Advocate R. Sathyanarayanan has been a trial lawyer for 26 years and has represented a few accused in the Harshad Mehta scam. Now, he is representing four of the 12 accused in the Bhima Koregaon violence case — Rona Wilson, P. Varavara Rao, Anand Teltumbde and Surendra Gadling. He tells The Hindu that it is a clear case of persecuting human rights activists for their stellar work. He says the term ‘urban naxal’ is a bogey created to divert the attention of people towards non-existent issues so that the real issues that plague our polity gather dust. Edited excerpts:
August 28 marked two years since the arrest of Sudha Bharadwaj, P. Varavara Rao, Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira. Why do you think they were arrested?
I am not representing Sudha Bharadwaj. So I can’t say anything about her. I know Arun Ferriera as a lawyer and the two others are human rights activists. They have a consistent record of questioning the non-implementation of various welfare policies. It is a clear case of persecuting human rights activists because of their stellar work. They have been acquitted in every false case they were ever implicated in, except for the one against Mr. Gonsalves, where an appeal is still pending before the Bombay High Court.
Why do you think the National Investigation Agency (NIA) took up the case?
Much before the NIA took over the case, we had filed a petition in the HC challenging the Special Court, Pune, taking cognisance of the case, which goes to the root of the matter. We had challenged the jurisdiction of the Special Judge, Pune, to take up the matter. Therefore, to pre-empt any adverse order, the NIA took over the case. Sadly, the same NIA decided not to take up the investigation initially. Moreover, we have also challenged this belated takeover by the NIA after almost two years.
The petition is pending before the HC. It appears that the takeover by NIA is politically motivated and an attempt to scuttle the State government’s proposal to order an investigation by an independent Special Investigation Team.
How can charges be framed under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for taking part in an event where 35,000 people gathered to watch plays and listen to music?
An FIR was filed in the case dated January 2, 2018, at Pimpri police station (Rural) for offences punishable under Sections 307 (attempt to murder), 143 (punishment for unlawful assembly), 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting armed with a deadly weapon), 149 (if an offence be committed by any member of an unlawful assembly, every other member of such assembly shall be guilty of the offence), 295 A (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs), 435 (mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to cause damage to amount of one hundred or, in case of agricultural produce, ten rupees), 436 (mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent destroy house) of the Indian Penal Code and relevant sections of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Act, the Arms Act and the Maharashtra Police Act. The case was registered against Hindutva rightwing leaders Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Rao Bhide based on an eyewitness account that they along with other fringe groups had incited the violence against the Dalit congregation. Instead of taking action against those who were behind the Bhima-Koregaon violence, a false and fabricated complaint was engineered against these activists and an FIR came to be registered on January 8, 2018, at Vishram Bagh police station (Pune city). This fabricated FIR against the activists was registered based on the complaint of a man who happens to have close links with the accused in the FIR registered at Pimpri police station (Rural). While Bhide was never arrested, Ekbote as of today is out on bail.
What evidence does the NIA have to link the accused with the CPI(Maoist)?
So far, there is no evidence to link any of these activists with CPI(Maoist).
How do you think the term ‘urban naxal’ came into existence? What do you think it means?
The term ‘urban naxal’ has neither any literary origin nor is it a legal term. Hence, it is not an important word that we have to trace its origin. The term is a bogey created to divert our attention towards non-existent issues so that the real issues that plague our polity gather dust. Such terms do not have any legal implications. These activists, who have illustrious careers, have been the victims of relentless propaganda to malign the cause they espouse.