Raids against Activists across India, Voices of Dissent being crushed with Impunity

A vindictive state is brazenly attacking dissent in India. What’s more disturbing, is that it is actually spinning this as their crackdown on persons who threaten national security and integrity! On August 28, police raided homes of several social activists across India, under the guise of investigating them for being involved in planning and instigating the Bhima Koregaon violence on January 1, 2018.

Human Rights Activist
Stan Swamy, Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira, Gautam Navlakha, Sudha Bharadwaj, Varavara Rao

The Ranchi home of Father Stan Swamy was raided in the morning and his phones, laptops, hard discs, pen drives and other storage devices were seized. Swamy is a vocal advocate for the rights of Adivasis and has been in the State’s crosshairs for many years. This is because Adivasis empowered by the Forest Rights Act 2006 are laying claim to forest lands that are much sought after by mining companies and other businesses.

But here’s the twist. The raids are purportedly in connection with the Elgar Parishad, a meeting of activists that took place in Pune, just days before the Bhima Koregaon attack on Dalit families. Except, 80 year old Swamy has nothing to do with the said Elgar Parishad!

Similar raids were carried out at the homes of Mumbai based human rights activists Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves, reportedly by a team from Pune police, early in the morning.  Ferreira has previously had to fight to clear his name when he was falsely accused of being a Maoist. He had to spend five years in jail despite being innocent of all crimes!

In Hyderabad too, homes of activists Varavara Rao and Kranti were raided. Varavara’s daughter Anala and her journalist husband Kurmanath were also not spared as their electronic items were also confiscated. Homes of activists Gautam Navlakha and Karthik were raided in Delhi. A Habeas Corpus petition was filed at the Delhi HC in Gautam Navlakha’s case. The court granted a stay on Navlakha’s arrest till it heard the petition.

Meanwhile advocate Sudha Bharadwaj, who has been associated with the forest rights movement in Chhattisgarh for close to three decades, was taken into custody. Eighteen items including laptops, cell phones, reading material etc. were seized from Bharadwaj’s home. The seizure statement (in Marathi) may be read here. Advocate Bharadwaj was taken to Surajkund Police Station and at the time of publishing this piece the state was trying to get her remand to take her to Pune for further investigations.

The arrested activists are being charged under Sections 18, 13, 16, 38, 39 and 40 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and under Sections 153, 117 and 120 (D) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

The entire exercise is ridiculous given how the chief accused in the case Manohar ‘Sambhaji’ Bhide roams free, due to alleged lack of evidence. Earlier, student leader Umar Khalid and Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani had also been dragged into the case simply because they were present at the Elgar Parishad. A hostile state machinery had started targeting Dalits across Maharashtra instead of promptly arresting Milind Ekbote, Bhide’s co-accused in the case. Ekbote was arrested only in March and then let off on bail a few weeks later.

Sudha Bharadwaj at surajkund thana.

Similar raids were conducted earlier this year at the homes of Dalit activists and lawyers after labeling them all as “Maoists”! Advocate Surendra Gadling who is best known for pursuing justice in the aftermath of the Khairlanji massacre and activist Rona Wilson were among those whose homes were raided. FIRs were filed against folk singers of the Kabir Kala Manch under similar pretexts.

Advocate Mihir Desai who has often represented human rights defenders in court, says, “This is vindictive action with the aim of chilling civil society.”

This is clearly a witch hunt where people are first labeled as Naxals or Maoists and then falsely accused of anything from instigating riots to waging war against the nation. The raids are nothing but an intimidation tactic against those who are empowering the voiceless and the marginalized to demand their rights from those who have historically benefited from oppressing them.

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