Mumbai, India – On Monday, Bombay High Court granted a short relief to Dalit scholar and activist Anand Teltumbde, that has been facing arrest for his alleged links to a prohibited Maoist organisation.
But Teltumbde’s problems aren’t over yet. The court will decide February 22 whether he could be detained or allowed bail in a situation which , critics and legal minds say, has been used by the government to aim civil rights activists.
Teltumbde was billed under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) where the accused could be jailed for years without bail.
The UAPA was first introduced in 1967 as an”anti-terror law”, but it has been made harder after a range of amendments giving sweeping powers to law-enforcement bureaus.
If you commit murder, then you’re eligible to bail. Beneath UAPA even if you are innocent, you shed years of your lifetime.
Mihir Desai, Teltumbde’s lawyer
Police in Pune district have registered a case against 22 people, such as Teltumbde, for allegedly having links with the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) after violence broke out in January 2018 at Bhima Koregaon, a village about 170km north of Mumbai city.
Teltumbde, a professor in the Goa Institute of Management, maintains the charges are”concocted” and based on”completely fabricated evidence”.
‘Query of authorities impartiality’
At the center of the prosecution’s case is an tranche of letters – allegedly containing correspondence with Maoists – which the police claim were recovered from one of those accused, prison rights activist Rona Wilson.
Some of those letters cite the names of the activists, besides containing instructions for procuring arms and explosives, exhortations to”spread panic”, along with also a plot to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Experts, however, have raised doubts on the authenticity of the letters.
“Even the dissenting judge from the Supreme Court decision found that the letters to be dubious, while questioning the police’s impartiality,” said Teltumbde’s lawyer Mihir Desai.
“In the correspondence, a Maoist claims he has arranged my trip to a women’s rights conference in Paris, meaning the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) collaborated with the American University of Paris to arrange my trip? This can be easily proven to be false,” Teltumbde advised Al Jazeera.
The letter also mentioned two professors from US universities, as well as French Marxist thinker Etienne Balibar. “The conference organisers composed a letter regarding the facts,” he explained.
In an open letter at January,” Teltumbde said his”imminent arrest” was part of this”vilest post-Independence plot by the country”.
weekly , 600 scholars and faculty members in American and European universities urged the authorities to end what they called”witch-hunt” from Teltumbde.
Prime Minister Modi has stated”urban Maoists” backed their rural counterparts, in a veiled reference left-wing scholars and activists.
“Urban Maoists remain in towns and have luxurious lives, their children are well-educated, however they distant control the lifestyles of adivasi (tribal) children and destroy their own lives,” Modi said last November.
The case is associated with a historic event from over 200 years back – that the Bhima Koregaon struggle of January 1, respectively 1818, when Dalits had sided with the East India Company to conquer the upper-caste Peshwa rulers.
The Maoist bogey is a favorite trope of the government when it wants to discredit protests.
Feminist writer and Dalit activist Urmila Pawar
A memorial built by the British to commemorate the occasion is visited by Dalits every calendar year, but this season, Hindutva leaders (Hindu supremacists) opposed an event, Elgaar Parishad, held on December (*********************************), respectively 2017, to mark the bicentennial anniversary the next moment.
Dalit activists say they came under attack on January 1, 2018, while coming out of the Bhima Koregaon memorial.
They filed a police complaint against Hindutva leaders. The negative filed a complaint stating inflammatory speeches resulted in the violence.
Police action about the latter complaint was rapid, whereas it appears to be dragging its feet in the prior.
At least two prominent activists, including Wilson, are already behind bars in connection with the high-profile instance, that critics say, is a part of Hindu nationalist government’s clampdown on democratic faith.
In June, the Pune police arrested attorney Surendra Gadling, forest rights activist Mahesh Raut, English literature professor Shoma Sen, prison rights activist Rona Wilson, and poet-writer Sudhir Dhawale, under the UAPA.
During August, the police attempted to arrest five more persons – attorney and civil rights activist Sudha Bharadwaj, writer and activist Gautam Navlakha, attorney and writer Arun Ferreira, writer and columnist Vernon Gonsalves, along with poet and political worker Varavara Rao. Four activists were detained, whilst Navlakha managed to secure protection against a large court\.
‘Strike dissenting voices’
Some of those activists have worked in places where Maoists are active. Nihal Singh Rathod, a lawyer in the case, noted the irony of Raut being termed a Maoist, although he’d persuaded villagers to participate in elections which the Maoists had uttered\.
Teesta Setalvad, an rights activist, stated there has been a general attack on dissenting voices beneath the ruling BJP government. The BJP rules at the Maharashtra country level as well as in the federal level at which Bhima Koregaon can be situated\.
“The evidence [the police] have [offered] seems disappointing,” Setalvad said adding the”usage of these draconian provisions of the UAPA is an attack on personal freedoms”.
Susan Abraham, the lawyer for one of those accused and the wife of Vernon Gonsalves, said the authorities had not followed the standard when seizing digital devices.
“The entire case hinges letters retrieved from computers, however, the police till date have not provided us a copy of the substance,” Abraham told Al Jazeera.
However, the Joint Commissioner of Pune police, Shivaji Bodkhe, defended the police in the instance.
He advised Al Jazeera that it was premature to comment on the veracity of the evidence. “Those queries will be taken care of after the trial starts.”
“The judges are going to take a telephone,” Bodkhe explained.
However, Desai asserts that’s the problem with UAPA, in which acquiring bail is quite tricky. “If you commit murder you’re eligible to bond. Beneath UAPA, even when you are innocent, you lose four-five decades of your life.”
Three of those eight detained – Ferreira, Gonsalves, and Dhawale – have been detained under the UAPA legislation, and acquitted after spending three to six years in prison.
Activists also have voiced their concern at the press trial and the accused being tagged”urban Maoists” and”anti-nationals”.
That is not the first time, even though. Feminist writer and Dalit activist Urmila Pawar said the”Maoist” bogey is a favourite trope of the government when it wants to discredit protests.
“After Dalits hit the streets in Maharashtra after the 2006 Khairlanji incident – wherein a Dalit family was killed by upper-caste neighbours – the government telephoned us Maoists,” she said.