While there are many lapses, the malafide intentions of the police machinery at the behest of their political masters are writ large. Justice D Y Chandrachud was not at all mistaken to call Maharashtra police "untrustworthy" in this landmark dissenting judgment in the Bhima-Koregaon case.
On Tuesday, February 5, 2019, noted journalists P. Sainath and Niranjan Takle and noted author Urmila Pawar and activists from Mumbai, Jatin Desai and Feroze Mithirborewala condemned the police action against Prof. Anand Teltumbde and urged people to speak up against the undemocratic practices of the current government, which Mr Sainath said was criminalising dissent.
While Anand Teltumbde has protection order till February 11, 2019, the arrest made by the Pune police was illegal and was in gross violation of Supreme Court order, the Special Judge added. The Pune police are guilty of contempt of court for disdaining the order of the apex court, the Special Judge noted.
The attack on Dr. Teltumbde is only the latest in an ongoing series of attacks on human rights lawyers, civil rights activists and scholars engineered by the Right-wing Hindu nationalist party ruling at the Centre and the state. Since June 2018, nine activists have been imprisoned on similar fabricated charges as Dr. Teltumbde. The arrested are Sudha Bharadwaj, Varavara Rao, Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira, Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut, Rona Wilson, Shoma Sen and Sudhir Dhawale. Two others, Gautam Navlakha and Stan Swamy are also under threat of arrest in the same case.
Gadchiroli police in the late hours of January 30, 2019, took custody of noted human rights lawyer and Nagpur-based Dalit rights activist Surendra Gadling and activist-poet-writer P Varvara Rao from Pune’s Yerwada Jail authorities. The Police made the arrests in connection with another alleged case of involvement of Gadling and Rao in so-called “unlawful activity” related to the Surjagadh case of 2016. With these arrests, the apprehensions of “ever-greening” of charges on the civil rights activities becoming a reality.
All the activists arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case are left-leaning lawyers, academics and organic intellectuals who are extremely popular among the Dalit-Bahujan communities in Maharashtra and also in other states, because of the stellar work they have been doing over the years. The two sets of arrests — on June 6, 2018 and on August 28, 2018 — were based on one FIR filed on January 8, 2018. Shoma Sen, Surendra Gadling, Sudhir Dhawale, Mahesh Raut, Rona Wilson as well as Sudha Bharadwaj, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Vara Vara Rao, were arrested, while attempts to arrest Anand Teltumbde didn't succeed, and Gautam Navlakha was granted relief by Delhi High Court. While a 5000-page chargesheet has been filed, the glaring inconsistencies in the document will go down as a huge a blot on Indian democracy.
When governments, both central and state, are not tolerating genuine criticism of governmental actions, and the courts are not doing much to protect the freedom of expression, a recent judgment by the Kerala High Court introduces a fresh breeze in an otherwise tense environment, where the voices of only some kinds of majorities are being entertained, while voices of minorities are being suppressed. Also, the judgment goes a long away in furthering the labour rights of employees, to express their opinion, even if it amounts to criticism of their employer or superiors.
Early on the morning on January 1, 2018, innocent Dalits who had gathered at Bhima Koregaon, a small village about 30 kilometres from Pune, to offer their salutation to the victory pillar, were attacked by people holding saffron flags. The saffron-flagbearers attacked one and all, pelted stones, torched shops and vehicles. Many innocent Dalits got injured and one person succumbed to the injuries suffered due to stone-pelting. The news spread like wildfire and so did its videos and messages. Agitated Dalit and Bahujan activists took to streets, holding up traffic all across the State.
As the legend goes, on the eve of January 1, 1818, about 800 furious soldiers of the British army defeated the 28,000-strong Peshwa army. This victory over the Brahmninical “Peshwayi” is celebrated by the Bahujans in Maharashtra every year by visiting the obelisk that was built as a memorial for the battle and its martyrs.
2018 has showcased the inconsistency with which the Supreme Court chooses to interfere in the policy decisions or to monitor investigations, especially pertaining to the ruling regime. As the year comes to an end, it is hoped that the judiciary will be more consistent in its decision-making, decry the use of ‘sealed cover’ in adjudication, and stand up to the Executive bullying, whether in judicial appointments or in administration.
Prison walls cannot stop imagination and expression, however much they try to curb freedom of expression. Varavara Rao, the renowned poet and public intellectual, is again behind bars, this time round as an under-trial prisoner in Pune’s Yerawada Central Prison in the infamous Bhima-Koregaon or Urban Naxal case. In his public life spanning about 60 years, the 78-year-old poet spent more than seven years in various prisons in the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh, beginning with his first arrest in 1973.
The NDA government in the Centre and the Maharashtra government are trampling upon the entire gamut of rights and not only human rights as understood in the conventional manner. Labour rights, women’s rights and Adivasi rights all are turning into human rights issues because of repression.