In an early morning crackdown, a team of the Pune police on Wednesday arrested five activists in Delhi, Mumbai and Nagpur for their alleged linkages with Naxalism and the Bhima-Koregaon clashes of January 1 last, a day after the ‘Elgaar Parishad’, organised to commemorate the bicentenary celebrations of the Bhima-Koregaon battle.
Those arrested include noted Dalit activist-publisher Sudhir Dhawale from Mumbai, prominent human rights lawyer Surendra Gadling, activists Mahesh Raut and Shoma Sen from Nagpur, and activist Rona Wilson from New Delhi.
The activists were picked up from their residences by teams led by Joint Commissioner of Pune City Police, Ravindra Kadam
The ‘Elgaar Parishad’ took place at Pune’s Shaniwarwada Fort on December 31 and witnessed the participation of several intellectuals, Ambedkarite groups and progressive outfits.
Pen drives, hard disks, CDs and other allegedly ‘incriminating’ electronic evidence were seized from Mr. Gadling’s residence.
All booked under UAPA
Police sources said the arrested have been booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).
“We are probing possible Naxal-Maoist links to the 'Elgaar Parishad' and have gathered evidence to point to the same. The suspects will be produced in local courts for seeking transit remand and then will be brought to Pune for further investigation,” said a senior investigating officer.
In April last, the Pune police carried out extensive searches at the residences of those arrested. Additionally, the police had raided the homes of four Kabir Kala Manch (KKM) activists — Harshali Potdar, Jyoti Jagtap, Ramesh Ghaichor and Deepak Dhengle — in Pune.
“This seems to be a premeditated conspiracy on the part of the BJP government and the forces of law. Ambedkarite activists are arrested more than six months after the Bhima-Koregaon violence because they demanded the arrest of Hindutva leader Sambhaji Bhide ‘Guruji’, who is the prime accused in the January 1 riots,” Ms. Jagtap told The Hindu .
Decrying the government’s ''crackdown on progressive activists,'' she said that while Milind Ekbote — said to be the prime accused in orchestrating the Bhima-Koregaon violence — had been let out on bail, no move had ever been initiated to arrest octogenarian Bhide.
Mr. Dhawale, editor of fortnightly magazine Vidrohi , was taken into custody for his role as a prime organiser of the ‘Elgaar Parishad.’
He is also one of the founders of the Republican Panther Jaatiya Antachi Chalwal (movement for annihilation of caste).
In 2011, Mr. Dhawale was booked under the UAPA and spent more than 40 months in jail in Nagpur. He was acquitted by the Gondia Sessions Court in 2014 after the police failed to produce ‘significant evidence’ against him.
Mr. Gadling is an advocate, who is noted for taking up cases of those accused of having Maoist links and has fought on behalf of former Delhi University professor G.N. Saibaba, among others.
FIR against six KKM members
On January 8, the Vishrambaug Wada police station in Pune lodged an FIR against six KKM members, including five of those whose residences were searched on Wednesday, for making allegedly provocative speeches and presentations calculated to promote enmity between two groups at the ‘Elgaar Parishad’.
The complaint had accused the KKM activists of making a number of “inflammatory” speeches and delivering “socially divisive” presentations during the course of the troupe’s performance and recitals at the ‘Elgaar Parishad’, which lasted nearly eight hours.
On January 3 last, the Vishrambaug police similarly lodged a case against newly-elected Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani and Jawaharlal Nehru University's (JNU) Umar Khalid for allegedly promoting enmity between two groups with their speeches at the 'parishad'.
Mr. Mevani branded the police swoop as an “attack on the Ambedkarite movement.”
“Maharashtra police has arrested Ambedkarite activist & editor Sudhir Dhawale in Mumbai, advocate Surendra Gadling in Nagpur and Rona Wilson in Delhi. All 3 booked under draconian UAPA while Bhima Koregaon culprit Manohar Bhide roams scot free,” tweeted the the legislator from Vadgam.
In the immediate aftermath of the clashes, two FIRs were lodged against Mr. Ekbote — who is the executive president of the outfit Samasta Hindu Aghadi — and Mr. Bhide, who heads Shiv Pratishthan Hindustan, for orchestrating the riots, which left one person dead.
Rona Jacob Wilson held in Delhi
With the help of Delhi Police Special Cell, the Pune Police arrested 47-year-old Rona Jacob Wilson, a resident of Munirka, for allegedly spreading controversial pamphlets among other charges. The case was registered in the Vishram Bagh police station in Pune City.
Mr. Wilson was produced before the Patiala House Courts, which sent him to two-day transit remand. He will be produced before a court in Pune on June 8, the police said.
PUCL condemns arrests
The Maharashtra unit of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) issued a statement condemning the arrests, calling them “vindictive and arbitrary.”
“PUCL strongly condemns the vindictive and arbitrary arrest of Advocate Surendra Gadling, Mr. Sudhir Dhawale, Mr. Rona Wilson, Ms. Shoma Sen, Mr. Mahesh Raut and Mr. Rana Jacob on 6th June 2018,” said the statement.
“All the [arrested] persons have publicly defended the rights of Dalits and various sections of marginalized people…These arrests amount to a blatant violation of citizen’s rights to freedom of expression and voicing dissent, and is clearly a move to target individuals working for rights of the marginalised sections of society, and to produce a chilling effect on voices of dissent. This has been a standard protocol followed by the State for years,” the statement said.
It further accused the State of stifling democratic protest under the garb of countering ‘Naxalism’.
“People are arrested and incarcerated in jail for years. They are subsequently released as the State fails to prove their case…,” read the statement.
“We condemn the state reprisals being ordered against the activists and unequivocally demand that Adv. Surendra Gadling, Mr. Sudhir Dhawale, Mr. Rona Wilson, Ms. Shoma Sen, Mr. Rana Jacob be released immediately and raids being carried out at premises of various activists be stopped,” it said.
(With inputs from Hemani Bhandari and Omar Rashid)