Mumbai: The People’s Convention against Undeclared Emergency held a meeting at the Dadar Matunga Cultural Centre, where members spoke against the imposition of the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and demanded the release of activists charged under them. The meeting was organised by Mumbai Rises to Save Democracy, a collective of 40 civil society, democratic rights organisations and non-governmental organisations across Maharashtra.
Senior journalist Nikhil Wagle said, “Tomorrow, if I am arrested, it will not be for being a journalist but I will be charged and arrested for being a Maoist,” he said. He highlighted how police and state are cracking down on voices of dissent. Lalsu Soma Nogoti, advocate, forest rights activist, zila parishad member from Bhamragad, Gadchiroli, demanded the release of Mahesh Raut, the TISS ex-student who gave up a cushy life to work for rights of adivasis and marginalised, spoke on the occasion. “Mahesh was very committed and dedicated to the rights of adivasis teaching them their rights under the provisions of Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006,” said Nogoti. Nagoti added, “The gram sabhas in Gadchiroli have passed a resolution asking the government for his immediate release.”
The relatives of the families of the activists arrested since June also highlighted the way the activists were termed as ‘urban Naxals’ and have been kept behind bars under severe charges. “Surendra used to help the poor and take up the cases of the marginalised,” Minal Gadling, wife of advocate Surendra Gadling, said at the meeting. Advocate Gadling used to take cases of marginalised adivasis who were charged for being Maoists and ironically, faces a similar charge today.
Sagar Gonsalves, son of ex-Mumbai University Professor and activist Vernon Gonsalves, described the events of August 28, when their home was raided and his father was arrested as a déjà vu experience. “Once again there was a raid by the police for six hours and I saw the cycle repeating like the last time. The first time round, I was 12 and felt helpless. Even now it was the same,” said Sagar. He added, “I am no more under the illusion that only bad people go to jail.”
Abdul Wahid Sheikh of the Innocence Network spoke about how UAPA stands not for ‘Unlawful’ but Lawful Activities Prevention Act, as it is used to target those fighting for justice. “Six months ago, I was sharing this very stage with advocate Gadling. Our country is not democratic and secular. We live in a police state as the police can arrest anyone at anytime,” he said. Advocate Mihir Desai of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties provided an understanding of how the law is “used” by the police.