NEWS
28/08/2019 6:52 PM IST

'Why Did You Have 'War And Peace' At Home?': Bombay HC's Bizarre Question To Arrested Activist

The court asked Vernon Gonsalves, one of the activists arrested in connection with Elgar Parishad-Bhima Koregaon case, to explain why he possessed the book about a 'war in another country'.

Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Activist Vernon Gonsalves taken to Farazkhana Police Station on August 29, 2018.

MUMBAI — The Bombay High Court hearing a bail plea of Elgar Parishad-Bhima Koregaon case accused Vernon Gonsalves on Wednesday questioned his motive behind keeping copies of some books and CDs whose titles prima facie indicated they contained material against the State.

The books and CDs the high court referred to included copies of Marxist Archives, a CD titled ‘Rajya Daman Virodhi’ released by Kabir Kala Manch, and Leo Tolstoy’s literary classic War and Peace among others.

“The title of the CD ‘Rajya Daman Virodhi’ itself suggests it has something against the State while War and Peace is about a war in another country. Why were you (Gonsalves) having these books and CDs at home? You will have to explain this to the court,” said a single-judge bench of Justice Sarang Kotwal.

The judge made these observations while hearing the bail plea of Gonsalves, an academic, and other accused persons. 

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Gonsalves was arrested by the Pune police under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act after raids at residences and offices of several activists in connection with the Elgar Parishad case.

The police had claimed provocative speeches made at the Parishad on December 31, 2017 were responsible for the caste violence around Bhima-Koregaon village in Pune district the next day during an event to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon. One person was killed and others were injured in the violence.

Police are probing the alleged naxal links in organising the Parishad, which was held at historic Shaniwarwada in Pune.

Other arrested accused in the case include activists and academics Shoma Sen, Rona Wilson, Sudha Bharadwaj, Arun Ferreira, and Gautam Navlakha.

Gonsalves’ counsel Mihir Desai told the high court that the Pune police had based the entire case against him on the basis of some e-mails and letters recovered from the computers of other people.

“None of these letters or emails were written by Gonsalves, or were addressed to him. Therefore, in the absence of any cogent incriminating evidence against him, Gonsalves shouldn’t be denied bail,” Desai argued.

Opposing the bail application, advocate Aruna Pai, who is representing Pune Police, said the investigators are yet to find anything incriminating against Gonsalves in the computer and the hard disk recovered from his house a year ago.

She said a search conducted at Gonsalves’ house had yielded “incriminating evidence” in the form of “books and CDs with objectionable titles including the books and CDs mentioned above”.

Desai countered the prosecution argument saying “mere possession” of such books and CDs “did not make Gonsalves a terrorist, or a member of any banned Maoist group”.

Agreeing with defence that mere possession of such material does not make anyone a terrorist, Justice Kotwal, however, said Gonsalves will have to explain why he kept such material at his home.

The judge also said the Pune police too have to do “much explaining” to convince the court that the material found on such CDs and in the books is incriminatory against Gonsalves.

“So far, the police have failed to provide details of what was on the CDs or in the books and pamphlets recovered that linked Gonsalves to the case. Merely stating that they have objectionable titles is not enough. Have you tested these CDs? What if they turn out to be blank inside?” the judge asked.

“If you (prosecution) do not place on record the content and details of such material, the court will have to ignore them,” said Justice Kotwal.

The bench also directed police to provide details of the source of the e-mails and letters, and their authors and recipients.

The arguments are likely to continue on Thursday.