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Archives for : Political Prisoners

Dearest Arundhati Roy: Shahidul Alam reflects on his time in prison

The Bangladeshi photographer was charged with criticising his country on Facebook and spent more than 100 days behind bars. Now freed, he replies to the Indian novelist who wrote to him in jail

Shahidul Alam

Bangladeshi photographer and activist Shahidul Alam reacts following is release from Dhaka Central Jail, Keraniganj, on November 20 2018.
 Bangladeshi photographer and activist Shahidul Alam after his release from Dhaka Central Jail, Keraniganj, on November 20 2018. Photograph: Suman Paul/AFP/Getty Images

Dearest Arundhati,

It was a letter I read and reread long before it appeared before my eyes. It was through layers of metal bars that I strained to listen to my wife Rahnuma’s words. The noise made by us as screaming prisoners, straining to hear and be heard, was akin to a crowded stadium or a fire siren. As she repeated her words over and over again, I faintly heard: Arundhati. Letter. I had been incarcerated for just over 100 days. A hundred days since I’d slept on my own bed, fed my fish, cycled down the streets of Dhaka. A hundred days since I’d pressed my shutter as I searched for that elusive light.

Those words were the nourishment I needed. Did you write it by hand? What was the paper like? You probably used a keyboard – so what font had you used? What point size? And the words … I relished the imagined words. I missed words as I missed my bed, my fish and Rahnuma’s touch. When they asked me what I needed in jail, books were on top of my list. The first lot came in: Mujib’s prison diaries, Schendel’s History of Bangladesh, and the book you’d given me when we last met, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. I’d been meaning to read it ever since we said goodbye in Delhi, but our lives had been taken over by the immediacy of our struggles. Now, I had the time.Advertisement

I imagined other letters. The one Shiv Viswanathan had written when Binayak Sen had been sentenced for sedition, or the one Raghu Rai wrote asking that I be freed. But this one was not to a prime minister. It had been written for me. To me. There are no pigeons in Keraniganj, and sparrows are perhaps too small to carry letters. As I fed them from my window, I could imagine one carrying across a tiny wad of paper, carefully tied to its feet. Paper I would unfold gently, smoothing the creases. It would have been a letter I had read before it was written.

I could read your letter, not because I remember you sitting across your wooden table in your open kitchen. Not because I remember you rubbing noses with Maati Ke Laal as she interrupted our chat, insisting on not being ignored. Not because of Sanjay’s book on Kashmir, which we had opened together. My reading relied on our shared legacies, on our collective griefs, on the struggles we both face as autocrats rule our lands. You have Kashmir and we have the Chittagong Hill Tracts. You have “encounters” and we have “crossfire”. “Goom” (enforced disappearances), we both share. We both live in what are called democracies, though we know we lack voice.

The threat of bail being withdrawn is the threat they hope will silence my tongue, my pen and my camera

Your book weaves complex characters, the absurdities and the beauty that is India. It finds the calm within the chaos. A moment of kindness, within the grotesque injustice. I look around me and see hijras in the high-security cells in the Surjomukhi building. Occasionally they walk out, their bright saris glowing amid the drab clothes of other prisoners. They remind me of your Anjum. Of your Saddam, as I see Koutuk da feeding the cats, making his way to those pretentiously named jail buildings, Jamuna, Meghna, Korotowa and Padma, seeking out the one that might have missed its meal. As I speak to prisoners falsely charged, and left to rot in a legal system that lets people be forgotten, and the Sharbaharaman Tipu Biswas, his eyes glowing with passion, insisting on justice even in jail, I am reminded of your Musa, defiant against the odds.

It was here in Keraniganj that I met Badal Farazi, wrongfully charged by Indian courts, and eventually sent to Bangladesh. Ten years in jail for a crime the courts knew he could not have committed. My government too scared to speak against this Indian injustice. Too scared to upset the big brother. Keraniganj was where terrorist Tofael Ahmed Joseph had been. Released through a presidential pardon, whisked away in the middle of the night and sent overseas. In my case, it had taken six attempts before bail had finally been granted. They had tried to block my bail just as they had tried to stop me from sleeping on a bed or getting access to a doctor. Even after bail was granted, they had tried to prevent my release. But we triumphed in the end, and we held hands and sang songs as I left the jail gate. The case still hangs over my head and the threat of bail being withdrawn is the threat they hope will silence my tongue, my pen and my camera. But the ink in our pens still runs. The keyboards still clatter.

Yesterday we were in Dhakeswari Mandir. It was Taposh and Haimanti’s daughter Riddhi’s mukhe bhat, her first solid food. As they lit candles and circled the tulshi plant, I wondered if they would dig up the temple because they had heard of a mosque underneath. One more mosque to add to the 500 our prime minister has promised, using Saudi money.

They swore in the new cabinet yesterday. “I will faithfully discharge the duties upon which I am about to enter according to law; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to Bangladeshs; and that I will not allow my personal interest to influence the discharge of my duties as a member of parliament.” Given that their very means of being there was based on an election where every rule had been flouted, the constitution abused to protect their personal interests, this oath was particularly perverse. They will sit in their duty-free cars, flags waving. They, the biggest lawbreakers in the land, will sit on boards of banks and schools. They will pass new laws. They took their oath as a mother of four was writhing in hospital, gang-raped by party faithful for having the audacity to vote the “wrong” way.

But yes, Arundhati, the tide will turn, and the nameless, faceless people will rise. They will rise against the entire state machinery. They will rise as they did in 1971. They, who never clamoured for Muktijoddha (freedom fighters) honours, who never claimed benefits for their children, who never wore Mujib coats in public. They, their children and their children’s children, will rise to bring back the core principles they had fought for. We will have secularism. We will have democracy. We will have social equality. We will win back this land.

I’ll see you in Dhaka. A humungous hug awaits.



courtesy- Guardian

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Pune’s Bhima Koregaon riots caused due to intelligence failure, says Ambedkar

Urges judicial commission to summon chief minister, intelligence heads for cross examination

Nadeem Inamdar
Hindustan Times, Pune
Pune,Bhima Koregaon,Karjat taluka
Advocate Prakash Ambedkar comes out of Bhima Koregaon judicial commission on Tuesday(Sanket Wankhade/HT PHOTO)

Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh president Prakash Ambedkar on Tuesday urged the judicial commission probing into the Bhima Koregaon riots to summon chief minister Devendra Fadnavis and the heads of Maharashtra intelligence, state minister for home (rural) Deepak Kesarkar and state minister home (urban) Ranjit Patil for cross examination. Earlier,Chief minister Fadnavis had himself said that the Bhima Koregaon riots had not erupted over intelligence failure.

Referring to his application seeking Fadnavis’s examination in the judicial commission hearing, Ambedkar said the chief minister was attending a programme in Ahmednagar’s Karjat taluka, barely 40 km from Bhima Koregaon on January 1, the day the riots broke..

“ I myself contacted the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) regarding the rioting that took place but to no avail,” he submitted before the two-member commission comprising justice (retd ) JN Patel and former chief secretary Sumit Mullick.

Ambedkar said there is a need to find out whether the police officers who had information about the incident informed the chief minister about the emerging situation. “Whether the on-ground information was passed to the higher authorities needs to be examined and brought on record. Bhima Koregaon riots have taken place due to intelligence failure,” Ambedkar said.

He pointed out that the gram sevak of Vadhu Budruk had informed in writing that the five grampanchayats of the surrounding areas had declared a bandh on account of January 1. This information does not match with the information given by the police and there is a need to cross examine the then police inspector of Shikrapur police station, Ambedkar said.

“This revelation has come out for the first time in the public discourse and I will submit the necessary documents before the commission. It is not the duty of the public servant to give a bandh call and he as gram sevak has communicated the decision of gram panchayat to the government,“ he said.

Ambedkar added that the commission must take into account and record the incidents which happened from December 26 to December 31, 2017, preceding the riots.

He said that the rural police intelligence wing had information regarding a particular telephone number from one district which was operational from December 28 to January 1 and this needed to be brought on the record. He alleged that conflicting information was coming from Pune rural and Pune city police on the riots.

He rejected the allegations that the banned CPI ( Maoist ) had funded the Elgar Parishad held at Shaniwarwada and said, “A retired Supreme Court judge cannot accept funds from a banned organisation. His reputation and integrity is on par and he is a very respected nationalist legal luminary. The allegations being made against him are false and frivolous in nature,” he said.

Ambedkar, who donned the lawyer’s coat, said the government version in terms of affidavits being submitted was changing from time to time and this must be explained by the government, He also submitted a list demanding access to public documents related to the police, case diary, recorded voice conversations, Daund WhatsApp group and other police investigations.

Bhima Koregaon Judicial Commission lawyer Ashish Satpute in his reply said that according to the law the privileged documents cannot be produced before the commission. The counsel cited various case laws related to non-sharing of secret, privileged, confidential and unpublished documents of the state citing state secrecy.

Justice Patel said that the commission can call for all and any type of document as it wants facts to come out. He assured that the confidential documents won’t be made public” and that the objective is only to know the truth.

Forced to withdraw case under police pressure

BG Bansode, lawyer for the victims, alleged before the judicial commission that the Dalits who had filed the atrocity case against the villagers of Vadhu Budruk for desecrating the samadhi of Govind Gopal Mahar were forced to withdraw the case under pressure from Pune rural police.

Advocate Nihal Singh Rathod who appeared for Ramesh Gaichor, a Kabir Kala Manch member, stated that the state was terrified and unwilling to get its top officers examined before the commission. Advocate Dhairyasheel Patil moved an application seeking examination of arrested Dalit activist Sudhir Dhawale before the commission.

Lock-up bad for health: Gadling

Advocate Surendra Gadling, lodged in the Yerawada central jail, complained to Uapa Judge K D Vadane on Tuesday about the filthy conditions of the lock-up in the court premises.

Gadling said that he spent three hours in the lock up which reeked of a foul smel and was littered with human refuse and spit. “It’s bad for the health of inmates,” he complained.

Justice Vadane will hear Gadling’s bail application on November 16. The court will also hear the bail applications of Rona Wilson, Mahesh Raut and Sudhir Dhawale on November 16. The court also restricted Advocate Nihal Singh Rathod from addressing the court directing him to file a vakalatnama. Accordingly, Gadling moved an application seeking assistance of Adv Rathod before the court which was agreed to by the judge.

Gadling along with other four persons were arrested by the Pune Police on June 8 for alleged “Maoist link

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Activist Arun Ferreira ‘beaten in custody’: Amnesty India demands probe

Arun Ferreira (File photo)Arun Ferreira (File photo)

NEW DELHI: Amnesty IndiaThursday demanded an impartial probe after activist Arun Ferreira‘s claimed he was beaten by a Maharashtra police officer in custody, and asserted the alleged ill-treatment shows how India is becoming a “dangerous place” for human rights defenders.

Ferreira, who was arrested in August for alleged Maoist links along with four other prominent activists, told a Pune court on Tuesday he was “hit” by the investigating officer.

He said he was “hit” on his face “eight to ten times” by Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Shivaji Pawar on November 4 during interrogation.

Asmita Basu, programmes director at Amnesty India, said Ferreira’s submission is alarming and this raises serious questions about the government’s treatment of human rights defenders.

“The authorities must conduct a prompt, thorough and impartial investigation into his allegations.”

Amnesty India claimed Ferreira’s lawyer Sidharth Patil spoke to them.

The Amnesty statement said Patil told them that Ferreira was admitted to a local hospital soon after the incident and his injuries were recorded in the medical report. “The report has been submitted to the court. Arun is recovering and his family met him in jail yesterday.”

Amnesty India said in a series of brutal crackdowns on human rights defenders, Maharashtra police on June 6 arrested activists Surendra Gadling, Rona Wilson, Sudhir Dhawale, Shoma Sen, and Mahesh Raut.

On August 28, Maharashtra police arrested activists Sudha Bharadwaj, Gautam Navlakha, Vernon Gonsalves, Ferreira, and Varavara Rao from across the country and raided the homes of several others.

Authorities have alleged that the 10 human rights defenders and activists had incited Dalits at a public rally on December 31, 2017, leading to violent clashes the next day in which one person died and several were injured.

Hundreds of Dalits had gathered in Bhima Koregaon village in Maharashtra on January 1 to commemorate a 200-year-old battle in which Dalit soldiers of the British army defeated the ruling Peshwas.

“Reports of Arun Ferreira being beaten in custody are a reminder of how India is fast becoming a dangerous place for those demanding accountability from the state. Amnesty India believes that arrests in relation to the Bhima Koregaon incident, are politically motivated and are aimed at chilling peaceful dissent.

“The Indian government seems to have failed in its obligation to protect human rights defenders, and the freedom of expression and assembly,” said Basu.

The body said ill-treatment and torture in police custody are widespread in India, but are rarely punished.

While torture is not recognised as a distinct crime under the Indian law, the Supreme Court has ruled that torture and other ill-treatment violates constitutionally guaranteed rights to life and personal liberty, it added

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India -The force of a dissenting verdict

The writer is a women’s rights lawyer

In his dissenting verdict, Justice Chandrachud disagreed with the views of then Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justice A.M. Khanwilkar.

Poet-Social activist Varavara Rao

 Poet-Social activist Varavara Rao

There have been times in history when dissenting verdicts have not only pointed to the failure of a majority ruling to protect the fundamental rights of citizens but over time, the principles upheld by minority rulings have moved on to become the law of the land. The much-acclaimed minority view upholding the citizen’s right to life and liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution even in an Emergency in the ADM Jabalpur case by Justice H.R. Khanna immediately comes to mind.

The dissenting verdict of Justice D.Y. Chandrachud in the PIL by Romila Thapar and four other eminent citizens against the arbitrary arrest of five left-leaning activists — Varavara Rao, the 77-year-old poet from Hyderabad, advocate Sudha Bharadwaj, who works for the rights of adivasis, advocate Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves, activists from Mumbai and Thane, and journalist and former member of the editorial team of acclaimed journal Economic and Political Weekly Gautam Navlakha — in the Bhima-Koregaon incident does precisely this. It outweighs the majority judgment in legal and factual reasoning.

Eminent jurist and constitutional law expert Soli J. Sorabjee, in a recent article, expressed the hope that this brilliantly-articulated dissenting verdict may, at some future date, become the majority view of the Supreme Court. He explains that a judge on a bench does not usually dissent from the views of his/her companion judges. However, when a judge believes that the court’s judgment would not be in the public interest or results in subverting the Constitution or results in gross violation of the fundamental rights of a group of people, he or she is constrained to write a dissenting judgment.

When the issue concerning the personal liberty of the arrested persons came up before the Supreme Court, the majority did not accept the plea that the arrest of the five activists was unjustified and directed them to approach the subordinate courts for appropriate relief, and ordered the continuation of their house arrest for a further period of four weeks.

The PIL was not seeking to establish the innocence of the arrested activists. It was merely seeking an independent inquiry by a court-appointed special investigation team. Therefore, the issue before the court was whether the investigation carried out by the Maharashtra police was fair, unbiased and unmotivated. In this context, the majority verdict overlooked the lapses which were sufficient to indicate that the investigations were not being carried out in an impartial manner.

In his dissenting verdict, Justice Chandrachud disagreed with the views of then Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justice A.M. Khanwilkar. The dissent endorses judicial interference on the core issue of liberty as the constitutional duty of the court to ensure justice is not compromised.

“Dissent is a symbol of a vibrant democracy (where) voices in opposition cannot be muzzled by persecuting those who take up unpopular causes,” Justice Chandrachud held, and listed several circumstances which cast a cloud on the ability of the Maharashtra police to carry out a fair and impartial investigation.

Of particular relevance is the press conference held by Pune’s joint commissioner of police hours after the Supreme Court admitted the PIL on August 29 and stayed the transit of arrested activists from their homes to Pune, saying the police had sufficient evidence. On August 31, the additional director-general of the Maharashtra police held a press briefing, where several letters were selectively flashed to the media to suggest that the arrested activists were involved in a plot to assassinate the Prime Minister. A few months before her arrest, a letter attributed to advocate Sudha Bharadwaj was flashed on a television channel on July 4 to create the impression that she had links with Maoist organisations.

These letters were not produced before any court of law and were not mentioned in the remand applications filed before the magistrates. These incriminating letters did not form part of the case diary in the investigation against the activists. Additional solicitor-general Tushar Mehta had himself submitted before the Supreme Court that there was no basis to link the five arrested activists to the alleged plot to assassinate the Prime Minister. But though there was no allegation on record that the activists were involved in a plot to assassinate the Prime Minister, the police made an attempt to create a public impression to that effect through its media briefings.

Based on these circumstances, Justice Chandrachud held that there was an attempt by the police to tarnish the reputation of the arrested activists by selectively leaking information to the media. The police revelations fuelled the narrative that the arrested activists were “urban Naxals”.

Justice Chandrachud also noted that the investigation, which started as an inquiry into the Bhima-Koregaon violence on January 1, 2018, got deflected with allegations of a plot to assassinate the Prime Minister. He also dealt with procedural lapses over the arrests and glaring discrepancies in the investigation. It was undisputed that none of the five were present at the Elgaar Parishad in Pune on December 30, 2017 which the police claimed had incited the violence on January 1, 2018.

A cumulative effect of these circumstances, especially the selective media revelations by the police to besmirch the reputation of arrested activists by linking them to an assassination plot that had no mention in the case diary, led Justice Chandrachud to hold that “this is a proper case for the appointment of a special investigation team”.

What is surprising is that the majority opinion written by Justice Khanwilkar makes no reference to the circumstances listed by Justice Chandrachud. It makes a curt statement that “no specific material facts and particulars are found in the petition about mala fide exercise of power by the investigating officer”. There is no reference to the press conferences held by the Maharashtra police to create the impression that the activists were “urban Naxals”. However, the activists hailed the verdict as it opened up the avenue to approach the high courts for bail. Justice S. Muralidhar of the Delhi high court, based on the shoddy arrest procedure adopted, has already granted bail to Gautam Navlakha, one of the activists placed under house arrest in New Delhi. It is here that the minority verdict which discussed the issue threadbare will come to the aid of the arrested activists.

The day after the Supreme Court verdict, addressing a press conference, eminent historian Romila Thapar asked the government to define the phrase “urban Naxal”, saying either the government does not understand the meaning of the term or activists like her do not. “We were all born Indians, lived as Indians all our lives. These activists are fighting against social injustice. Terming them ‘urban Naxal’ is a political move,” she said.

Asian Age

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Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves file bail pleas in Pune court

Arun FerreiraArun Ferreira
PUNE: Activist-lawyers Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves, who were among the five persons arrested by the Pune police on August 28 in the Elgar Parishad probe, filed separate bail applications in the Pune sessions court on Friday.

Siddharth Patil, counsel for Ferreira, and Rahul Deshmukh, who is representing Gonsalves, told TOI the bail pleas were filed in the court of additional sessions judge K D Vadane.

Patil said, “We have made out a case of bail for Ferreira primarily on the grounds that he has been under house arrest for more than a month now and the police have found nothing incriminating from the material recovered from him. Our plea also states that his arrest was a ploy to keep him away from legally representing some of the already arrested activists.” Ferreira has also argued that he has been acquitted in all the previous cases regsitered against him and that he deserves to be granted bail relief in the instant case.

On his part, Deshmukh said, “The plea by Gonsalves has questioned the legality of his arrest. We have argued that a combined reading of the September 28 judgment by a three-member bench of the Supreme Court, which extended the house arrest of all activists by four weeks to enable them to exercise other remedies available under the law, makes out a case against their custodial interrogation by the police.”

Activist-poet P Varavara Rao’s bail plea is expected to be filed on Saturday by a team of lawyers from Hyderabad while activist Sudha Bharadwaj’s bail plea is likely to be heard on October 10. Lawyer Hafeez Kazi told TOI, “The state government has already moved a special leave petition in the Supreme Court against the Delhi high court’s October 1 order that ended the house arrest of Gautam Navlakha (the fifth activist). We will have to wait and see what view the apex court takes on the SLP.”

All five activists were arrested for alleged links with the banned outfit CPI (Maoist), which, the police claims, was behind the organisation of the Elgar Parishad. Alleged inflammatory speeches and provocative statements at the Parishad contributed to the January 1 violence at Koregaon Bhima, the police claim, and that Elgar Parishadwas part of a larger Maoist conspiracy to create social unrest and overthrow a democratically elected government.

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India’s Unforgivable Laws

Several unconstitutional laws in India repress its citizens. A reading list from the EPW Archives.

As the second branch of government, the purpose of the legislature is to make laws that uphold the fundamental rights of all citizens. However, when met with extraordinary circumstances, the Indian legislature has made laws that have not only neglected fundamental rights, but also contradicted them. Often the use of these draconian laws has continued well after the circumstances in which they were created have passed. But they have endowed the state with excess powers to violate constitutionally guaranteed rights at both the individual and community level.

There is a need to conceptualise these laws in terms of what they purportedly combat, and what they actually combat. Usually, these unconstitutional laws are designed with a protectionist rhetoric against a threat (which could be real or imagined). But what they actually protect is the ruling dispensation’s ability to bypass human rights.

The most recent example of this is the use of the National Safety Act (NSA) to arbitrarily arrest 160 Muslim men in Uttar Pradesh, in the one year that Yogi Adityanath has been its chief minister. In August, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) was used to arrest five human rights activists, by accusing them of being “Naxals” operating against the state.

Through EPW’s archives, we look at how India’s draconian laws are sometimes mobilised to serve partisan interests.

1) ‘National Security’ Laws to Suspend Fundamental Rights

In 2000, the NSA was used in Uttarakhand to target two civil rights activists Jasodhara and Abhijit Dasgupta, who ran the NGO, Sahayog. They had published a booklet, AIDS aur Hum, promoting sexual health that scandalised the local community. From Harsh Sethi’s article, which documents this incident, it is apparent that here, the use of the NSA was not politically motivated. It was used because the booklet was seen as explicit and perceived as a moral offence to society. The NSA simply served as an excuse to humiliate the activists and hold them to account in the name of public decency.

Even a cursory examination of the actual sequence of events, makes clear that despite the widespread dismay, even anger, at the ‘foolishness’ of the concerned NGO, what is today being termed ‘public protest’ has been carefully organised and orchestrated. For nearly a month before the offices of Sahayog were ransacked, both staff and trainees at their field office roughed up, and leading activists arrested, the local media in the region had been carrying on a campaign against the group, targeting in particular the booklet.

Perhaps more sinisterly, NSA has been deployed against those who have protested against gross human rights violations committed by the military and the government. In 1992, Niloy Dutta, Parag Kumar Das and Ajit Bhuiyan were arrested in Guwahati under unspecified sections of the NSA. It was alleged that they were disrupting the process of peace-building in Assam and were involved in “anti-national” activities that threatened the sovereignty of the country. They were released eight weeks later after the arrests were met with much protest. They were the founding members of Manab Adhikar Sangram Samity (MASS), which had been compiling evidence of military atrocities in the state for the past year.

MASS had accumulated incontrovertible evidence of army atrocities and flagrant violations of human rights by the armed forces during operation Rhino. It had sent three groups fully equipped with audio and video gadgets to three zones of the slate to compile cases of army atrocities. Braving severe restraints imposed by the army and civil authorities, these groups had succeeded in recording cases of arrest, torture, molestation, rape, killing and so on. With painstaking effort they compiled a comprehensive 65-page report enlisting the cases of army atrocities, which included 13 cases of death in army camps, seven cases of rape, as many as 120 cases of brutal torture, 139 cases of illegal detention and 63 cases of indiscriminate army raids in villages, unlawful public beatings and torture, all with specific dates, places and blow-by-blow accounts of the incidents, fully substantiated by physical evidence. They also recorded the most brutal incidents on films. Most damaging of all was a video cassette which had recorded the atrocities on women much of which cannot be written and shown in public.

2) Detaining Kashmiris in the Name of ‘Public Safety’

The Public Safety Act (PSA) is another act that has been used indiscriminately in Kashmir to facilitate preventive detentions of “suspected militants”, especially since Burhan Wani’s death in 2016. The PSA has been called a “lawless law” because of the arbitrary nature in which it is used. In his article published in May 2018, Gaurav Bhawnani pointed out that in the 130 days following Wani’s death, over 500 PSA detention orders were issued to clamp down on the turmoil in Kashmir. Bhawani argues that the arbitrariness of the act is best illustrated by human rights activist Khurram Parvez’s arrest.

The scope for arbitrary detentions under the PSA is tremendous. On an average, each person has been identified as having committed offences under three first information reports (FIRs). However, most of these FIRs are “open FIRs.” The police merely record that a certain incident has occurred, and even if some names are recorded, the FIR also states “and others.” Therefore, any person can be arrested under these FIRs as having been involved in the protests. The scope for misuse is best highlighted by Khurram Parvez’s case. The police dossier listed four FIRs as the grounds for his arrest. However, he was not named in a single one of these FIRs. He was just one of those “others” to have been arrested as a consequence. Another case that highlights the scope of misuse is that of Abdul Rasheed Bhat. As per the records of his government job, he was present at work at the time of the offence, but was named under all three open FIRs listed in his PSA dossier.

3) ‘Anti-Terrorism’ Laws to Repress Dissent

After the November 26, 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 was amended to become India’s main anti-terrorist law — merely four years after the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) was repealed. However, some of the provisions introduced in the UAPA’s amended version were almost replicated from POTA, and broadened even further,  wrote Ravi Nair. The provisions for arrest under the amended UAPA were as vague as they were in POTA. Nair wrote that the key problem with the UAPA is that it fails to understand the multidimensional nature of terrorism, and what makes acts of terrorism distinct from other forms of crime.

The 2008 UAPA Amendment extends the maximum period of pre-charge detention to 180 days, if after 90 days the public prosecutor can show that the investigation has progressed but more time is needed. This standard is inadequate. A judge considering the extension of pre-charge detention should consider whether there is adequate evidence against the accused, justifying his/her continuing detention, not merely whether the investigation is progressing.

The UAPA has been misused rampantly, and several controversial arrests have been made under it. For instance, the arrest of Delhi University professor G N Saibaba, and his comrades, on the allegation of being Naxals. Susan Abhraham’s 2017 article details the case against Saibaba and his consequent imprisonment based on flimsy evidence. She also points out various procedural lapses.

The major charge of the prosecution is that the accused in this case were waging war against the country and supporting the ideology of a banned organisation, CPI (Maoist). Anybody can easily understand that to “wage a war” somebody needs weapons and none of the six accused were shown as possessing any weapon on them when arrested, nor did the police find any in searching their houses. Supporting an ideology, even if the same ideology is adhered to by a banned organisation, cannot be a crime. Such a verdict would not have been possible without the extreme provisions found in the draconian anti-terror UAPA.

In June 2018, in an article titled Urban Maoist, Anand Teltumbde wrote that the “draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) gives the police unaccountable authority to arrest, slap any number of charges, and ensure that the arrested rot in jail as the law meanders through the courts”. He was writing in defence of Sudhir Dhawale, Surendra Gadling, Shoma Sen, Mahesh Raut and Rona Wilson – all Dalit activists –  who were arrested under the UAPA, allegedly for being associated with the “Elgar Parishad”. The state insinuated that they were Maoists or Naxals who engaged in inflammatory speech that eventually precipitated the violence at Bhima-Koregaon. Incidentally, in August, Teltumbde himself faced arrest under the UAPA, ostensibly for being an “urban naxal”.

While the search warrant clearly mentioned “Bhima–Koregaon,” the chief minister stated that they did not have anything to do with Bhima–Koregaon. On 6 June, the police arrested four of them and Mahesh Raut, a noted social activist and member of the Prime Minister’s Rural Development (PMRD) fellowship who after passing out from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) has devoted his life to the tribals of Gadchiroli. The police made out a story that the Elgar Parishad was organised and funded by the Maoists, which was duly publicised by the media ignoring the repeated explanation of Kolse Patil that he along with Justice Sawant was its convener, that they did not spend any money, and that none of the arrestees had much to do with it.

4) Terrorism Laws to Target Minorities and Marginalised Groups

In 2003, activist Gautam Navlakha wrote, “A law is bad in itself when it overturns all notions of natural justice on its head and allows the executive to apply the law at its subjective discretion.” Navlakha was discussing the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), which in February 2003 was used to arrest 28 Dalit and Adivasi agricultural workers in Uttar Pradesh, who were allegedly Naxalites. Some of those arrested were later shot in an encounter killing. Navlakha outlined how the “preventive” nature of POTA allows the law to be misused.

Like its predecessor TADA the promulgation of POTA falls in that category of law where persecution is embedded in it. Let us recall that TADA’s pathetic conviction rate of 1 per cent obscured its wide use as a preventive detention measure where more than 76,000 persons were detained for years on end destroying lives, and ruining their kith and kin…POTA has established itself as a piece of legislation that is meant to terrorise precisely those sections of the population which are vulnerable and are victims of gross injustices and therefore the maximum numbers of those charged under POTA are landless or land-poor dalits and adivasis accused of being Naxalites, Kashmiris fighting against oppressive Indian rule or Muslims accused of working in tandem with Pakistan’s ISI.

Writing in 2004, Ujjwal Kumar Singh argued that “like all extraordinary laws, it [POTA] bypasses due process, so that abuse/ misuse is woven into its provisions”. But he also identified a larger trend which suggests that POTA has been used surreptitiously to restructure centre–state relations away from federalism.

POTA epitomised an executivisation of law, giving the executive extraordinary powers of initiating procedures and investigations under the act. Subsequent developments have shown a further deepening of this executivisation through (a) the judicial affirmation of the procedures laid down in POTA, and (b) further augmentation of the process by authorising a review process as a quasi-executive and quasi-judicial function.

POTA was preceded by the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1985 or TADA. When it was repealed a decade later, a report in EPW said, “The abuse of TADA is built into the law itself. By replacing normal law and procedure it eats into the foundations of democracy.” According to the report, by mid-1994, 76,166 people had been arrested under TADA but less than 4% were actually found guilty.

Today it is widely accepted that TADA has been thoroughly misused. Large numbers of innocents have been arrested. Protests against the Act have also grown. In this situation every political party has suggested some change in the Act to curb large-scale arrests. However, it is not so widely accepted that the provisions of TADA are themselves responsible for such a state of affairs.

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Pune Court slams Yerwada jail for witholding books

Court slams Yerwada jail for witholding books

Surendra Gadling
Prison authority showcaused for sharing 2 out of 10 books

The sessions court on Thursday slammed the Yerwada central prison authority for not providing books to Surendra Gadling, the lawyer and activist, who has been lodged in the jail for alleged Maoist link.

The district and sessions judge, KD Vadane, issued a show-cause notice to the prison authority for not following the court’s order.

Gadling and Shoma Sen, who was arrested on June 6, also for alleged Maoists links, filed for bail before the court.

Their bail application were heard on Thursday.
During the hearing, Gadling’s lawyer Nihalsing Rathod filed a complaint against jail authorities alleging that they did not provide books to Gadling. On June 25, the court had passed an order to provide him books.

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Bhima Koregaon case -WSS condemns the majority judgment of the Supreme Court


WSS deeply condemns the majority judgement of the Supreme Court which has dismissed the PIL filed by Romila Thapar, Devaki Jain, Satish Deshpande, Prabhat Patnaik and Maja Daruwalla and has in effect granted the notorious Pune Police impunity to carry on with its fabricated and malafide investigation in the Bhima Koregaon (FIR No. 4/2018) case. The Court in its vague majority judgement has failed to do its duty as a Constitutional Arbitrator and as the vanguard of the fundamental rights under Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India to protect the liberty of the dissenting activists – who have been arrested by the Pune police which unabashedly flouted due process.  

The short sighted majority judgement has held that there is no form of malice in the investigation conducted by the Pune Police and refused to interfere with the current investigation and dismissed the prayer demanding that the investigation be referred to a Special Investigation Team (SIT). It has further held that the arrests were not initiated to curb dissent but to investigate the connection of the aforementioned activists Advocate Sudha Bharadwaj, and activists Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira, Varavara Rao and Gautam Navlakha, to banned organisations.

On the other hand, the exhaustively reasoned dissenting judgement of Justice D.Y. Chandrachud most explicitly states that on inspection of the evidence submitted by the Maharashtra Police, its claim of connecting all the accused persons to a banned organisation is contrary to logic.  He further takes cognizance of the use of electronic media by the Maharashtra for besmirching the reputation of the above activists. The dissenting judgement deemed the press conferences held by the Pune Police and the leakage of such letters which are still under investigation stage, ‘disturbing’ and to be “causing serious concern” and holds that the manner in which the ADG has behaved casts a cloud on the investigation and purports bias on the part of the Pune Police. Furthermore, he also specifically mentions and condemns the vilification campaign run by Republic Channel against Sudha Bharadwaj, who is one of the arrested activists and member of WSS.

He further goes on to say that the police are not adjudicators nor can they announce guilt and very strongly asserted that the Pune Police “is manipulating public media” to create and facilitate a media trial. He further in his judgement takes stock of the lack of credibility in the letters and finally holds that “the conduct of the Pune police fortifies the need to a fair investigation” and that “Dissent is a part of a vibrant democracy”, however unpopular the dissent is Criminal law is amenable to Constitutional mandate and hence the court as the constitutional arbitrator has the duty to exercise its jurisdiction under Article 32 to ensure that liberty is not sacrificed at the altar of conjecture. In the past few weeks we have been witness to several judgements of the Supreme Court such as the Adultery Judgement, the Sabrimala Judgement, and the Sec. 377 Judgement, where civil rights and liberties have been invoked and elaborated upon, loftily reading them as the spirit of the Constitution and the democratic framework. As these civil liberty claims are given a much needed boost and careful articulation by the Supreme Court, matters of political import have met with a cold, rigid, conservative approach.  All these lofty judgements and the principles on which they are based will cease to have meaning if they are not applied by the court in cases where individual liberties and claims are impinged upon by the State.

WSS reiterates its strong condemnation of the targeting of dissent and suppression of all resistance. The attack on democratic rights activists, lawyers, journalists and writers has happened in draconian waves, where those active in defending the arrested are picked up in the next round of arrests. The first round of arrests in this particular Bhima Koregaon case targeted WSS member Professor Shoma Sen, Advocate Surendra Gadling, activists Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson and Mahesh Raut. Advocate Surendra Gadling was the lawyer for Prof. G.N. Saibaba, Mahesh Tirki, Vijay Tirki, Pandu Narote, Hem Mishra and Prashant Rahi, while the others arrested with Advocate Gadling were active in condemning that round of arrests. Prof. Shoma Sen was Head of the English Department at Nagpur University and a dedicated feminist and anti-caste activists and two months away from superannuation at the age of 60 when she was picked up by the police. Mahesh Raut however appears to have been solely targeted for being active against state sponsored displacement in Gadhchiroli and in trying to implement Constitutional provisions safeguarding adivasi rights. It appears that the attack on Sudha Bharadwaj was likewise primarily targeting her work on the ground as a lawyer and trade unionist in implementing Constitutional provisions in safeguarding adivasi land rights and labour rights for the last three decades in Chhattisgarh. As part of Janhit, an organization providing legal aid, she has taken up cases of illegal land acquisition, violations of forest rights, environmental issues, forced evictions, human rights violations, and violations of laws like the Forest Rights Act and Panchayats Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA), etc. Apart from the scores of cases she has fought for workers across the state. Sudha had also spoken out against the previous round of arrests through the long-standing civil liberties organization, PUCL, and the Indian Association of People’s Lawyers. The repeated and concentrated attacks against Advocate Surendra Gadling, and then Advocates Sudha Bharadwaj and Arun Ferreira who were active in protesting the arrest of a lawyer who is just doing his job in defending his clients from marginalized dalit adivasi Muslim and bahujan backgrounds, show a clear pattern of clamping down on dissent even within the framework of the court system, not to mention clamping down on the social activists working outside the court system in civil society. This has a chilling effect on all activists standing with marginalized communities and sends a clear message that marginalized communities have no hope in fighting for the on-ground implementation of their Constitutionally guaranteed rights.

In the meantime, those who actually assaulted the Dalit Bahujan and Muslim communities in Bhima Koregaon roam freely with impunity. This FIR was filed first, in Pune (rural) and names Milind Ekbote and Sambaji Bhide as the instigators of the violence. It is therefore a mystery as to why the Ambedkarites who are upholding constitutional values of Liberty, equality and fraternity and were demanding the arrest of these perpetrators, were arrested instead of the perpetrators, on the basis of a second FIR filed in Pune (urban), which has no connection to any actual violence! This is meant to strike terror amongst the vast majority of people who have been daring to speak out against the anti-people policies of the state.

The entire framework of the UAPA has no place in a modern democratic system and the time has come for the Constitutional courts to hold this draconian law as unconstitutional for violating the rights of countless citizens. It is well known that in UAPA cases, the chances of bail are minimal and the time spent in custody by those charged is effectively used as punishment. It is a fear mongering and vindictive tactic of branding. Whatever happens in the court, the larger political struggle for democratic rights and opposing UAPA, and opposing the corporate assault on adivasi people in the greed for mining these lands will continue and intensify.

We demand the immediate and unconditional release of all arrested in the Bima Koregaon case, the punishment of the real perpetrators of violence and the repeal of draconian laws such as UAPA.


Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS)


Convenors Ajita, Nisha, Rinchin and Shalini; Email ID

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India – Modi and the art of distraction

‘The arrests of Sanatan Sanstha members for committing murder and stockpiling explosives with the alleged intent of committing mass murder must be embarrassing to a majoritarian government,’ notes Devangshu Datta.

The great Jadugar K Lal once told me that stage magic just involved using imagination, followed by careful scripting and practice.

He said the really difficult thing was learning the art of distraction.

Misdirecting the audience’s attention was, he said, a skill that far transcended the performance of smooth sleights of hand and the crafting of clever mechanical illusions.

It is a skill that the current political establishment has learnt well.

Whenever it’s under pressure, it creates some sort of distraction to drag attention away from the embarrassment of the moment.


The dawn raids by the Pune police on activists across the country was undoubtedly an attempt to do just that.

It succeeded since the arrests have dominated the news cycle for the next two days.

The question is, what was so embarrassing that the Centre decided to risk public opprobrium and ridicule by arresting elderly academics and lawyers on absurd charges?

It’s hard to find answers.

Could it have been demonetisation?

A Parliamentary committee had just criticised the exercise in no uncertain terms, pointing out the many undesirable outcomes.

The Reserve Bank of India’s annual report has also underlined the futility of the foolish exercise, which, if you remember, led to the deaths of over 100 people and caused misery to hundreds of millions.

Practically all the cash came back.

Cash held by the public now is back above pre-demonetisation levels.

The structure of household savings has changed for the worse, with the aam jantapulling money out of banks.

Bureaucrats told to defend the move have been reduced to risible statements like ‘Demonetisation worked, don’t ask how.’

Or, perhaps, it’s the meanness displayed in disbursing relief funds to Kerala? The southern state will require many, many thousands of millions to bootstrap out of this calamity.

The Centre is being niggardly in releasing tiny amounts in dribs and drabs.

Enough ‘friends of the establishment’ have pushed out faked images of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh delivering aid to lead the cynical among us to wonder why no real images could be produced.

And the less said about refusing aid from abroad the better.

The excuse is that this is government policy.

Well, surely this brave decisive government could change the policy?

However, it might not be Kerala or demonetisation that required fuzzing out of primetime focus.

The arrests of Sanatan Sanstha members for committing murder and stockpiling explosives with the alleged intent of committing mass murder must be embarrassing to a majoritarian government.

Maybe the civil rights activists were arrested in order to ensure that mass media did not focus on those arrests?

Or is it actually the Rafale controversy that the government doesn’t want debated on primetime?

There are so many weird elements to that story that it would be hard to peddle it as fiction. One government negotiates for 126 planes.

The next government decides to pay much larger sums for 36 planes.

What’s more, an industrialist who has never fabricated a plane in his career and whose companies owe over Rs 450 billion, suddenly becomes a joint venture partner of Dassault Aviation.

The French say they have no objection to the costs being mentioned in Parliament.

The Indian government says it can’t mention the numbers because it has a secrecy clause in a treaty with France!

Maybe it’s not the Rafale controversy either.

It could just be the record prices of diesel and petrol and the record weakness of the rupee.

After all, the current prime minister spent a lot of time excoriating the last government for the weak rupee and the high price of fuels.

Or, it could be the release of the Sudipto Mundle-led committee report on real sector statistics that suggested the last government did a better job in terms of generating growth.

Or, it might be Doklam, where the People’s Liberation Army has apparently been settling down.

Or, it may be the failure of helicopter diplomacy in the Maldives.

That’s a lot of potentially embarrassing stuff that could have made it to the news cycle.

Instead, we had the spectacle of 70-year-old academics being interrogated on why they read books on Marx and Mao.

Well played!

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Bhima Koregaon: Read the FIR that triggered the arrest of activists & lawyers


On Friday, the Supreme Court reserved its verdict in the case challenging the arrest of activists and lawyers in connection with the Bhima Koregaon violence.

The matter was heard by a Bench of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and Justices AM Khanwilkarand DY Chandrachud.

The arrests came based on a complaint by one Tushar Damgude, which led to an FIR on January 1 this year. As per his complaint, Damgude, who is 37 years old, is a post-graduate in History but has been engaged in the construction business for the past 4 years.

Tushar Damgude with Sambhaji Bhide (Image: Facebook)

The FIR which sets out the complaint by Damgude is replete with tirades against the Kabir Kala Manch and Dalit activism.

It states that Damgude learnt from Facebook about an event of Elgar Parishad to be organized on December 31, 2017, at Shanivar Wada, Pune.

On this date, he went to the ground in front of Shanivar Wada, Pune for the Elgar Parishad Program at about 2 pm in the afternoon.

The complaint then speaks about the persons who were present for the program.

“Sagar Gorkhe, person who gave background of the program Sudhir Dhavale, artists who sung and performed dramas Jyoti Jagtap, Ramesh Gaichor, and others, and at the same time as speakers, Jignesh Mewani, Umar Khalid, Vinay Ratan Singh Prashant Dontha etc were there.”

The complaint proceeds to state about Kabir Kala Manch and how Damgude came to know about its members from social media.

“I have read the information about Kabir Kala Manch and its members in social media and newspapers. That’s why I know the members of Kabir Kala Manch.”

He gives details about the slogans and speeches which were made at the program.

“…Bhima Koregaon has given a lesson, bury this neo peshwayi in cemetery, break it to the size of mustard, bury peshwayi, this is a war cry of Sidnak. The Peshwayi has arrived in new form, she needs to be knocked off, o soldier, she needs to be knocked off… like slogans were shouted from time to time, thereby making an inflammatory statement inciting enmity within society.

The Peshwayi has arrived in new form, she needs to be knocked off, o soldier, she needs to be knocked off… sung this song again, also presented dance and street play on the same, thus made a inciteful presentation which would incite communal hatred in the society.”

Many speakers delivered inflammatory speeches, and objectionable and inflammatory books were also kept for sale at the place of the said program, Damkude alleges.

Facebook Post of Tushar Damgude where he highlights excerpts from the Books sold CPI (Maoist)

The complaint then makes allegations about how the CPI (Maoist), a banned organisation, misguides Dalits and propagates radical Maoist ideas of violence. He also alleges that Sudhir Dhavale, Harshali Potdar and other activists of Kabir Kala Manch have undergone inquiry on allegations of connection with Naxals.

“I say that, the policy of banned organization namely Communist Party of Iindia (maoist) is to misguide dalits community, and propogate radical Maoist ideas which is of violence and not that of constitutional means. As a part of this policy, Sudhir Dhawale of Kabir Kala Manch and their other activists, in the similar manner, at different places in Maharashtra State, inflammatory and communal hatred inciting speeches, misguiding history, again inflammatory speeches and streetplays were performed.”

As a result of this, stone pelting, violence, and arson erupted in Bhima Koregaon and abutting areas, Damgude concludes.

And thereafter in Maharashtra, human loss and economic loss and communal hatred developed…..Hence my complaint is against (1) Sudhir Dhawale, anchor of the program (2)Sagar Gorkhe and his other artists, (3) Harshali”

Read the translated copy of the FIR below:

Bhima Koregaon: Read the FIR that triggered the arrest of activists & lawyers

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