Protests have erupted across the country against the arrest of five activists and lawyers. The National Human Rights Commission has issued a notice to the Maharashtra government over the police action.
Police allege the activists have Maoist links and have been arrested in connection with the Bhima-Koregaon violence.
ThePrint asks: Bhima-Koregaon arrests — Discrediting human rights defenders or real national security fears?
I have never been to Bhima-Koregaon, yet they raided my house
Professor, department of cultural studies, and Dean, school of interdisciplinary studies
English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad
My home was raided by police officers Tuesday morning. When they came in, they said they have a search warrant and are looking for my father-in-law P. Varavara Rao. But they had already been to his home and arrested him. They used the excuse to look through my belongings—my personal letters, my academic work, my books. My works span across multiple languages and have strong Dalit references. When they went through it, they asked me, “Why so much work on Dalits?” Almost as if Dalit is a bad word. Anything Dalit is Maoist for them.
These raids and arrests are not only discrediting the human rights movement, but more importantly, the Dalit assertion. By arresting people who have a long history of Dalit politics, they’re trying to weaken our resolve. I have never been to Bhima-Koregaon, I was never a part of the struggle—but they tried to link all of us to that incident. There is only one explanation for all of this: the BJP government is faced with the Dalit challenge. They try to fight this challenge by appropriating the Dalit struggle, but they fail every time. The demise of Rohit Vemula is one example of their failure, the Una flogging is another. Jignesh Mevani is rising as an influential Dalit leader in Gujarat, this is scaring them. There is a fundamental contradiction between the BJP-RSS and Dalit liberation. They know they can’t resolve this contradiction, and so they can’t be in power. So instead, they created a false narrative of Modi’s life being threatened, or the human rights activists being “Urban Naxals”.
PM himself head of campaign to discredit human rights activists
Professor of Hindi, University of Delhi
The recent spate of raids and arrests across India is clearly an attempt to terrorise writers, intellectuals and human rights defenders. The government has been trying to create a Maoist or Naxal scare for the last four years by dubbing all criticism and opposition to it as funded or propped up by Maoists. The violent image of the Maoists comes handy to the regime as it can easily delegitimise the activists in the eyes of the masses.
The Prime Minister himself is the head of the campaign to discredit human rights activists. In 2015, he warned the judiciary to guard against the tendency to get swayed by the perception created by the ‘five-star activists’. In the last four years, we have seen ministers and leaders of the ruling party denigrating intellectuals and writers, calling their disagreement with the regime as manufactured. The finance minister has invented a category of “half Maoist” to malign all critics of the government.
The campaign in the campuses against red terror and urban Maoism has been going on as well.
It is interesting to see the newly educated, articulate Dalit assertion being dubbed as pseudo-Dalit and closet Maoist. Dalit voices which don’t confine themselves to only identitarian discourse and who speak for the right of minorities and corporate-regime nexus are called Maoists. Rohith Vemula and his friends were described as anti-nationals and hand in glove with Jihadis because they spoke for the rights of Muslims.
The whole idea behind these raids and arrests, with the support of the over-excited ‘nationalist’ media, is to silence the critique which is beyond the parliamentary political sphere. This is not only an attack on this articulate section. The real targets and victims would be the tribals and Dalits who still need educated voices from within and outside to speak and act for them.
Why are such raids not happening on fringe organisations which lynch people?
Founder, Dalit Camera
The recent arrests should be read keeping in mind the Cobra Post sting operation on paid news channels and the coming elections. Human rights activists focus on police using excessive force and working against constitutional provisions.
The activists who were raided are those who spoke against discrimination. It is wrong to say that they were against the state—they were against a particular aspect of state functioning. In other words, they were reminding the state to work within the framework of the Constitution. Most importantly Teltumbde, Satyanarayana, Varavara Rao, Saibaba and others did not speak against the state as some news channels claim. They were most vocal about the caste system and the brutal violence it inflicts on the everyday life of Dalits. What worries me more about these raids and arrests is that the BJP government is going after the very few English speaking and writing Dalit intellectuals who made their mark in national and international debates. They are the voices we hear as an intervention on and by Dalits.
The state brutally put down the rising Bhim Army and the leader of the movement Chandrasekhar Ravan is languishing in prison. Now they are going after Dalit intellects and academics. The fight against the caste system should be led by all Indians, if they can’t do it, at least strengthen those who do. Fighting the brutal violence inflicted by the BJP is not fighting against the state. The BJP is not the state— they are a political party with a particular ideology which for many Dalits propagates the caste system.
The most worrying aspect of the recent raids is that they merged Maoist, LTTE, and Dalit into one. But the usual organisations which have been making the news for killing Gauri Lankesh and others are missing from the list. Why are such raids not happening on these fringe organisations, which lynch people and make videos of it? I have been waiting to hear Ram Vilas Paswan and Udit Raj’s voice on the recent incidents. Looks like I have to keep waiting.
Former PM Manmohan Singh termed Maoism as biggest threat to country’s internal security
Senior Research Fellow, India Foundation
The recent arrests and multi-city raids after multiple probes over alleged Maoist links have been a matter of great debate. In a robust constitutional democracy like ours, fears of violations of a natural justice are far from realistic. The egregious levels of judicial pendency are evident of our courts’ strict observance of fair principles of judicial process. The engagement of multiple state police and coordinated actions demand active participation of the bureaucracy as well. And yet this is not the end of the world for the accused as they can still exercise fundamental rights against wrongful incarceration, if any.
Before we infest our public opinion by propaganda and agenda on the issue, we must understand that the term ‘Urban Maoism’ is a product of the UPA days, and attributing it to the present dispensation is inappropriate. It was the ministry of home affairs which came out decisively on eliminating the ultra Left-wing Maoist violence back in 2010. The Union home minister at the time P. Chidambaram famously said that they will overcome the menace in three years after former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh termed Maoism as the biggest threat to the internal security of the country.
As someone deeply engaged with Dalit activism, I strongly object to some of the newsmakers calling this episode as a crackdown on Dalits and tribal community. I am not aware of a single Dalit who is in the leadership position of the expansive Maoist movement. With elections scheduled in three major states of the Hindi heartland by the end of this year, we must embrace ourselves to deal with more such malicious and ideological slugfest.
Making lists of dissenters and human rights defenders the essence of McCarthyism and fascism
Secretary, All India Progressive Women’s Association
If you think it’s fine for civil liberties and human rights to be selectively violated for individuals you disagree with or disapprove of, you do not belong in a democracy. That is an autocracy.
It would be laughable if it were not so sinister that human rights lawyers and activists – who for decades have been defending the most marginalised and oppressed, a job very few volunteer for – are being arrested on the basis of a) a Dalit memorial event at Bhima-Koregaon which was attacked by violent Right-wing outfits and b) fictitious, concocted, ridiculously fake letters aired – and possibly drafted – in TV studios.
A Right-wing ideologue and failed filmmaker creates the term ‘Urban Naxal’, seminars are held on this subject in universities where students aren’t allowed to ask questions (the same universities where other seminars have been violently attacked by ruling party mobs), TV studios aided by senior ministers do their best to normalise this nonsense term – and then the spate of arrests follow. Said filmmaker then calls on Twitter for ‘lists’ of those ‘defending Urban Naxals’. Lists of dissenters and human rights defenders are the very essence of McCarthyism and fascism.
I use this space to call out professional journalists (I exclude the outright fascist propagandists) who, instead of asking tough questions at every stage about vague accusations as a basis for terror charges, play along and say, “It’s all Left vs Right, we must just stay neutral and trust courts”. I call out journalists including the editor of this portal for helping us get to this point by asking to legalise ‘controlled killings‘ without due process when writing about people killed in fake encounters who were accused after their death that they were plotting to kill Narendra Modi.
(Editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta’s response: If you read the article, a due process is precisely what I am seeking. I was also exposing the Congress government and the silence on the “controlled killing” of Naxal leaders under their own watch and selectively targeting the Gujarat encounters. Left activists’ hypocrisy in focusing on Gujarat but mostly ignoring their own, Azad and later Kishenji, is even more hypocritical. Both Azad and Kishenji killings and G.N. Saibaba, Kobad Ghandy arrests were under UPA rule.)
Not wrong to assume that arrests were made to divert attention
Former special secretary, Cabinet Secretariat
When the police conducted simultaneous multi-city raids on human rights lawyers, academics and civil rights activists on 28 August, I was reminded of an incident from 1795.
Celebrated scientist James Parkinson, known for his study of Parkinson’s disease, was once suspected to be a terrorist and interrogated by the Privy Council in 1795 for planning to shoot King George III. His only fault was that he was a member of the London Corresponding Society of intellectuals seeking reform in Parliament and elections. This disturbed the government who did not want such groups to meet or circulate critical papers. The government took advantage of a protest demonstration against King George III and rounded up the members of the Society.
Ordinarily, one should not comment on a case which is under judicial notice. Yet, there is a need to question the drama currently unfolding in India. All the arrested intellectuals have been active in their fields for decades. Would it not have been better had they been questioned individually and only then arrested? These are not business fugitives who fled the country. There are many Supreme Court rulings on the rules of arrests prior to investigation. In the absence of any convincing explanation, the public would not be wrong in presuming that this was done only to divert their attention from something else.
BJP will further alienate Dalits by scapegoating rights activists
Contributing Editor, ThePrint
In the first week of 2018, Right-wing organisations in Maharashtra asked Dalits not to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the battle of Bhima-Koregaon. Dalits celebrate the battle because they had helped the British defeat the upper-caste Peshwas. Twenty-two names of Mahar soldiers are inscribed on the Pillar of Koregaon. Mahars are perhaps the most assertive Dalit caste in India — one of them was B.R. Ambedkar.
In the clashes that took place over the 200th anniversary, the BJP has clearly sided with the Maratha groups and against the Dalits, and with Maratha vengeance rather than Dalit assertion.
By raiding and arresting Left-leaning activists across the country, the Modi government has further shown it is not serious about ensuring justice to Dalits. The community is not going to buy the eye-wash that it was motivated by Maoist-leaning intellectuals from different parts of the country to agitate against the Marathas. Essentially, the BJP is blaming Dalits for the violence, and giving Marathas a clean chit. This is going to cost the BJP electorally, not just in Maharashtra but across India.
It is undemocratic but very easy for the Modi government to just put in jail, Emergency-like, a handful of radical Left intellectuals who have not committed any crime. By doing so the Modi government thinks it will look decisive, paint all dissidents as Maoists, and blame the Left for the BJP’s inability to make peace with Dalits.
Hindutva leaders Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide who are accused of inciting violence in Bhima-Koregaon are happily out on bail. Bhide’s fans include Prime Minister Modi and Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis, who has already decided that Bhide is innocent.
Left activists who had nothing to do with the clashes are being arrested on false charges using draconian anti-terror laws. By implication, the BJP is accusing Dalits of being influenced by ‘Maoists’. Such injustice is only going to increase the alienation of Dalits from the BJP.
How many days did Sambhaji Bhide, accused of inciting violence against Dalits, spend in jail?
Editor, Investigations and Special Projects, The Print
In the protests and counter-protests over the arrests of activists, one question that must be answered by the police is: How many days did Sambhaji Bhide, the founder of Shiv Pratishthan Hindustan, who is also named in the FIR for instigating violence against Dalits, spend in jail in the case?
Only the answer to this question will determine if the police acted as an extension of the BJP or acted independently on the basis of firm evidence that it had against the people it arrested?
The arrests, especially the manner in which the Maharashtra Police worked closely in a hush-hush manner with the police in other states to make the arrests, leave a lot of questions unanswered.
While human rights activists have been under the scanner of every government, the BJP-led NDA government has gone after them with a vengeance.
From pushing its own leaders to question the bonafide activities of the activists, to filing cases and cancelling the FCRA licences of NGOs which were critical of Modi government’s policies, to finally, arresting activists, this government’s track record is dismal.
But, while the government and its agencies should be rightly blamed for the vengeful manner of their actions, the role of some of the members of my own media community, especially of some TV channels, in blindly pushing the government narrative about the alleged “Urban Naxals” is also condemnable.
The current government seems to have perfected a new template in dealing with its critics.
Get adverse reports, most of them bordering on slander, plant it in a section of servile media, create a Twitter hashtag like #UrbanNaxals, trend it using the vast army of paid trolls, and then initiate action through investigation agencies against these people.
Those who question the arrests will be dubbed as anti-nationals by the same pliant TV channels.