We cannot forget 2018. In fact that the violence in Bhima-Koregaon in Maharashtra on January 2018 was a planned and organized by the RSS and other Hindutva outfits in order to foil Edgar Parishat, a conglomeration of Dalits, Bahujan, and minorities who gathered in a single platform. The Parishad proclaimed to fight against fascist Hindutva forces and reclaim Constitution and its ideals. In the months of June and August, the Maharastra Police raided selectively the houses of human rights and social activists across the country. Without following the legal procedure they had searched and seized the computer hard disks and electronic gadgets. For instance, they barged into the Anand Teltumbde’ s quarter in Goa IIT campus. Eleven activists from different states have been linked, on the basis of electronic evidence, to the so-called Bhimakoregaon violence/conspiracy case and charged them under various provisions of IPC and Unlawful Activities (prevention) ACT. Initially, the investigation was carried on by Mahrastra police and now the National Investigation Agency has taken over the job. One can understand that the transfer of investigation from the Maharastra government to the Central Government was because of the change of government in Maharastra. The BJP at the center is monitoring the investigation through NIA which is absolutely under its control.
However, even after eighteen months, the investigation is still going on and we do not know when the trial will begin. The activist has approached the Supreme Court, concerned High courts and the trial court for bail but their petitions were repeatedly rejected on some pretext or other. It seems that the judges are obediently following the instructions of NIA and the prosecution and denying bail. It is of course the judges are taking shelter under UAPA and its provisions regarding bail. Section 43 D (5) of the Act is very draconian which confers wide discretionary power on the judges for consideration of bail. The provision categorically provides that ‘if the judge satisfies himself if there is a prima facie case or reasonable grounds that the accused has committed an offence, and then there is no need to grant bail. This provision is against the cardinal principle of the criminal justice system ie., the presumption of innocence of the accused. The guilt of the accused must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt by conducting a fair trial. It is regrettable to note that the Supreme Court like a warning instructed both Anand Teltumbde and Goutam Navalakha to surrender before NIA on April 14, DR. Ambedkar”s birthday.
The Supreme Court taking cognizance of Covid-19 pandemic and the danger of its spreading in our congested prisons, directed the State Governments to release , both convicts and under trial prisoners on parole or interim bail. There was another order from the Supreme Court that its directions are not mandatory but the State Governments can take a decision on the guidelines of the High Power Committee on case by case, finally with the approval of the concerned courts. The Supreme Court further, the accused who has committed the offence for which the punishment is more than seven years, and charged under UAPA are not eligible for parole or interim bail. But the Maharashtra Government extended the benefit even to the accused in UAPA who are above 60 year, since they are vulnerable to COVID-19 infection. In spite of these relaxations, the bail petitions of the activists have been repeatedly rejected by the NIA special courts.
Bhima-Koregaon violence/conspiracy case is not just an ordinary criminal case, it is a political trial. The BJP Government does not merely wish to bring these activists to trial and get them convicted by a court but it is waging a war against them. In the past, those intellectuals and social activists who opposed the Hindutva agenda were brutally killed by outfits organized by Hindutva forces. Now the activists who have been implicated in the Bhima-Koregoan case are subjected to humiliation and mental harassment. The real conspiracy is to silence and politically persecute them. The persecution of intellectuals and activists at present reminds us the mental frame of the British rulers and law enforcement agencies towards the freedom fighters. The speech of Jinnah in the Central legislature opposing the Hunger strike bill and supporting Bhagat Singh and his fellow inmates as political prisoners is noteworthy. He said:
“we will pursue every possible course, every possible method, but we will see that you are sent either to Gallows or transportation for life and in the meantime We will not treat them as decent men”
In the last week, despite the deteriorating health of revolutionary poet Varvara Rao, the behavior of NIA and Prison Authorities was so inhuman that they did not permit him to have a video conference with his wife and family members to know about his health condition. The prison authorities did not even allow his wife to meet him. It is more reprehensible to notice that the trial judge sentencing GNSaibaba to life imprisonment has written in his judgment that ‘although GN Saibaba is physically challenged, he is mentally very strong and powerful and he is a think tank’. The judge deplored that ‘his hands are tied by the law, otherwise he would have awarded him the death sentence. Is it not a judicial prejudice with vengeance. The Bhima-Koregaon conspiracy case clearly reveals that how the state is manipulating its politics with the law and how the legal system – law enforcement agencies, prosecution, and courts have been serving as mere agents of the political system and political agendas manipulating the law. We now witness how the UAPA and the sedition law are being extensively used by the State to suppress the dissent and to dismantle agitations against the CAA and other democratic movements.
In fact, the BJP Government is waging war against those who have been opposing Hindutva ideology and its pro-business and anti-people policies. It cannot anymore tolerate the politicization of Dalits, minorities, and Adivasis for democratic and secular values. It is high time for us to unite and fight for democracy, human rights, and justice. We must demand the immediate release of all the activists who were falsely implicated in the Bhima-Koregaon case and to repeal UAPA.
Prof.S.Seshaiah,Convener ,Civil Liberties committee (AP & Telangana State)