The Professors Accused of Plotting to Kill the PM
Medical difficulties, no bail for many
On December 31, 2017 over 250 civil society groups gathered at Shaniwar Wada in Pune for an Elgar Parishad convention commemorating the bicentenary of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon. The speakers at the convention included retired Supreme Court justice P.B Sawant and Bombay High Court justice B.G Kolse Patil.
The following day, lakhs of people, most of them Dalits, gathered at the Bhima Koregaon war memorial to commemorate the anniversary in what has long been an annual celebration - in the battle a regiment of Mahars, a Dalit caste, fighting for the colonial government had defeated the Maratha Peshwas.
In unprecedented tensions and violence that day, Yogesh Pratap Jadhav (16) was killed in Nanded. His family stated that he had died from injuries due to police caning.
On January 2 the Pune police registered an FIR against former RSS worker Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote, president of the Samasta Hindu Aghadi, in connection with the mob attacks at Koregaon Bhima. The duo were charged with rioting, attempted murder, mischief with explosives, offences under the SC/ST Prevention of Atroticities Act among others.
On January 8 the Pune police registered an FIR against members of the Kabir Kala Manch and others, “following up” on which, according to joint commissioner Shivaji Bodhake’s statement to the media, arrests began in April 2018.
In the three years since, more than 16 prominent activists, intellectuals, social workers, lawyers, cultural artists are in prison on charges that have expanded beyond the Bhima Koregaon violence to include a plot to assassinate Narendra Modi, the prime minister.
Some prominent personalities who were arrested:
Born in the US, Bharadwaj renounced American citizenship when she turned nineteen. She is an IIT Kanpur alumnus. Leaving her teaching job at the Delhi Public School, New Delhi, she went to Chhattisgarh in 1986 to work with union leader Shankar Guha Niyogi, who was murdered at the behest of a local industrialist.
Her litigation and activism against corporate groups like Jindal, Birla, Adani, and Vedanta became well known amongst people’s movements. She formed Janhit, a lawyers’ group to fight workers’ cases in courts. She also served as a member of the Chhattisgarh state legal services authority and holds the post of vice president of the Indian Association for People’s Lawyers.
On 28 August 2018 police conducted a dramatic midnight raid on Bharadwaj’s house in Faridabad and seized her pen drives, laptops, and work papers. The Punjab and Haryana High Court stayed the transit remand, preventing police from taking her to Pune, and placing her under house arrest until the allegations made in the FIR could be verified. This was after the police kept her lawyer in the dark about her whereabouts, a breach of the high court order.
After her arrest, Bharadwaj was placed under house arrest as per Supreme Court orders for four weeks. She was then arrested on 26 October, as her bail plea were rejected, and was sent to jail. She is still in prison, yet to face trial.
Bharadwaj was being held at the Byculla jail, where an inmate had tested positive for Covid19. An interim medical bail plea, filed on 29 May 2020, was rejected by a special court.
Her bail petition states that she falls under the “the most vulnerable category facing high fatality rate should she contract coronavirus. If she continues to remain in incarceration, there is a grave danger to her life as she has diabetes and high blood pressure.”
The Bombay High Court directed the National Investigation Agency to file its affidavit by July 3 2021 in response to the bail petition of activist in June 2021.
Dr Varavara Rao is a poet, journalist, and literary critic from Telangana. He taught Telugu literature at the Chanda Kantaiah Memorial College, Warangal. Known as a Marxist critic, Rao was also responsible for founding the Revolutionary Writers’ Association, popularly known as Virasam. Rao was first arrested under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) in Andhra Pradesh in 1973. He was then arrested during the Emergency and was kept under stringent scrutiny. Unlike other inmates who were released when the Emergency was lifted, Rao was arrested again at the entrance of the jail and kept imprisoned for an additional week. He survived many attempts on his life after the Emergency.
Rao was arrested also on 28 August 2018 at 6 am. The FIR on the basis of which the arrests made were based on an accusation of being a Maoist, his alleged connections to the Elgaar Parishad, and its alleged role in inciting violence in Bhima Koregaon. The homes of his family members were raided as well on the pretext of looking for Rao, who had already been arrested according to reports.
Now 81, Rao had fallen ill in jail in 2020 for many months. According to his family his speech was slurred and he was hallucinating, and unable to take care of himself. His condition began to deteriorate after he had a fall on May 28 inside the prison. He was in an unconscious state when he was moved to the state-run J.J. Hospital for a few days before being moved back to prison.
Rao has been in poor health ever since. His co-prisoner also said he needed immediate help for his physical and neurological issues.
He was granted bail on medical grounds for six months by the Bombay High Court on February 22, 2021. When the high court granted him bail on February 22 on various conditions, Rao had to look for two persons who could stand as surety for an amount of Rs 50,000. His lawyers had called this process tedious and sought leniency. They later requested the court that he be allowed to furnish cash sureties until solvent sureties could be found.
The court had granted the request on Monday. It had earlier directed that he be released immediately on bail after being discharged from hospital. He was discharged from Nanavati Hospital in Mumbai on March 6, 2021.
Gautam Navlakha is a civil liberty, democratic, and human rights activist; and a journalist. He is engaged in longstanding activism through the People’s Union for Democratic Rights in New Delhi. He is also an editorial consultant of the Economic and Political Weekly magazine. Navlakha has also been a convener of the International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Kashmir.
The FIR—on the basis of which the arrests were based on an accusation of being a Maoist, his alleged connections to Elgaar Parishad, and its alleged role in inciting violence in Bhima Koregaon. They were also charged under relevant sections of the UAPA and have been accused of hatching a secret Maoist plot to kill Modi.
After being arrested on 28 August 2018, Navlakha was placed under house arrest. He was subsequently released from house arrest on 1 October 2018.
On 16 March 2020, the Supreme Court dismissed the anticipatory bail pleas presented by Gautam Navlakha and Anand Teltumbde, saying that their petitions could not be maintained as they were accused under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
On 8 April 2020 the court gave them a week to surrender in the Bhima Koregaon violence case in spite of the spreading epidemics and the dangerous overcrowding of Indian jails. Navlakha released a statement on his impending incarceration in which he explained the reason for his surrender and the hope to receive a fast and fair trial.
The Delhi High Court was scheduled to hear Navlakha’s bail application on 27 May 2020, but without notice and without informing his family he was hurriedly moved to Taloja Jail in Mumbai, that already has two reported cased of COVID-19.
On May 11, 2021 the Supreme Court dismissed Gautam Navlakha’s plea seeking bail in the Elgar Parishad case.
After a degree in mechanical engineering and a PhD in cybernetic modelling Teltumbde enjoyed a successful career as a management professional and university professor. But alongside that, Teltumbde was a civil rights activist.
In his writings, he combines an Ambedkarite perspective with a Marxist understanding of political economy. His books are a searing indictment of the Indian republic’s failure to seriously confront the challenges of caste violence and injustice.
Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of Babasaheb Ambedkar, has already pointed out that one of the prime reasons behind his targeting is that Teltumbde is a son-in-law of Babasaheb’s family His house was raided on August 29, 2018 in connection with his alleged links to the Bhima Koregaon violence.
The Maharashtra police also claimed that he was involved in a Maoist plot to assassinate the prime minister. It booked him under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, a law that makes it extremely difficult for the accused to obtain bail.
A Pune court rejected his application for anticipatory bail, with the additional sessions judge K.D. Vadane observing that “there is sufficient material collected by the investigating officer to show the involvement of the present accused in the commission of the offence.”
Teltumbde then appealed to the Bombay High Court, and it was while he was travelling to Mumbai to meet his lawyer that the Pune police arrested him at the airport at 3.30 am on February 3, 2019.
The National investigation Agency under the Union Home Ministry has claimed that he and his brother Milind Teltumbde were both involved in the plot, that he was involved in the Bhima Koregaon violence and an active member of the CPI (Maoist).
Recently his wife told the Bombay High Court she had not heard from Teltumbde since March 2021 and accused the Taloja prison authorities of withholding letters from him.
Delhi University associate professor Hany Babu is also standing trial in the 2018 Bhima Koregaon violence case and is lodged in Taloja Central Jail. Babu is a scholar of linguistics with a PhD from EFLU, Hyderabad and the University of Konstanz, Germany.
He was arrested on July 28, 2020 from his residence in Delhi.
His family had alleged in May that he is being denied medical treatment for an acute eye infection. “He has little or no vision in his left eye due to the swelling, which has spread to the cheek, ear and forehead, compromising other vital organs as well, and posing a significant risk to his life if it spreads to the brain. He is in agonising pain and is unable to sleep or perform daily chores,” said a statement issued by the family.
His wife Jenny Rowena stated that Babu does not even have access to clean water to help treat his eye. On May 19 Prof Babu was directed to be shifted to hospital to after testing positive for Covid19.
64, former head of the English department at Nagpur University, Sen has been a part of Stree Chetna at Nagpur that deals with issues such as violence against women and dowry deaths. She has also been associated with the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights.
The academic was arrested in June 2018 and has been lodged in the Byculla women’s prison in Mumbai since then. Her first bail application was rejected on November 2, 2018, on grounds that there was material linking her involvement in alleged unlawful activities inimical to the country’s security.
On March 31 last year, after the nationwide lockdown was imposed, her plea for interim medical bail as a precaution against Covid19 was rejected by the special NIA judge D.E. Kothalikar.
Her application said she suffered from multiple ailments including osteoarthritis, glaucoma and high blood pressure which could make her vulnerable to the novel coronavirus.
On July 26, the same court again rejected her interim medical bail on grounds of age and ailments. The court said, “that she is suffering from ‘some disease’ cannot be a ground for her release.”
Last month once more the NIA opposed the plea filed by Sen before the Bombay High Court seeking the charges against her to be quashed.
Rona Wilson, a forty-seven-year-old activist from Kollam district in Kerala, has made Delhi his second home since the late 1990s. Having come to the capital during his post-graduation, Wilson almost immediately took to activism.
Wilson is a member of the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners, which has campaigned against the UAPA and other repressive laws.
In 2018 Wilson’s house in south Delhi was raided in a nationwide crackdown. This led to his arrest alongside five other activists. They were charged under UAPA, allegedly for instigating violence through the Elgaar Parishad. Letters allegedly found at his house—which the police provided to the press—also revealed a “Maoist plot to assassinate Prime Minister Modi”.
On 24 October 2018 the Bombay High Court quashed a Pune court ruling that had granted more time to the police to file charges against Wilson. Chargesheets were finally filed on 15 November and again on 4 December 2018.
Wilson has been denied bail several times since 2018.
Forensic analysis by a US firm reported in the Washington Post found that Wilson’s computer hard drive, along with that of arrested lawyer and activist Surendra Gadling, had been tampered with, and letters relied upon as primary evidence by the Pune police reportedly inserted on the drives using third party malware.