More than 4000 public intellectuals, civil rights activists and organisations, including Noam Chomsky, Prakash Ambedkar, Gayatri Spivak, Ramchandra Guha, and Arundhati Roy, as well as retired judges Kolse Patil and PB Sawant, have signed a petition to Chief Justice of India SA Bobde and the Supreme Court, asking them to reconsider the order for Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha to surrender to the police by 6 April.

Teltumbde and Navlakha are among those academics, activists, and lawyers who have been accused of involvement in the Bhima Koregaon violence, and being Maoists.

Others who have been accused and arrested for this under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) include Sudha Bhardwaj, Vernon Gonsalves, Sudhir Dhawale, Barbara Rao and Surendra Gadling.

The petition argues that both Teltumbde and Navlakha, “two of India’s foremost civil rights activists and public intellectuals today”, are senior citizens with pre-existing health conditions, making them highly vulnerable to the coronavirus if lodged in jail.

Recently, the Supreme Court had rejected their request for anticipatory bail, directing them to surrender to the NIA. This investigative agency took over the investigation of the case after the Thackeray-led Maharashtra government decided to review the allegations by 6 April.

The petition asks the CJI and the SC to take cognisance of the risk the pandemic poses to Teltumbde and Navlakha, and urges them to reconsider the refusal to grant them bail. Alternatively, the signatories “urge the judicial authorities to amend their arrest order to after the global health crisis is fully subsided and there is no danger to their health and life.”

The petitioners go on to condemn the arrests in the Bhima Koregaon case as an attack on those who have fought for democracy and for the rights of the most marginalised communities. All eleven accused have been involved in helping Dalits, Adivasis and other underprivileged groups.

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