The only person named is Sudhir Dhawale, one of the organisers of Elgaar Parishad, the event said to be at the root of the January clashes.
New Delhi/Mumbai: Not one of the five activists tagged as Maoist sympathisers and arrested for their suspected involvement in the Bhima-Koregaon violence is named in the Pune police FIR that’s at the heart of Tuesday’s crackdown.
In June, too, five arrests were made on the basis of this FIR, but only one of those arrested figure in it: Activist Sudhir Dhawale, one of the organisers of the event said to be the root of the January clashes.
The fact is significant since uncertainty clouds the crackdown launched against activists across the country in the name of the Bhima-Koregaon clashes, with the arrest orders reportedly ambiguous on the exact offence of those arrested.
The FIR centres on Elgaar Parishad, an event held in Pune on 31 December, 2017, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of a battle where a British army comprising Dalits defeated the Peshwa’s army at Bhima-Koregaon in 1818.
The victory marked a high point for Dalits, said to have been heavily discriminated against under the Maratha empire, and commemorative events held annually have passed by without incident in past years.
The clashes this year, which left one dead and dozens injured, are believed to have been stoked by caste-based tensions in local villages in the days preceding the commemorative event.
Registered on 8 January, the FIR is based on a complaint filed by one Tushar Damgude, 37, a resident of Pune’s Katraj area who alleged that “provocative” speeches, songs, short plays and slogans at Elgaar Parishad were the possible trigger for the clashes.
The complainant said he had attended Elgaar Parishad near Shaniwar Wada in Pune, and alleged that “provocative slogans” about the “neo-Peshwai” were raised at the event.
He identified leaders of the Kabir Kala Manch, a cultural organisation, among the offenders, saying he recognised them from social media posts and newspaper reports.
The Pune-based Kabir Kala Manch is a predominantly Dalit and working class troupe that performs protest music.
The FIR, in Marathi, quotes the complainant as saying, “As per my understanding, the policy of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) is such that it misleads the Dalit community and propagates Maoist thoughts of using violence, not constitutional means.
“As part of this Kabir Kala Manch, leaders such as Sudhir Dhawale and others have, for the past few months, been participating in protests in Maharashtra and making statements and singing verses to that effect.
“Similarly, through periodicals, books and speeches, they spread enmity and created divisions in society. As a result of all this, there was stone-pelting and violence in Bhima-Koregaon and neighbouring areas, causing loss to life and livelihood in the state and creating caste-based divisions.”
Of the arrests made in June, Dhawale was arrested from Mumbai, Roma Wilson from Delhi and Shoma Sen, Mahesh Raut and Surendra Gadling from Nagpur. Police had conducted searches at their homes a month and a half earlier.
According to police, the five have close ties with Maoist organisations and channeled money from these groups to finance Elgaar Parishad. All five were booked under the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), which is meant to punish terrorism and acts deemed detrimental to India’s sovereignty.
Pune police also said at the time that they were investigating a letter intercepted during the arrests that suggested an alleged plot to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi by targeting his road shows.
The letter, which was leaked to media outlets, did not name the PM directly, but mentioned a “Rajiv Gandhi-type incident”. It was put forth before a Pune court soon after the arrest, but subsequently not submitted to the court as evidence.
The five arrests made Tuesday — Vara Vara Rao, Vernon Gonzalves, Arun Ferreira, Sudha Bhardwaj and Gautam Navlakha — follow investigations and interrogations from the previous arrests.
“They have just made up a story that funds connected to Maoist groups were used for the event. It is basically to stop all human rights activists from helping Dalits, women, tribals,” said Mihir Desai, a Mumbai-based human rights lawyer.
“None of these people was at Bhima-Koregaon. Police also raided 83-year-old Father Stan Swami’s house in Jharkhand when he has never been to Pune,” he added.
Referring to Tuesday’s arrests, he said the judiciary stopped two of the detainees, Bharadwaj and Navlakha, from being taken to Pune, which “means the judges seemed to have found some prima facie justification of the fact that the behaviour of police is arbitrary”.
Both Bhardwaj and Navlakha are under house arrest till the Punjab & Haryana High Court and the Delhi High Court, respectively, rule on their petitions against arrest.
Meanwhile, a two-member commission of inquiry appointed by the Maharashtra government, headed by retired Calcutta High Court Chief Justice Jainarayan Patel, to investigate the Bhima-Koregaon violence will begin its hearings next month.