Bhima-Koregaon case transferred to NIA to compromise independent probe: Front Line Defenders

The organization also said that the case was transferred so that the Maha government couldn’t carry out a review of the inquiry

Bhima Koregaon

Front Line Defenders, an international human rights organisation that highlights the plight of human rights activists and defenders facing persecution from hostile regimes, has come out in support of those facing vindictive and malicious prosecution in the Bhima Koregaon case. They have questioned the motives of the central government in transferring the case to the National Investigation Agency (NIA), especially given the timing of the transfer.

Front Line Defenders has issued a statement saying that the transfer of the case to the NIA, in which nine human rights defenders – Sudha Bhardwaj, Vernon Gonsalves, Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson, Shoma Sen, Mahesh Raut and Surendra Gadling are in detention, is seen as an attempt to maintain control over the political narrative on this case.

In its statement, Front Line Defenders said, “All those arrested with the exception of Gautam Navlakha remain in jail, with their bail applications postponed or denied. Several other HRDs had their homes and offices raided, were labelled as urban Naxals and were the subject of false propaganda and a misinformation campaign by Indian authorities. The detained defenders are accused, without any clear basis, of inciting the violence that took place at Bhima Koregaon on 1 January 2018. They are also accused of sedition; criminal activity and conspiracy against the State. Front Line Defenders has previously raised concerns over the safety of the human rights defenders falsely implicated and has called on the Indian state to cease reprisals against human rights defenders based on their peaceful human rights work.”

On January 1, 2018 a day after the Elgar Parishad, Dalits ahd gathered at Bhima Koregaon to commemorate 200 years of a battle where an army of Mahars fought against and defeated upper caste adversaries. This historic battle is of great significance in Dalit history in Maharashtra, where Dalits were routinely humiliated by savarnas. The battle of Bhima Koregaon that had taken place in 1818 between the East India Company and the Peshwas of the Maratha confederacy. 

The anti-Dalit violence claimed the life of one person and injured many others. After a probe in the matter was launched, the Maharashtra police picked up five activists, who trolls and foot-soldiers of the regime promptly branded as ‘urban naxals’. Police alleged that they were part of a plot assassinate PM Modi in a ‘Rajiv Gandhi type’ attack. In a second wave of arrests more activists were picked up, many in a manner completely violative of settled legal procedure. Meanwhile, the cases against the alleged masterminds of the anti-Dalit violence, Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote, were put on ice by the ruling government. The newly formed Maharashtra Maha Vikas Aghadi government had taken cognizance of the matter to protect the rights and freedoms of the activists who were working for the interests of the marginalized.

The center had recently handed the responsibility to probe the Bhima-Koregaon anti-Dalit violence to the NIA that has now filed a fresh FIR in the matter and sought the transfer of all the data regarding the incident. On January 25, Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh had said that the Centre had handed over the case to the NIA without the permission of the state government, reported Business Standard.

Front Line Defenders also stated that under the newly elected Maharashtra government there was hope among human rights defenders of a “positive resolution” in the matter, but the “decision to transfer the case to the NIA and remove it from the State police comes in the wake of this development and may be interpreted as an attempt to prevent the new government in Maharashtra from carrying out a review of the controversial inquiry into the case. Effectively the case is back under the control of the BJP led central government.”

The statement also mentioned how the BJP government had opposed a petition for independent monitoring and how the Supreme Court had rejected a petition seeking an independent, court-monitored probe in the matter.

Front Line Defenders feels that the handing over the probe to the NIA is an attempt to undermine an independent inquiry through a Special Investigation Unit and further compromise the safety of the human rights defenders involved and once again calls upon India to:

1.       Ensure an independent and impartial inquiry into that matter, free from all political interference

2.       Release all the human rights activists immediately and unconditionally

3.       Return any property seized and drop all charges against the human rights activists

The entire statement by Front Line Defenders may be read below.


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