NEW DELHI: The Indian Association of Peoples Lawyers held a press conference in Delhi today to condem the arrest of five activists including advocate and its secretary general Surendra Gadling from his residence in Nagpur. They demanded the immediate release of the all the five including Gadling, general secretary, Indian Association of People’s Lawyers from Nagpur, Professor Shoma Sen, Head of Department (HoD) of English, Nagpur University, Sudhir Dhawale, editor of the Marathi magazine Vidrohi from Mumbai, Rona Wilson, public relations secretary, Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners (CRPP) and Mahesh Raut, anti-displacement activist from Bharat Jan Andolan and former Fellow at Prime Minister’s Rural Development for Gadchiroli District.

These arrests were purportedly made under an FIR registered on January 8, 2018 at Vishram Baug Police Station, Pune with regard to the Elgar Parishad organised by Bhima-Koregaon Shaurya Din Prerna Abhiyan, a coalition of 260 mass organisations.

The mass meeting was addressed at the time by prominent speakers including Justice P B Sawant, retired Supreme Court judge, Prakash Ambedkar, leader of the Bahujan Republican Party (Bharipa), Justice Kolse Patil, former judge with the Mumbai High Court, Jignesh Mevani, MLA from Gujarat, and other Dalit activists.

While the Elgar Parishad was underway, Hindutva groups had reportedly unleashed attacks on the Dalits who were on their way to the meeting. This resulted in a riot-like situation wherein Dalit and Maratha groups clashed at several places in Pune district, in which, one Dalit was killed and hundreds of people were injured.

On January 3, an FIR was registered at Pimpri police station, Pune, in which two pro-Hindutva leaders Milind Ekbote of Samast Hindu Aghadi, and Sambhaji Bhide of Shiv Pratishthan Hindustan were charged for orchestrating violence during and aftermath of the Elgar Parishad.

Reportedly, Ekbote and Bhide along with others, on December 29, had desecrated the Samadhi of Dalit icon Govind Gaikwad in Wadhu village, near Koregaon village, instigating violence between Dalits and Marathas in the district. Of the two accused Hindutva leaders, only Ekbote was arrested (who was later released on bail), while Bhide, who claims to be a close aid of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was never questioned by the Maharashtra Police in this regard.

Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR), in a statement, has condemned the arrests as “open show of State terror and complete bypassing of the Rule of Law by the BJP government” and demanded immediate release of the activists.

“These arrests are in the face of the mass demand of several political parties and human rights organizations and activists and the Prerna Abhiyan in particular to arrest the leaders of Sangh Parivar organizations, Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote, who were responsible for the violence on 1st January, 2018 at Bhima-Koregaon. The Fadnavis government, which has been protecting these actual perpetrators of the violence, has been attempting to create a false narrative that the violence at Bhima Koregaon was caused by the Elgar Parishad and that banned Maoist organizations are behind the Prerna Abhiyan,” the CPDR statement read.

The press conference today was convened by Sudha Bahradwaj, Vice President of IAPL, N.D. Pancholi, Senior Advocate in Supreme Court, Ravi Kiran, President of People’s Union of Civil Liberty, Nitya Ramakrishnan, Senior Advocate (Sr. Adv.) in Supreme Court, Advocate (Adv.) Poonam, General Secretary of Pragatisheel Mahila Sangathan and Advocate Pankaj Tyagi, Senior Executive of IAPL who also moderated the press conference.

The speakers noted that Gadling’s case is being linked with communal disharmony that occurred at the Elgaar Parishad programme held at Shaniwarwada in Pune on December 31. Gadling’s house was also raided by police on April 17, 2018. Though the original FIR did not have his name, police confiscated all possible CDs, hard disks, computer systems – including his family’s personal devices. There has been no news as to whether there was anything substantial connecting him to the Maoists.

The speakers demanded that all arrested be released. Ravi Kiran added that UAPA is similar to Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA), Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) and Maintaince of Internal Security Act (MISA) and these types of draconian laws were not even implemented during the emergency. He said that while implementing and regulating these laws the police and judiciary work on the same type of mindset. He also mentioned the case of Seema Azad, who was arrested on the grounds of keeping some Maoist literature and her case made to look like a crime just by association.

Advocate Poonam said that all the five accused needed to be released immediately. It was reported that Gadling was presented at the Magistrate’s house, not at the court and he was without a lawyer. She asked whether the government was trying to make a joke out of the legal procedures. She also said that the arrest was a direct attack on the backward castes and the people representing them by the BJP government.

She recalled the case of Bhim Army’s Chief, Chandrashekhar Azad who was arrested after caste related violence broke in Saharanpur in May 2017 under National Security Act (NSA) using which the state can place any citizen under preventive detention without legal recourse. She said that by arresting these activists under such draconian laws the government is trying to suppress the voice of Dalits and other backward castes.

All of them also criticised the mainstream media for over sensationalising and dramatising the issue instead of giving an unbiased account. They urged the media to report the facts so as to ensure early release of the five arrested.

(Inputs NewsClick)