Bhima Koregaon violence and arrests: The chronology of a crackdown

The arrests of five activists from various cities across India in connection with the Bhima Koregaon violence by the Pune Police has sent shockwaves through the country. Activists Varavara Rao and Sudha Bhardwaj were detained in Hyderabad and Faridabad respectively and Gautam Navlakha was arrested from Delhi. Vernan Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira were arrested from Mumbai. A search was also conducted at activist Stan Swamy’s residence in Ranchi. However, he was not arrested. Similar arrests had taken place back in June.

As the nation comes to term with what’s another shocking development in the case, we look back at the chronology of events in connection with the Bhima Koregaon case.

What happened in Bhima Koregaon?

The Bhima Koregaon violence erupted while observing the 200th anniversary of the Bhima-Koregaon battle in January. A youth died and several others, including 10 policemen, were injured in the violence. On January 1, 2018, a riot-like situation prevailed in Bhima Koregaon of Pune district, when a group with saffron flags in hands, belonging to a particular community, pelted stones on Dalits.

Dalits from across the state had gathered to commemorate the bi-centenary of the battle fought between troops of East India Company, which consisted of the Mahar (Dalit) community and the Peshwas (Brahmins), 200 years ago in 1818. According to an eye-witness, people burnt several vehicles and pelted stones on these participants. This followed statewide protests which also affected Mumbai.

Following the gruesome matter, Pune police took severe action against those involved in the Bhima-Koregaon violence. Many raids were conducted by the Pune police in residences of activists and several activists are also detailed for having Maoist links. Let’s have a detailed look at the arrests and raids conducted by Pune police so far.

Arrests – Part I

In June, Dalit activist Sudhir Dhawale was arrested from his home in Mumbai, while lawyer Surendra Gadling, activist Mahesh Raut and Shoma Sen were picked up from Nagpur and Rona Wilson was arrested from his flat in Munirka in Delhi in simultaneous raids.

Yesterday, raids were conducted by Maharashtra police in prominent Left-wing activists in several states. Yesterday’s events mirrored raids conducted in June when five activists were arrested in connection with the Koregaon-Bhima violence. The searches were conducted at homes of people having Maoist links and those directly or indirectly connected with the five arrested in June.

Nationwide Raid

Pune Police said two letters recovered over the past few months, indicating Maoist plans to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president Amit Shah and Home Minister Rajnath Singh, were also a reason for the raids.

The raids were carried out in Mumbai, Ranchi, Hyderabad, Faridabad, Delhi and Thane. 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 informed PTI.

Arrests – Part II

Rao was arrested from his residence at Gandhi Nagar in Hyderabad by a Pune police team, which earlier searched the residences of his two daughters. Rao’s name had figured in a letter which the Pune police claimed to have seized during searches at the premises of one of the five people arrested in June in connection with the Elgar Parishad. According to unconfirmed reports, others whose residences were raided are Susan Abraham, Kranthi Tekula and Anand Teltumbde in Goa.

Rao apart, Arun Ferreira, Gautam Navlakha, Varnan Gonsalves and Sudha Bhardwaj were arrested following the raids that were conducted by the Pune Police. The police have booked all these accused under sections 153 A, 505(1) B,117,120 B,13,16,18,20,38,39,40 IPC and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

IPC Section 153 (A) relates to promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place or birth, residence, language and committing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony, said an official.

Who are the arrested activists?

  • Sudha Bhardwaj is a visiting professor in the National Law University and also stated to be part of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties.
  • Varavara Rao is a poet and activist and Maoist ideologue from Telangana. He founded the revolutionary writers association ‘Virasam’, which propagates Maoists ideology.
  • Gautam Navlekha is a civil rights activist and a journalist. He has worked in Chhattisgarh and Kashmir on the issues of human rights.
  • Vernan Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira are activist from Mumbai. Gonsalves is a former professor of a business organisation.

Reactions on the arrests of activists by Pune police

Several political parties and organisations including activists, authors condemned the arrests of activists.  Taking a dig, Congress chief Rahul Gandhi said there was place for only one NGO in the new India and it was the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh).

“Truth must come out before the people. The government must go to the root of the issue. Culprits, if there are any, should be caught. But the action should not be politically motivated,” Maharashtra Congress general secretary Sachin Sawant said.

The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) said ever since the Bhima Koregoan violence against Dalits, the Maharashtra Police “along with central agencies” has been targeting Dalit rights activists and lawyers “who have been taking up their cases”, and demanded immediate withdrawal of all cases.

In a video message, CPI national secretary K Narayana said, “We strongly condemn the arrest of well-known Left intellectual Vara Vara Rao…. Ever since the Modi government has come into power, they are trying to kill intellectuals.” “They killed Govind Pansare, Gauri Lankesh and Kalburgi and they have also imprisoned GN Saibaba. They have arrested Vara Vara Rao only with the intention of killing him. Is the PM really that weak, to be killed so easily?” he said.

In a statement, rights body People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) said the “systematic and pre-meditated crackdown” on human rights activists is unprecedented and unheard of in a democracy. “The PUCL strongly condemns this unconstitutional crackdown by the state and police,” it said.

Amnesty International and several other groups including People’s Union for Civil Liberties called the action a concerted attempt to crush human rights interventions and to silence voices of dissent.

A number of noted lawyers, academics, authors, human rights defenders and opposition leaders today termed the action as a ‘virtual declaration of emergency’ in run-up to elections. Several activists said it was like an undeclared emergency when the rights defenders and dissenters are being raided, arrested, jailed and even killed.

Historian Ramachandra Guha called the action absolutely chilling and demanded the Supreme Court’s intervention to stop this “persecution and harassment” of independent voices. “Sudha Bharadwaj is as far from violence and illegality as Amit Shah is close to those things,” tweeted Guha, adding if Mahatma Gandhi was alive, he would have defended Bharadwaj.

Author Arundhati Roy said, “In the run up to elections, it is an attempted coup against the Indian Constitution and all the freedoms that we cherish”. Rights activist Shabnam Hashmi and former JNU leader Umar Khalid also condemned the raids. JNU student leader Shehla Rashid alleged it was an attempt to instill fear among those who are vocal about issues and to manufacture a narrative and a sense of false enemy to misguided people ahead of the 2019 elections.

With agency inputs 

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