Pune police investigating the case related to the Elgaar Parishad rally, organised a day ahead of the bicentennial celebration of the battle of Bhima Koregaon, conducted raids at multiple locations across the country and arrested some prominent activists, who it alleged are Maoist sympathisers.
The authorities are investigating violence between low-caste Dalits and upper-caste Hindu groups following a political meeting in the western city of Pune on December 31 a year ago.
A key cause behind the violence was the degrading historical caste divisions that continue to exist in India.
“This is an outright attempt to intimidate human rights activists, dissenters and silence those who are opposed to the fascist policies of this government”, Bhushan told Al Jazeera. “Evidence clearly establishes their roles with Maoists”, ADG, Maharashtra Police said earlier.
It finally reiterates the observations made by the Supreme Court while granting interim protection to the arrested activists.
During the hearing, the public prosecutor read out from letters allegedly seized from the accused, presenting it as evidence that the arrested were working in collusion with Maoists.
Dhawan also submitted that “if these social activists are arrested randomly, then anybody can be arrested, I may also be arrested”.
Now in its fifth year of office, with elections only a few months away, there are signs of rising discontent and anger against the ruling BJP government.
However, the Supreme Court on Thursday directed that the five human rights activists should be kept under house arrest, observing, “Dissent is a safety valve of democracy”.
The Pune/Maharashtra police say that they had proof that the nine activists raided were connected via what they referred to distractingly as “e-devices” to Maoist organizations.
There are no formal charges and the activists have not been told why they’ve been detained, said prominent lawyer Vrinda Grover, who is acting for detained lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj. “On 17 May, sections under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act were imposed”, added Singh.
Police, meanwhile, broke up a protest in southern India against the arrests and detained about two dozen people.
A police officer said the main case relates to speeches made during a rally held in the city of Pune on December 31, 2017 commemorating the valor of Dalits.
The raids by different teams of the Pune police began nearly at the same time at all houses of all accused on the morning of August 28. “They are standing up for the rights of the poor and the marginalised in this country”, he added. Mr Navlakha is a civil liberties activist and member of the editorial board of an academic journal.
Sudha Bhardwaj, a mathematician turned lawyer, was born an American, but renounced her citizenship to become an Indian at the age of 18. But what is common to each one is that they have fought bravely and resolutely for the rights of India’s most oppressed peoples, including tribal populations who are gravely threatened by large, predatory private corporations. After her arrest, many laborers and tribals carried out a protest demanding her release.
Global human rights watchdogs Amnesty International and Oxfam also condemned the arrests, urging the Indian government to respect “people’s rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly instead of creating an atmosphere of fear”.
Rahul Gandhi, head of the opposition Congress party led political condemnation of the arrests, saying the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government wants to “jail all activists and shoot those that complain”. The state had challenged the petitioners’ locus, dubbing them as “strangers”.