The clampdown on political dissent since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office in 2014 has received global attention with an association of social justice activists and scholars called ‘Fresh Perspectives, USA’ condemning the “illegal arrests” of human rights activists in India.
In a statement signed by Noam Chomsky, James Petras and Angela Davis among others, the group says that in recent months, the Maharashtra
police has arrested several prominent human rights activists including Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Sudha Bharadwaj, Gautam Navlakha and others in the Bhima Koregaon case.
“All these social activists have a long history of challenging state violence and human rights abuses through democratic and constitutional means,” said the statement.
It added that in Modi’s India, attacks on Dalits, adivasis, rationalists, Muslims and other religious minorities have continued and intensified.
In a strong condemnation of the Modi government, the statement further said that as part of its long-term political agenda to establish Hindu nation, the government “has been using its authority to silence any voice that challenges its domination and repression.”
Referring to the Bhima-Koregaon case, the statement said that “by concocting a series of conspiracy stories, both the Indian state and the Maharashtra government worked together to put civil rights activists behind the bars under draconian colonial sedition law.”
The Elgar Parishad-Bhima Koregaon case was registered by the Pune Police following an incident of violence near Pune between 31 December 2017 and 1 January 2018.
Police claim that the Elgar Parishad event was funded and supported by Maoists and that some activists made inflammatory speeches and provocative statements that contributed to the Bhima Koregaon violence.
The statement also said that the government is creating fear and apprehension among the people who challenge its neoliberal economic policies and ultra-nationalist agenda by using oppressive methods.
Over 90 organisations and intellectuals, including Chomsky and Christophe Jaffrelot, had also recently written to United Nations secretary general Antonio Guterres asking him to intervene and withdraw the ‘fabricated charges’ against Dalit scholar Anand Teltumbde, reported The Wire.
Teltumbde is facing arrest by the Pune Police in the Elgar Parishad-Bhima Koregaon case. The Bombay High Court had on Monday extended his interim protection from arrest till 22 February and directed the Pune Police to release him on a personal bond and surety in case he is arrested before the next hearing.
The Human Rights Watch, in its World Report 2019, had also said that Modi and his government stepped up harassment of dissenters and critics in 2018.
The report also said that authorities increasingly used the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act to target civil rights activists and human rights defenders and mentioned the arrests in the Bhima-Koregaon case.