Rupali Jadhav (32), an activist of the Kabir Kala Manch (KKM) – a predominantly Dalit and working class troupe using protest music — was contacted through WhatsApp by the Canada-based Citizen Lab on October 28.
Ms. Jadhav, who is also a member of Prakash Ambedkar’s Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi, has been heading social media campaigns of a number of progressive events in the past, and is an admin of WhatsApp groups like the VBA’s Sanskruti Samiti , the Kabir Kala Manch and the Bhima Koregaon Shaurya Din Prerana Abhiyan.
“A person who introduced himself as John [Scott-Railton, senior researcher at Citizen Lab] said that he was lightly familiar with my work from a case he was working on. He said that he was messaging me concerning a specific cyber risk that I had apparently faced earlier this year. After verifying his credentials as he had asked me to, I responded by telling him that this was indeed worrying,” Ms. Jadhav said, stating that she had been advised by Citizen Lab to change her Android phone to prevent a similar occurrence in the future.
The roving KKM troupe, of which Ms. Jadhav is a part, was formed in 2002 in the wake of the Gujarat riots and had an office near Pune’s Alka Talkies during the outfit’s heyday between 2008 and 2010.
However, the group has been continually hounded by official agencies including the ATS and the Maharashtra police, which forced some of their former members like Sachin Mali and Sheetal Sathe to go underground.
“It is indeed startling to see such a mockery being made of the right to privacy. While ordinary people are continually under surveillance in a dictatorship where these things are done openly, it is disconcerting to come face-to-face with the surreptitious nature of surveillance in a democracy,” Ms. Jadhav said, commenting on the Spyware scandal.
Ms. Jadhav said that while she, as a hardened rights activist, was used to searches and surveillance, a breach of privacy of this magnitude would have devastating effects on ordinary citizens.
On January 8 last year, the Vishrambaug Wada police in Pune had lodged an FIR against six KKM members for allegedly making provocative speeches and presentations calculated to promote enmity between two groups at the Elgaar Parishad held at Pune’s Shaniwarwada Fort on December 31 as part of the bicentenary celebrations of the Bhima-Koregaon battle.
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. The homes of four KKM activists were searched in April last year.
Speaking on the issue, advocate Rahul Deshmukh, who is a part of the defence counsel for the nine arrested activists implicated in the Bhima-Koregaon case, said that poet-activist P. Vara Vara Rao’s email, too, was hacked when he was placed under house arrest last year.
Mr. Deshmukh said, “This [spyware scandal] is quite logical. Phones have been tapped, email accounts hacked, so there is nothing really surprising that the phones of lawyers representing the activists are now being hacked. Throughout this case, we have been expressing strong reservation on the allegedly incriminating correspondence produced by the Pune police that they apparently retrieved from the computers of these activists.”