The Pune police, on Tuesday, raided the houses of several human rights activists, lawyers and intellectuals in connection with the Bhima Koregaon violence of January 2018. Five activists have been arrested over allegations of having ties with Maoists and an alleged conspiracy to assasinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The police started conducting multiple raids across various cities since Tuesday morning and ended up arresting human rights activist and lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj from Faridabad, poet Varavara Rao from Hyderabad, civil rights activist Gautam Navlakha from Delhi, Vernon Gonsalves from Mumbai and lawyer-activist Arun Ferreira from Thane.
The police have booked them under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act that comes under the Anti Terror laws in the country. The arrests of the activists has caused quite a stir on social media with intellectuals condemning the arrests and calling the situation as an 'undeclared emergency'.
Here are brief descriptions about the five that have been arrested:
She is a 57-year-old human right activist and lawyer who also teaches at the prestigious National Law University in Delhi. A mathematics graduate from IIT Kanpur, Bharadwaj has been a supporter of adivasi and Dalit rights. She joined the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha, a movement of the workers union in Madhya Pradesh and has also been closely linked with the Bastar Solidarity Network. She was one of the first ones to hit out at the government after the sterilisation deaths in Bilaspur in 2013. Bharadwaj was born in the US and stayed there till the age of 11 and gave up her US citizenship when she turned 18. She is also the general secretary of People's Union for Civil Liberties.
Rao has been a celebrated poet and is known for his revolutionary ideas. The 78-year-old has been a literary critic and a civil rights activist. Rao is the founder of Virasam, a writer's association known for publishing revolutionary poems and literature in support of the Naxalite ideology.
He holds a Masters in Telugu literature from Osmania University and has been a well known Marxist critic too. Rao's name allegedly came up in a Maoist letter, according to which he was responsible to collect funds for an alleged plot to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi. However, he had rubbished the allegations by saying that the letter was fabricated to frame him.
Navlakha has been an active member of the People's Union of Democratic Rights (PUDR) and has been working with a digital news portal for the last one year. The 65-year old has studied economics and political science and has been associated with the academic journal Economic and Political Weekly for 30 years. Navlakha has also authored the book Days and Nights in the Heartland of Rebellion. Having worked extensively for human rights in the troubled states of Chhattisgarh and Kashmir, Navlakha is also the convenor of the International People's Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Kashmir.
Gonsalves is not new to facing arrests and charges. The 60-year-old activist was arrested in 2007 for being a member of the banned CPI (Maoist). The Anti-Terrorism squad had arrested him for planning terror attacks and infiltrating workers' unions to carry out Maoist activities in urban areas. He was convicted by a Nagpur sessions court in 2014 under the Arms Act, Explosives Act and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and was sentenced to three years in jail after being found guilty of possessing arms. Gonsalves used to work as an economics teacher in Mumbai and has been working for labour rights in Maharashtra's Vidarbha.
An alumnus of the well-known St Xavier's college in Mumbai, Ferreira was first arrested by the Nagpur police on charges of being associated with the propaganda and communications wing of the banned CPI (Maoist). As many as 10 cases were filed against him which also included a case on waging war against the country. He was in the Nagpur central jail for four years and was acquitted of all cases in 2014. After his release from the prison, Ferreira had written about the alleged police torture he had gone through in his book Colours of the Cage. The 48-year-old has been a practising lawyer in Mumbai since 2015.