’s rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly instead of creating an atmosphere of fear.