NEW DELHI— Investigative agencies have raided the homes of prominent human rights activists, lawyers and public intellectuals as part of an ever-widening probe into the violence visited upon a massive Dalit protest in Bhima-Koregaon, Maharashtra, in January this year.
Thus far, the police have raided the homes of prominent human rights lawyer and national secretary of the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) Sudha Bharadwaj, Dalit intellectual and writer Anand Teltumbde, revolutionary poet Varavara Rao and lawyer and author Arun Ferreira, and former secretary of People's Union for Democratic Rights Gautam Navlakha, HuffPost India has learnt. Reports say activist Susan Abraham is also among those targeted. Bharadwaj is currently in police custody, Navlakha is being detained by police in his home in Delhi, and the precise legal status of everyone else is still being ascertained.
A senior Pune police official said, "A search operation is going on. They are members of the urban frontal organisations of the Maoists." When asked if the raids could go on for longer than a day and whether arrests are likely, the official said, ''Both of these are possibilities." Transit remands of all activists are likely to be sought by the police later in the day.
The official refused to share details of any corroborative evidence which could show the arrested activists to be members of any frontal organisations of the Maoists. As per the official, the activists are being charged under Sections 18, 13, 16, 38, 39 and 40 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and under Sections 153, 117 and 120 (D) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). All of these together add up to either committing or helping commit a criminal offence.
Section 120 (D) of the IPC, however, relates to "punishment for attempt" to commit an offence. It is thus unclear how the human rights activists with known public profiles and records could be charged under these sections. More details were awaited at the time of filing the report as police 'search operations' were still in progress.
From among those arrested, Dalit writer and Public intellectual Anand Teltumbde has publicly stated his participation in the membership of the Elgar Parishad and rubbished accusations about the event provoking violence.
In June, the police arrested Nagpur-based lawyer Surendra Gadling, Dalit activist and publisher Sudhir Dhawale, literature professor Shoma Sen, and activists Mahesh Raut and Rona Wilson as part of a broad country-wide swoop into what police claimed was a wide-ranging conspiracy.
At the time, Bharadwaj, Abraham, Teltumbde and Ferreira had spoken out against the arrests in interviews with HuffPost India.
In a surreal turn, the police at the time claimed to have discovered letters pointing to a plot to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The letters were distributed to the press, but were not submitted in court.
"This is a witch-hunt that we have been anticipating for some time," said V. Suresh, national general secretary of PUCL, and a well-known lawyer in Chennai. "While political parties have stayed silent, only human rights groups, women's groups and environmental groups have challenged the oppressive and fascist rule of the ruling party in the central and some state governments."