In a move paralleling the Bhima Koregaon case, the NIA has, over two days, March 31 and April 1, conducted raids in 31 locations across Andhra Pradesh and Telangana and seized a variety of materials, allegedly relating to furthering activities of proscribed organization CPI(Maoist). These raids targeted activists belonging to various organizations—Pragatisheela Karmika Samakhya, Praja Kalamandali, Chaitnya Mahila Sangham, Amalula bandhumitrula sangham, Viplava Rachayitala Sangham, Human Rights Forum, Committee for Civil Liberties etc— who have been specifically drawn into the net of ‘frontal organizations’. This follows close on the heels of the arrest of 10 persons from these organizations in November-December 2020 under two FIRs naming more than 80-90 persons, invoking offences of conspiracy, waging war against the State, sedition, and a host of UAPA provisions: registered on 23 and 24 November 2020:
- FIR 47/2020 at PS Munchingput, Vishakhapatnam, dt. 23 November 2020, u/Ss. 120B, 121, 121A, 143, 144, 124A, 149 IPC; Ss. 10, 13, 18 UAPA; Ss. 8(1), 8(2) AP PSA; S.25 Arms Act, and
- FIR 606/2020 at PS Piduguralla, Guntur, dt. 24 November 2020, u/Ss. 120B, 121, 121A, 122, 124A, 143, 144, 149 IPC; 16 , 17, 18, 18A, 18B, 20, 21, 38, 39, 40 UAPA.
Investigations under FIR 47/2020 were transferred to the NIA Hyderabad on 7 March 2021, few weeks after the Andhra Pradesh High Court granted interim protection from arrest to several accused persons under the other FIR. Following the raids, all accused persons were served notices to present themselves at NIA offices for interrogations, raising concerns of further arrests and intimidations under the same cases. In this context, certain issues need to be raised.
- Given that undivided Andhra Pradesh has had a long history of radical politics, the argument of banned organizations is not new. The history of Virasam, the acronym of Viplava Rachayitala Sangham, explains that despite having a separate manifesto since its founding in 1970, it has been dubbed as a front and banned repeatedly, which is also evident in the repeated imprisonment of Varavara Rao. The present raids targeting alleged frontal organizations strengthens the politics of proscription, particularly available under UAPA.
- Pertinently, materials seized during the raid such as literature and flags, ostensibly incriminating the accused, have been repeatedly rejected as relevant evidence under UAPA by the Apex Court. A group of academics have also challenged the indiscriminate seizure of electronic devices by investigating agencies. The experience of similar “fishing expeditions” in the Bhima Koregaon case have raised strartling concerns of tampering and planting evidence, as revealed in the reports of independent agencies Pegasus and Arsenal Consulting.
- Even before the NIA took over investigations, the FIRs were premised upon police complaints drawning from confessions extracted from arrested persons. In the case of V.S. Krishna, the Coordination Committee member of HRF, the Vishakhapatnam Rural police had earlier accused him of coercing 11 adivasi women into “falsely testifying” against Greyhounds personnel in the matter of the Vakapalli gangrape of 2007. Placed within the context of confession made in custody, in which it was said that Krishna was a Maoist, the charges against Krishna have become much more serious. Most recently, his residence was raided by the NIA officials. Ironically, HRF has been long opposing political violence in the region, including those committed by the Maoists. Condemnably, today, its members are being accused of furthering Maoist activities.
- The involvement of civil liberties organizations, such as HRF and CLC, in alleged Maoist activities is disturbing as fact-finding activities are often conducted in Maoist areas precisely because there is no reportage on repression. Given the ‘inconvenience’ caused by civil liberties organizations, including their fact-findings into forcible evictions for land acquisition, mining activities etc, the attack on activities by the state in the name of Maoism is not new. It is a process which has been witnessed in the Bhima Koregaon case. Hence, these purported Maoist conspiracies are really a death knell for independent fact-findings conducted by citizen committees into issues which make the state accountable for its activities.
- The outcome of the present raids is not known, but what is observable is the attack on women activists. Three of the six arrested who have been named by the NIA are women: Anjamma, Annapurna and Rajyalaksmi. Most recently, P Varalakshmi’s house was raided by the NIA. Varalakshmi is a prominent member of Virasam, is deeply interested in writing on environmental issues as she hails from Kadapa, the seat of uranium mining. She has been writing on the consequences of radioactivity in Telugu. The arrest of women for political activities has been on the rise in other parts of the country. It is time for civil society to introspect on the reasons which aare compelling women to come to the forefront and oppose state policies.
- Assuming that all the so called ‘facts’ are correct and that the country is in the grip of Maoist conspiracies, why hasn’t the trial into Bhima Koregaon not commenced in these 3 years? Why is it that a similar conspiracy which was unearthed by the Maharashtra ATS in 2011 not been tried? Hence, there are just reasons for believing that the purpose of the exercise of raiding homes is to threaten, intimidate and incarcerate people for long years through unending and coercive investigations. Almost a year ago, on April 14, 2020, Gautam Navlakha while surrendering before the NIA in Delhi had hoped for a fair and speedy trial. He had said: “My hope rests on a speedy and fair trial for myself and all my fellow co-accused. This alone will enable me to clear my name, and walk free”.
PUDR condemns the present raids and the harassment caused to activists in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana and reiterates its faith in the judiciary and hopes that each of the arrested as well as those who are being targeted, will walk free.
Radhika Chitkara, Vikas Kumar