The National Investigation Agency (NIA) arrested Delhi University Associate Professor Hany Babu MT on July 28, in connection with the Bhima Koregaon-Elgar Parishad case. Since his arrest, hundreds of academicians and activists have condemned the move and professed their support for the accused.

Campaign Against State Repression (CASR) released a statement condemning the “arbitrary arrest” of Babu, stating: “This is blatant harassment and intimidation of persons who question the State and struggle for the rights of the marginalised and oppressed castes, classes and communities.”

Babu is the 12th individual to be arrested for his alleged involvement in the Elgar Parishad case. The case relates to an event held on December 31, 2017 in Pune, where alleged provocative speeches promoting enmity between caste groups were made, leading to violence and statewide agitation in Maharashtra. The case has already witnessed the arrests of prominent academicians, lawyers and activists who are currently in prison, awaiting trial.

A special court in Mumbai remanded Babu in NIA custody for seven days till August 4. The 54-year-old Associate Professor in the Department of English at DU had been summoned by the NIA to Mumbai and was arrested after five days of questioning.

Special Court Judge AT Wankhede stated that the allegations made against the accused were of a serious nature. According to the NIA, the accused was “propagating Naxal activities and Maoist ideology and was a co-conspirator with other arrested accused.” The agency further stated that Babu had links to the banned CPI (Maoist) Party and that various letters were recovered from seized electronic articles which indicated his involvement in the Elgar Parishad case.

“The NIA’s press statement about Hany Babu’s arrest reveals the utter lack of foundation of any case against him, and indeed against Elgar Parishad,” the Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association said in a statement. “The press statement makes reference to vague allegations (“propagating Naxal activities [sic] and Maoist ideology”) totally unconnected to anything concrete. The best allegations the NIA can come up against the Elgar Parishad is that it “encouraged unlawful activity”,” it added.

Despite the rising number of COVID-19 cases in both Delhi and Mumbai, Babu was summoned as a witness and forced by the NIA to travel to Mumbai after his request for providing testimony via video-conference was denied, CASR stated.

“Cooperating with the NIA since July 24th 2020, it quickly became clear that the questioning was merely a ruse to force Prof. Babu into providing false testimony against other persons and accepting allegations of being a functionary of the Maoists,” read their statement.

Babu, along with being a professor in DU’s English Department, is also known as a prominent anti-caste activist. According to CASR, Babu has been “consistently fighting for social justice within and outside the university space… He has spoken out against caste discrimination in institutions of higher education, the death penalty and for the rights of political prisoners.”

He is also a member of the Committee for the Defence and Release of Dr. GN Saibaba. Saibaba is a DU professor living with over 90% physical disability who was convicted in 2017 for alleged Maoist links. He is currently serving a life term in Nagpur Central Jail. According to reports, the day Babu was arrested, the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court rejected Saibaba’s temporary bail application.

Babu’s work ranged over caste oppression, linguistics and the suppression of dissent—topics which he explored in various writings. The academic was also reportedly involved in the implementation of OBC reservation in universities.

Babu’s first run-in with the Bhima Koregaon-Elgar Parishad case was in September 2019. His house was raided by the Maharashtra Police, during which several electronic devices and books were seized.

In a statement post the incident, Babu said that his house in Noida had been searched by 20 people claiming to be from the crime branch. While five were in uniform, the rest were in civilian clothes. “When I asked for a search warrant, I was told there was none and that this case doesn’t need one,” Babu then wrote.

“They made me change the passwords of my social media accounts and my email accounts. They have complete access to my accounts now... I don’t understand how a government agency can seize my work without providing me the reasons for it, or the basis on which a search was conducted at my residence,” he had written in his statement.

His wife, Rowena, told Frontline, “No hash value of any of the devices confiscated were provided, no protocols were followed. Do you mean to say that you can just come to someone’s house, take away his things and then claim to have found incriminating evidence against him? Is this a joke? Can this happen in any other country? They are giving this whole technological spin to justify his arrest, but how can the courts allow this?”

Meanwhile, several academicians, students and activists have voiced their concerns regarding the arrest. “For the past two and a half years, the Pune police first, and now the NIA, have been conducting a blatant witch hunt in the name of investigations in the Bhima Koregaon Elgar Parishad case – raiding and arresting activists, academics and even lawyers who have stood with the most marginalised,” read the statement by Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association (JTSA).

Appealing to all democratic minded individuals, organisations and political parties to raise their voices against the “systematic hounding of academics and activists”, the JTSA stated, “The Bhima Koregaon case is an instrument of silencing us all into submission.”

As news emerged of Babu’s arrest, the All India Students Association (AISA) tweeted, demanding his release.

The national and international community of anti-caste scholars and activists have also issued a statement, urging the Indian government to acquit Babu “in the interest of preserving democratic values and human rights.”