Clashes between Dalits and upper-caste Marathas this January had left one dead in Bhima-Koregaon, Maharashtra.
New Delhi/Pune: Tribal rights campaigners. An English professor. An activist previously convicted under the Arms Act, the Explosives Act and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. A criminal lawyer.
The 10 people arrested since June for suspected Maoist links as part of a Pune police investigation into the January Bhima-Koregaon violence include men and women from different walks of life, most of them recognised campaigners for the rights of the underprivileged.
ThePrint brings you brief profiles of the activists.
Varavara Rao, Poet/writer
One of the co-founders of a platform known as the Viplava Rachayitala Sangham (Revolutionary Writers’ Association), the noted Telugu poet also founded Srujana – a magazine for modern Telegu literature – in 1966.
Three years later, Rao was part of the group that founded Thirugubatu Kavulu (Rebel Poets), a literary group that supported the Naxalites’ armed struggle. Rao was also closely associated with the campaign for Telangana statehood.
The septuagenarian was picked up from his Hyderabad house for allegedly being involved in a plot to assassinate PM Modi – an allegation that stems from a letter referring to a “Rajiv Gandhi-type incident” that was seized during the June arrests.
Pune police have also cited his alleged links to Gadling and Rona Wilson, among the 10 jailed.
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Sudha Bharadwaj, human rights activist
Based in Badarpur, Bharadwaj is known to campaign for the rights of tribals in Chhattisgarh. The 57-year-old has spent more than 30 years defending adivasis allegedly framed as Naxalites.
Gautam Navlakha, consulting editor, Economic & Political Weekly
A former president of rights organisation People’s Union for Democratic Rights, he has written about alleged state excesses and human rights issues in Kashmir and Chhattisgarh.
According to Pune police, Navlakha’s name came up as they investigated and interrogated Surendra Gadling and Rona Wilson, two of the five arrested in June.
Arun Ferreira, criminal lawyer
His arrest Tuesday was not Ferreira’s first brush with jail. In 2007, he was accused of being a Maoist operative, arrested, and sent to Nagpur jail, where he was allegedly tortured. He was acquitted after a protracted court battle.
He penned a book about his experience behind bars, Colours of the cage: A prison memoir.
An alumnus of Mumbai’s premier St. Xavier’s College, Ferreira studied law after his release and became a practising criminal lawyer. He has been representing the five people arrested in June in connection with the Bhima-Koregaon violence.
One of these five, lawyer Surendra Gadling, was a steadfast companion to Ferreira during the latter’s stint in prison.
Vernon Gonsalves, Former college professor
Gonsalves, a human and labour rights activist, and publisher, was arrested in 2007 by the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad for being a top-level Naxalite and possessing explosives.
He spent nearly six years in prison and was convicted under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, the Arms Act and the Explosives Act in 2013. He was, however, set free as he had already served his jail term of five years.
His wife Susan, also a lawyer for the five arrested in June, had defended him in court at the time and rubbished all allegations.
Sudhir Dhawale, Dalit rights activist
A Dalit rights activist and a staunch Ambedkarite, Dhawale was arrested in June.
He is one of the organisers of the Elgaad Parishad, the commemorative event said to be at the centre of the Bhima-Koregaon clashes, and the only one among the 10 activists to be named in the FIR registered by Pune police.
Dhawale was also arrested by Maharashtra Police in 2011 for alleged sedition and accused of providing support to a terrorist organisation. He was acquitted in 2014 by a special Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) court at a trial marked by the judge’s criticism of the police investigation.
In Maharashtra, Dhawale is a frequent face at protests for causes he identifies with, ranging from justice for Hyderabad University scholar Rohith Vemula, to intolerance, in the wake of activist-journalist Gauri Lankesh’s murder.
Surendra Gadling, Lawyer
Gadling started his career representing those arrested under the now-scrapped Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act 1985, or TADA, and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).
As a special prosecutor, he also worked on dowry-related cases and represented G.N. Saibaba, a Delhi University professor serving a life sentence for aiding Maoists.
Rona Wilson, Activist/journalist
Delhi-based Wilson, an alumnus of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), is a former public relations secretary of the Committee for Release of Political Prisoners (CRPP). He has actively campaigned against the UAPA and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), and is said to be close to Saibaba.
Shoma Sen, Professor
An English professor at Nagpur University, Sen has been under the scanner for her links with Left-wing extremists.
Mahesh Raut, PM’s rural development fellow
Raut allegedly has links to jungle operatives and urban outfits of the CPI (Maoist). In 2014, the arrest of two Maoists reportedly revealed that Raut was supposed to meet “senior leaders” in a jungle. This led to Raut and aide Harshali Potdar’s arrest by Gadchiroli police, but the two were released soon after questioning.
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