Arrested and placed under house arrest in August, 2018 by Maharashtra Police for his alleged involvement in the Bhima Koregaon violence near Pune on January 1 that year, the Supreme Court this week finally declined his petition for bail and ordered him to surrender within 30 days.
In September, 2018 Justice S. Muralidhar of the Delhi High Court had ended his house arrest after noting that the FIR did not name him and that there was insufficient ground to allow continuation of the house arrest. Navlakha, who has been active in civil liberties movement, was associated with People’s Union for Civil Libvrties (PUCL) since the seventies and has been instrumental in preparing several citizens’ reports indicting successive governments for human rights violations.
The same year, political commentator Sumanta Banerjee writing in The Indian Express said, “ I have known Gautam Navlakha for more than three decades now. If he can be accused of anything, it is his adherence to transparency, and abhorrence of secrecy. As a member of the PUDR (People’s Union of Democratic Rights) and different fact-finding missions, I accompanied Gautam in many investigations and observed how meticulous he was in collecting evidence and objective in presenting his findings.”
Banerjee also noted, “ …he went on a field trip as a journalist to the Maoist base of Dandakaranya, and came out with the excellently documented book, Days and Nights In the Heartland of Rebellion. While courageous enough to express political sympathy for the Maoists, he is unsparing in his criticism of their mistakes and crimes. It is pertinent to quote from the book: “An act like the beheading of the trade union leader Thomas Munda of Kulta Iron Works in Sundergarh district for defying a bandh call by Maoists, can hardly endear them to those people who are not with them, yet need to be won over… heinous crimes committed by squad members besmirch the entire resistance, belittle the selfless labour of thousands of ordinary Maoist cadres, and silence those who look to Maoists to set higher ethical standards.”
Several activists and lawyers, described as ‘ urban naxals’ by Pune Police, were arrested on the charge of being complicit in a Maoist plot to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The trial has made little headway during the last two years. Now Navlakha and Teltumbde, who had secured interim bail from arrest, have run out of options and will surrender in the next few days.
Hours after the Supreme Court order, Navlakha released the following statement :
I thank Justices Arun Mishra and MR Shah of the Supreme Court for giving me three weeks to surrender before the NIA. I am grateful to senior advocates Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Kapil Sibal for defending us. I cannot thank enough my dearest friends lawyers for investing their precious time to represent me.
Now that I have to surrender within three weeks I ask myself - dare I hope to be freed from the burden of being accused in what appears to me, to be yet another conspiracy trial, one more in the long list of such trials? Will the co-accused and others like them get their freedom back? These questions creep in because of the times we live in where civil liberties are getting progressively squeezed, and where only one narrative dominates, backed by crassness in public life.
The dreadful act - the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act - allows for banning of an organisation and outlaws its ideology. As a result, the most innocuous and legitimate of engagement and interaction can become criminal in the eyes of the state. It is a law that makes the very process an instrument of punishment, without even waiting for the trial and its outcome.
So I am aware that I am joining the ranks of thousands of others who are made to suffer for their convictions.
To draw an analogy from test cricket, which to me is the best form of cricket, where endurance, patience, fair play, grit and redemption grace the game. It is these same virtues that I demand from myself in this ‘test match’ of my life. There is nothing more pressing than for me to clear my name.
To my friends, colleagues and family - I cannot thank you enough for standing by me through this period. I remain in your debt.
Do please listen to Leonard Cohen sing the ‘Anthem’ and remember to:
Ring the Bell,
Which still can ring
Forget your perfect
There is a crack,
A crack in everything
That’s how light gets in.
16th March, 2020