In the last few months, not a single day goes by when the Central Government has not violated constitutional norms, or not targeted human rights defenders or dissenters. 2nd February, 2019 was no exception. The Pune Police arrested the well-known dalit rights activist and public intellectual, Dr. Anand Teltumbde from the Mumbai Airport at 3.25 am, which was completely illegal and arbitrary, since the Supreme Court had granted him interim protection from arrest till 11th February, 2019. It is important to recall how the whole process started.
On 1st January, 2018, there was massive violence at a gathering of dalit people at Bhima Koregaon in Maharashtra, wherein the Hindutva groups committed large scale violence and arson, resulting in one person’s death and injuring several others. A FIR was filed naming two Hindutva activists, Sambhaji Bhide, and Milind Ekbote, for inciting the crowd and instigating violence. Few days later, another FIR was filed naming the organisers of the Bhima Koregaon gathering, and slowly, it became evident that the Pune Police was using the Bhima Koregaon FIR to target human rights and dalit rights activists all over India.
On 28th June, 2018, the Pune Police arrested five activists and lawyers, Sudhir Dhavale, Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, Shoma Sen and Mahesh Raut, on completely fabricated charges of maoist activity and for inciting the Bhima Koregaon clashes. On 28th August, 2018, the Pune Police again carried out another nationwide arrests on totally filmsy grounds, and tried to arrest Sudha Bharadwaj, Gautam Navlakha, Vernon Gonzalves, Arun Fereira, and Varavara Rao, through a transit warrant. Other activists, including Dr. Anand Teltumbde, were also sought to be questioned.
On 29th August, five activists, including Romila Thapar, approached the Supreme Court to seek an independent investigation into the allegations, and the five arrestees were kept in house arrest. The Court finally dismissed the petitions saying that bias was not made out, and investigations ought to continue, but gave the five activists 30 days to approach the competent courts for bail. Meanwhile, on 1st October, 2018, Delhi High Court quashed the transit warrant against Gautam Navlakha on the basis that mandatory procedures were not followed.
Dr Teltumbde is one of the stringent critics of the government, and a renowned public intellectual, whose scholastic works have made a huge contribution to understanding Dr. Ambedkar’s works
Similarly, the Bombay High Court quashed the plea of Pune Police to seek extension on time, in order to file chargesheet in the case of arrest of Surendra Gadling, Soma Sen, and three others on 24th October, 2018, which was then stayed by the Supreme Court in SLP (Crl.) No. 9199 of 2018. Final arguments took place in Bhima Koregaon case recently, and the judgment is awaited.
In October, 2018, the Pune Police added Dr. Anand Teltumbde’s name as a co-accused in the Bhima Koregaon violence, and there was an imminent fear of his arrest. He approached the Bombay High Court seeking quashing of FIR, and grant of interim protection, which was dismissed by the High Court in December, 2018, but interim protection was given to him for three weeks. On 14th January, 2019, the Supreme Court refused to interfere with Bombay High Court’s order, but extended the interim protection till 11th February, 2019.
In complete defiance of the Apex Court’s order, the Pune Police went ahead, and made a completely illegal arrest on the ground that Dr. Teltumbde’s plea for anticipatory bail was rejected by the trial court, and he was liable to be under arrest. When Dr. Teltumbde appeared before the Pune trial court, the Court found his arrest to be absolutely illegal, and in fact, amounted to contempt of the Supreme Court’s order of interim protection.
He was thus set free, and allowed to approach higher courts for bail. [State of Maharashtra v Anand Teltumbde, CR No. 04 of 2018, dated 02.02.2019]
This incident again shows that there is no let up on the systematic targeting of dalit activists and human rights defenders, who have been highly critical of the present political regime, and its unconstitutional measures. Dr. Teltumbde is one of the stringent critics of the government, and a renowned public intellectual, whose scholastic works have made a huge contribution to understanding Dr. Ambedkar’s works.
To selectively target some individuals is actually a sinister message to all activists working with dalit groups, adivasi issues, farmers’ rights, landless labourers to just shut up and not dissent. It also throws light on how the Indian Judiciary is increasingly buying the government’s narrative of human rights defenders involved in alleged maoist activity, and not objecting to the blatant misuse of the draconian law like Unlawful Association Prevention Act, 1967 (‘UAPA’).
Even when the High Courts try to follow the criminal law procedures scruplously, the Supreme Court is just letting these trumped up charges exist, and not quashing them in the guise of ‘independent investigation’, which we all know has become a farce now. It's hoped that Bombay High Court sees through the charade that is happening in the case of Dr. Teltumbde and grants him bail at least.