Multiple teams of Pune police conducted nationwide raids at homes of human rights activists, writers, lawyers on Tuesday morning to investigate their alleged links to the Bhima Koregaon violence that had erupted in Pune in January.
Police claimed that speeches made by these prominent activists made at the Elgaar Parishad conclave, a day ahead of the bicentennial celebration of the battle of Bhima Koregaon, were one of the triggers for the violence that was gripped Pune the next day.
During the raids, police have confiscated belongings like phones, cameras, laptops, SIM cards and also seized documents and writings from the residence of these activists.
Five activists and writers were arrested after the raids that are being perceived as a brazen attack on free speech in India. Those arrested by the police are Varavara Rao, Sudha Bhardwaj, Vernon Gonzalves, Arun Ferreira and Gautam Navalakha.
Varavara Rao: Varavara Rao, a renowned poet, writer and activist who is noted for his revolutionary writings and public speeches, was arrested from his Hyderabad residence. He is also considered an eminent Marxist critic of Telugu literature and has taught the subject to undergraduate and graduate students for decades.
According to reports, Pune police took him into custody after a search of his residence in connection with an alleged plot to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
This is not the first time Rao has been arrested for his writings and political activity. Andhra Pradesh government had ordered his arrest in 1973 but the High Court had struck down the order after Rao spent a month in jail. Rao was again arrested during the Emergency, under Maintenance and Internal Security Act (MISA).
Sudha Bharadwaj: Bharadwaj is a civil rights activist who has been working in Chhattisgarh for almost three decades. She is also the general secretary of People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) in Chhattisgarh and has worked extensively against land acquisition.
She has worked for rights of labourers and is a strong advocate for Dalit and Tribal rights as well. She became a lawyer as well in 2000 and has since worked for farmers, adivasis and poor people in the fields of labour, land acquisition, forest rights and environmental rights. She has been practicing in the Chhattisgarh High Court since 2007.
She is also a visiting professor at the National Law University, Delhi, where she teaches Law and Poverty and a seminar course on tribal rights and land acquisition.
Pune police raided her residence Tuesday and arrested her under sections 153a (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc.), 505 (Statements conducing to public mischief), 117 (Abetting commission of offence by the public or by more than ten persons) and 120 (Concealing design to commit offence punishable with imprisonment) of the Indian Penal Code. She is reportedly been held at Surajkund police station in Faridabad.
Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira: Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira are activists based in Mumbai. Police raided their residence on Tuesday and arrested them after conducting a search. Gonsalves has been arrested before under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and Arms Act in 2007. He was released in 2013 after serving his sentence. He is a former professor of business organisation. Security agencies labelled him a former central-committee member and former secretary of Maharashtra State Rajya Committee of the Naxalites and he was charged in 20 cases. He was acquitted in 17 of those for lack of evidence. Ferriera, also a writer and an activist, was detained after a search of his Thane residence.
Gautam Navlakha: Navlakha is also a civil rights activist and a journalist and has been involved with PUCL for long. He has worked in Kashmir and Chhattisgarh on the issues of human rights and has written for Economic and Political Weekly. He is known for his extensive work in Kashmir and he has also served as a convener for International People’s Tribunal for Human Rights and Justice in Kashmir.
In 2011, Navlakha was refused entry into Kashmir at Srinagar airport and was he made to return to Delhi by the state government. He was arrested in Delhi on Tuesday after a search of his residence by Pune police and he was produced in Saket court.
Pune Police got a transit remand for Navlakha till August 30. However, the Delhi High Court has put a stay on transit remand and Navlakha has been put under house arrest till the next hearing on Wednesday. The high court heard a Habeas Corpus petition filed by Navlakha’s lawyer after the arrest and said he must not be taken away from Delhi. The activist will remain at his residence under police guard and be allowed to meet only his lawyers.