Joint Statement Against Continuing Arrests of Rights Activists

30th August 2018, Press Club of India, New Delhi

We, the undersigned, strongly oppose and condemn the illegal raids carried out in different cities, and arrests of Gautam Navlakha, Sudha Bharadwaj, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves and Varavara Rao by the Maharashtra Police on 28 th August 2018. These are only the most recent arrests in a continuing wave of repression spearheaded by the police at the behest of their political leaders and their communal and casteist agendas against people’s movements and human rights defenders. The targeting of these democratic rights activists and organizations is anattack on the poor and marginalized sections of our society on whose behalf these activists have been raising their voices.

The following are some of the significant aspects of the arrests:

1. The current five arrests have been carried out under FIR. No.4/2018 at Vishrambagh PS, Pune in connection with Bhima Koregaon clashes. Under the same FIR a similar wave of arrests was carried out on 6 th June against activists, Surendra Gadling, Shoma Sen, Rona Wilson, Mahesh Raut and Sudhir Dhawale. Those arrested on 28th August were not named in the original FIR. Nor did any of the names, barring one, of those arrested in June feature in the FIR.

2. The use of the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) as an instrument to target political dissent. Stringent UAPA sections on unlawful activities, terrorist acts, recruiting for terrorist acts, being members of terrorist organisations, support for terrorist organisations and providing funds for terrorist organization were added to the FIR and tailored for the arrests made in June and August.

3. Significantly, the two accused, habitual offender Milind Ekbote and godman, Sambhaji Bhide in the Bhima Koregaon case who were named in the very first FIR have never been penalized under UAPA. The Maharashtra government has in fact refused to prosecute Bhide.

4. The August arrests highlight violation of all due procedures, in a mockery of the legal system. The Delhi HC has questioned the irregularities and pointed lapses on part of Maharashtra Police while hearing the Habeas Corpus petition against the transit remand ordered by the CJM Saket Court in the context of Gautam Navlakha’s arrest.

5. There is a generic narrative of urban Naxalites, support to or association with Naxalite organisations, planned assassinations etc being circulated to create a climate of terror where members of civil society will hesitate to protest and dissent.

6. The invoking of UAPA against rights activists, which ensure long term incarceration, denial of bail, bans is meant to muzzle voices of democratic dissent. The Supreme Court has rightly observed that “dissent is the safety valve of democracy. If it is not allowed the pressure cooker will burst.”

 

We demand

1. Immediate and unconditional withdrawal of FIR No.4/2018 at Vishrambagh PS, Pune, Maharashtra and all held under it.

2. Return of all items such as laptops, mobile phones etc. seized during the illegal arrest and search operations

3. Appropriate action against Maharashtra Police for launching a vicious and malafide attack against activists.

4. Withdrawal of all cases under UAPA and immediate end to such political acts of vendetta.

5. The unconditional repeal of UAPA.

 

Signed by:

1. Aruna Roy, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan

2. Arundhati Roy, Author

3. Bezwada Wilson, Safai Karamchari Andolan

4. Harish Dhawan, Peoples Union for Democratic Rights

5. Jignesh Mewani, Dalit rights activist

6. Kalyani Menon Sen, Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression

7. Kavita Sarivastava, Peoples Union for Civil Liberties

8. ND Pancholi, Peoples Union for Civil Liberties

9. Prashant Bhushan, Advocate

10. Sanjay Parikh, Advocate, Peoples Union for Civil Liberties

many other individuals

and 

Signed by:

1. Peoples Union for Democratic Rights

2. Peoples Union for Civil Liberties

3.  Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression

4. Indian Association of People's Lawyers 

5. Committee for Release of Political Prisoners 

6. Pragatisheel Mahila Sangathan

7. Jan Hastakshep

8. Indian Federation of Trade Unions

9. Inquilabi Mazdoor Kendra

10. Pinjra Tod

11. Saheli

12. United Against Hate

13. Peoples Commission on Shrinking Democratic Spaces

14. Centre for Struggling Women

15. Krantikari Naujawan Sabha

16. Samajwadi Jan Parishad

17. Persecuted Prisoners' Solidarity Committee

18. Dayar-I-Shauq Students' Charter (DISSC), Jamia

19. Rough Cut

20. Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan

21. National Campaign for Right to People's Right to Information

22. Naujawan Bharat Sabha

23. Pension Parishad

24. Right to Food Campaign

25. Jan Manch, Uttar Pradesh

26. National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights

27. Loktantrik Janta Dal

28. South Asia Citizens Web

29.New Socialist Initiative

30. Bigul Mazdoor Dasta

31. Progressive Democratic Students Union

32. All India Institute of Medical Sciences - Resident Doctors Association

33. Peoples Union for Civil Rights, Haryana

34. Stree Mukti Sangathan

35. PIPMS, Delhi

36. National Confederation of Human Rights Organisations (NCHRO)

37. New Socialist Initiative

38. National Alliance of People's Movements

39. Naga Peoples Movement for Human Rights

40. Sanhati (www.sanhati.com)

41. Rihai Manch, Uttar Pradesh

42. Jan Swasthya Abhiyaan, Mumbai

43. Hazards Centre

44. Krantikari Yuva SangathanSanhati India

45. Sanhati India (http://sanhati-india.org/)

46. All India Forum for Forest Movement

47. Paschim Banga Khet Majdoor Samiti

48. Food Sovereignty Alliance, India

Also find below statement by Arundhati Roy delivered at the joint press conference on 30th August 2018 at the Press Club of India, New Delhi.

Statement by Arundhati Roy, 30th August 2018

# Me Too Urban Naxal

This morning’s papers (August 30 2018) settle something that we have been debating for a while. A front-page report in the Indian Express says “Police to Court: Those held part of anti-fascist plot to overthrow govt.” We should know by now that we are up against a regime that its own police call fascist. In the India of today, to belong to a minority is a crime. To be murdered is a crime. To be lynched is a crime. To be poor is a crime. To defend the poor is to plot to overthrow the government. 

When the Pune police conducted simultaneous raids at the homes of well-known activists, poets, lawyers and priests across the country, and arrested five people—high-profile civil rights defenders and two lawyers—on ludicrous charges, with little or no paperwork, the Government would have known that it was stirring up outrage. It would have already taken all our reactions into account, including this press conference and all the protests that have taken place across the country, before it made this move. So why has this happened?

Recent analyses of real voter data as well the Lokniti-CSDS-ABP Mood of the Nation survey have shown that the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are losing popularity at an alarming pace (for them). This means that we are entering dangerous times. There will be ruthless and continuous attempts to divert attention from the reasons for this loss of popularity, and to fracture the growing solidarity of the opposition. It will be a continuous circus from now to the elections—arrests, assassinations, lynchings, bomb attacks, false flag attacks, riots, pogroms. We have learned to connect the season of elections with the onset of all kinds of violence. Divide and Rule, yes. But add to that—Divert and Rule. From now until the elections, we will not know from when, and where and how the fireball will fall on us, and what the nature of that fireball will be. So, before I speak about the arrests of lawyers and activists, let me just reiterate a few points that we must not allow our attention to stray from, even while it rains fire, and strange events befall us.

1. It has been a year and nine months since November 8 2016 when Prime Minister Modi appeared on TV and announced his policy of demonetization of 80% of the currency in circulation. His own Cabinet seemed to have been taken by surprise. Now the Reserve Bank of India has announced that 99% of the currency was returned to the banking system.  The Guardian in the UK reports today, that the policy has likely wiped 1% from the country’s GDP and cost approximately 1.5 million jobs. Meanwhile, just the printing of new currency has cost the country several thousand crores.  After Demonetization, came the Goods and Services Tax— a tax that is structured in ways that have dealt a further body blow to small and medium businesses that were already reeling under Demonetization.

While small businesses, traders and most of all the poor have suffered enormously, several corporations close to the BJP have multiplied their wealth several times over. Businessmen like Vijay Mallya and Nirav Modi have been permitted to decamp with thousands of crores of public money while the government looked away.

What kind of accountability can we expect for all of this? None? Zero?

Through all this, as it prepares for the 2019 election, the BJP has emerged as by far the wealthiest political party in India. Outrageously, the recently introduced electoral bonds ensure that the sources of the wealth of political parties can remain anonymous.

2. We all remember the farce in Mumbai at the ‘Make in India’ event inaugurated by Mr Modi in 2016 at which a massive fire burned down the main tent of the cultural festival. Well, the real bonfire of the idea of ‘Make in India’ is the Rafale fighter plane deal, that was announced by the Prime Minister in Paris seemingly without the knowledge of his own Defense Minister. This is against all known protocol. We know the bare bones— a deal had already been put in place in 2012 under the Congress led UPA government to buy planes that would be assembled by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. That deal was scrapped and reconfigured. Hindustan Aeronautics was surgically excised. The Congress Party as well as several others who have studied the deal have alleged corruption on an unimaginable scale and have  questioned the involvement in the “offsets” deal to Reliance Defence Limited, which has never built a plane in its life.

The Opposition has demanded a Joint Parliamentary Committee probe. Can we expect one? Or must we swallow this whole fleet of planes along with everything else and not even gulp?

3. The investigation by the Karnataka police into the assassination of the journalist and activist Gauri Lankesh, has led several arrests which have in turn led to the unveiling of the activities of several right-wing Hindutva organizations like the Sanathan Sansthan. What has emerged is the existence of a shadowy, full-blown terror network, with hit-lists, hide-outs and safe-houses, flush with arms, ammunition and plans to bomb, kill, and poison people. How many of these groups do we know about? How many are continuing to work in secret? With the assurance that they have the blessings of the powerful, and possibly even the police, what plans do they have in store for us? What false-flag attacks? And what real ones? Where will they occur? Will it be in Kashmir? In Ayodhya? At the Kumbh Mela? How easily they could derail everything— everything— with some major, or even minor attacks that are amplified by pet media houses. To divert attention from this, the real threat, we have the hue and cry over the recent arrests.

4. The speed at which educational institutions are being dismantled. The destruction of Universities, with fine track records, the elevation of phantom universities that exist only on paper. This is arguably the saddest thing of all. It is happening in several ways. We are watching JNU—Jawaharlal Nehru University—being taken down before our very eyes. The students as well as the staff are under continuous attack. Several television channels have actively participated in spreading lies and fake videos that have endangered the lives of students, and to an assassination attempt on the young scholar Umar Khalid who has been mercilessly defamed and lied about. Then you have the falsification of history and the idiotification of the syllabus—which will, just in a few years’ time, lead to a kind of cretinism from which we will be unable to recover. Finally, the privatization of education is undoing even the very small good that the policy of Reservation did. We are witnessing the re-Brahminization of education, this time fitted out in corporate clothes. Dalit, Adivasi and OBC students are once again being pushed out from institutions of learning because they cannot afford the fees. This has begun to happen already. It is completely unacceptable.

5.Massive distress in the agricultural sector, increasing numbers of farmers’ suicides, the lynching of Muslims and the relentless attack on Dalits, the public floggings, the arrest of Chandrashekhar Azad, leader of the Bhim Army who dared to stand up to attacks by Upper castes. The attempt to dilute the Scheduled caste and Scheduled Tribes Atrocity Act.

Having said this much, I come to the recent arrests.

None of the five people who were arrested yesterday, Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira, Sudha Bhardwaj, Varavara Rao and Gautam Navlakha—were present at the Elgar Parishad rally that took place on December 31st 2017, or at the rally the following day when approximately 300,000 people, mostly Dalit, gathered to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Bhima–Koregaon victory. ( Dalits joined the British to defeat an oppressive Peshwa regime. One of the few victories that Dalits can celebrate with pride.) The Elgar Parishad was organized by two eminent retired judges, Justice Sawant and Justice Kolse Patel. The rally the following day was attacked by Hindutva fanatics, which led to days of unrest. The two main accused are Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide. Both are still at large. Following an FIR registered by one of their supporters, in June 2018 the Pune police arrested five activists, Rona Wilson, Sudhir Dhawle, Shoma Sen, Mihir Raut and the lawyer Surendra Gadling. They are accused of plotting violence at the rally and also of plotting to kill the Prime Minister Narendra Modi.  They remain in custody, charged under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. Fortunately they are still alive, unlike Ishrat Jahan, Sohrabuddin and Kauser Bi, who, years ago, were accused of the same crime, but did not live to see a trial.

It has been important for Governments, both the Congress-led UPA and the BJP to disguise their attacks on Adivasis, and now, in the case of the BJP, their attack on Dalits— as an attack on “Maoists” or “Naxals.” This is because, unlike in the case of Muslims who have been almost been erased from electoral arithmetic, all political parties do have an eye on those Adivasi and Dalit constituencies as potential vote banks. By arresting activists and calling them “Maoists’, the Government manages to undermine and insult Dalit aspiration by giving it another name—while at the same time appearing to be sensitive to “Dalit issues.” Today,a s we speak, there are thousands of people in jail across the country, poor and disadvantaged people, fighting for their homes, for their lands, for their dignity—people accused of sedition and worse, languishing without trial in crowded prisons.

The arrest of these ten people, three lawyers and seven well known activists also serves to cut whole populations of vulnerable people off from any hope of justice or representation. Because these were their representatives. Years ago, when the vigilante army called the Salwa Judum was raised in Bastar and went on a rampage, killing people and burning whole villages, Dr Binayak Sen, then the General Secretary of the PUCL (Peoples Union for Civil Liberties) Chattisgarh  spoke up for its victims. When Binayak Sen was jailed, Sudha Bhardwaj a lawyer and Trade Union leader who had worked in the area for years, took his place.  Professor Saibaba, who campaigned relentlessly against the paramilitary operations in Bastar stood up for Binayak Sen. When they arrested Saibaba, Rona Wilson, stood up for him. Surendra Gadling was Saibaba’s lawyer. When they arrested Rona Wislon and Surendra Gadling, Sudah Bhardwaj, Gautam Navlakaha and the others stood up for them… and so it goes.

The vulnerable are being cordoned off and silenced. The vociferous are being incarcerated.

God help us to get our country back.

Arundhati Roy

August 30th 2018