Mumbai/Pune: Maharashtra Police on Tuesday raided the homes of prominent Left-wing activists in several states and arrested at least five of them for suspected Maoist links, sparking a chorus of outraged protests from human rights defenders.
Among those arrested are lawyer and trade union activist Sudha Bhardwaj, poet P Varavara Rao, activist Gautam Navlakha, and lawyers Arun Pereira and Vernon Gonsalves. They have been charged with criminal conspiracy, creating fear and enmity between various groups, and under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
The raids were carried out as part of a probe into the violence between Dalits and the upper caste Peshwas at Koregaon-Bhima village near Pune after an event called Elgar Parishad, or conclave, on December 31 last year., according to Press Trust of India.
The arrests are "a dangerous sign of a government which fears it is losing its mandate and is falling into panic. That lawyers, poets, writers, Dalit rights activists and intellectuals are being arrested on ludicrous charges," award-winning author Arundhati Roy told PTI.
Near simultaneous searches were carried out at the residences of prominent Telugu poet Varavara Rao in Hyderabad, activists Vernon Gonzalves and Arun Farreira in Mumbai, trade union activist Sudha Bhardwaj in Faridabad, and civil liberties activist Gautam Navalakha in New Delhi, a senior police official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Subsequently, Rao, Bhardwaj and Farreira were arrested.
"They have been arrested under the relevant sections of Indian Penal Code and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for their alleged naxal activities," said the police official, without elaborating.
According to unconfirmed reports, others whose residences were raided are Susan Abraham, Kranthi Tekula, Father Stan Swamy in Ranchi and Anand Teltumbde in Goa.
Condemning the raids, Congress leader Jaipal Reddy said, “It shows dictatorial tendencies. I defend the rights or human right activists and public intellectuals. They are selfless people working for the society."
Congress spokesperson Jaiveer Shergil said, “Victimization and raids on Human Rights Activists and “Loot, Scoot and Settle Abroad” scheme for fraudsters is BJP version of Acche Din.”
Criticising the raids, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) said, "Anyone who defends human rights, raises concerns about atrocities against Dalits and condemns BJP’s authoritarian regime will be raided by the fascist government."
Condemning the arrests of the activists, senior journalist Rajdeep Sardesai said, "In the ‘new’ India human rights activists will be arrested but no one wants to touch groups like Sanathan Sanstha! And the country stays silent!"
“As a reporter in Chhattisgarh, would get calls from Sudha Bharadwaj on cases relating to factory workers, miners, Adivasis dispossessed from their lands. She spent a lifetime fighting pro-bono for the poor and marginalised. Unbelievable she's been detained under anti-terror law,” wrote senior journalist Supriya Sharma on Twitter.
Reacting on the raids, journalist Nitin Wagle wrote on Twitter, "I am surprised by two parallel streams. When action against Sanatan/Hindu Jagruti terrorists gets momentum, police action against Bhima Koregaon activists is suddenly pushed ahead. What does that mean?"
Koregaon-Bhima occupies a central place in Dalit history -- it witnessed a major battle in which the Peshwa rulers were defeated on January 1, 1818 by the British army, comprising a large number of Dalit soldiers. Every year, the anniversary of the battle is marked by thousands of Dalits assembling in Pune and marching to Koregaon-Bhima to a war memorial.
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