New Delhi: A Pune Police raid at Delhi University professor Hany Babu's house drew sharp reactions on Wednesday from a section of the varsity's students and Jawaharlal Nehru University teachers, who dubbed it as an attempt to "intimidate and harass him".
The students of the Delhi University's (DU) English Department, where Babu has been teaching for close to a decade, staged a protest against the raid. They said such surprise raids "without warrants" were "illegal".
The Pune Police had on Tuesday searched 45-year-old Babu's house in Sector 78 of Noida, adjoining the national capital, in connection with the 2017 Elgaar Parishad case for alleged Maoist links.
The search conducted at Babu's residence is another "shocking episode in the ongoing authoritarian attempts by the current regime to intimidate and silence activists, writers, professors, journalists, and human rights defenders across the country," the Jawaharlal Nehru University Teachers' Association (JNUTA) said.
"This raid on him also foregrounds the heights that police paranoia about critique and dissent has scaled, so much so that reading and writing are now seen to be suspicious activities," it said.
The JNUTA claimed that police spent an inordinate amount of time going through Babu's book collection, ultimately settling on confiscating two books that are freely available in the public domain, and not on any list of banned publications.
The teachers' body said it sees this act as embodying a message being sent out to all academics — "If you read (or write) about what a ruling dispensation determines to be impermissible, expect the state to come calling."
"This message is a warning to all academics to fall in line through self-censorship on what they read and write and to give up on the academic ideals of rational evaluation as the basis of critique or endorsement," it added.
Babu had alleged on Tuesday that the police did not have a search warrant and they seized the phones of his daughter and wife, not allowing them to communicate with their friends.
In his statement, he had also said the police took away laptops, external hard drives, pen drives, and mobile phone, which contain most of his past and ongoing academic work.
He alleged they had also blocked his access to his email and social media accounts.
"For any academic, the confiscation of his academic archive is naturally the source of the greatest anxiety, but added to this is the very real possibility of mischievous tampering by a police force which seemed to be out on a fishing expedition," the JNUTA said.
It said the search of Babu's house without a warrant when his name figured nowhere on the FIR in the Bhima Koregaon case was "blatantly illegal, and intended to intimidate and harass him".
"Both of them have been active participants in the struggles of the teaching community against institutionalised caste discrimination, and in the defence of the human rights of the disabled colleague and activist Prof G N Saibaba," the teachers' body said about Babu and his wife, Jenny Rowena, who teaches English at the DU's Miranda House college.
Students of the DU's English Department staged a demonstration against the police action.
"These surprise searches without warrants are illegal and amount to extreme harassment. It is incumbent upon legal institutions to oppose such arbitrary raids and prevent the misuse of inherently dangerous laws such as the UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act)," a student who took part in the protest, Vijay Alghar, said.
Given how much the professor cares for language equality and the inalienable right of every language in the country to advance, it is indeed "shocking" that he is being harassed, one of Babu's former students said
"We feel the Indian state should recognise the importance of the work he does for the creation of an equitable society as both an academic and an activist," she said.
"If any student, or a teacher for that matter, faced any form of discrimination, they knew that Hany Babu's door was always open for them.
As students we did not merely learn from him as a teacher, but were also inspired by his political work," she added.
The Elgaar conclave was held at historic Shaniwar Wada in Pune on December 31, 2017, ahead of the 200th anniversary of the battle of Koregaon Bhima.
According to police, speeches made at the conclave aggravated the caste violence around Koregaon Bhima village in the district on January 1, 2018, in which one person was killed and several others were injured. Police have so far arrested nine people in the case.