On April 14, when India commemorates the 129th birth anniversary Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar and as the world continues to fight the disastrous pandemic caused by novel coronavirus, activists Dr Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha will surrender themselves to prison authorities in Mumbai as per the directives of the Supreme Court, in connection with the Bhima Koregaon case.

A group of civil society activists called for an online protest against the Supreme Court’s recent direction asking professor Anand Teltumbde to surrender before jail authorities within a week in connection with the 2018 Bhima-Koregaon case.Decision taken at web conference of Mumbai Rises to Save Democracy

The decision to protest was taken at a web conference of Mumbai Rises to Save Democracy, a forum of around 40 civil society activists such as writer Meena Kandasamy, Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi leader Prakash Ambedkar, Mr. Teltumbde’s daughter Prachi and wife Rashmi, and journalists Kumar Ketkar and Nikhil Wagle. Mr. Teltumbde is likely to surrender at the sessions court in Mumbai between 12 p.m. and 2 p.m. on April 14.

At a time when prisoners and undertrials across the country are being released on bail so as to avoid overcrowding and possible transmission of COVID-19 in already overfilled prisons, these two individuals, both senior citizens well over 60 years of age, will enter Taloja Jail in Kharghar, Mumbai—an overcrowded prison with over a thousand people locked up inside.

Expressing concern over their imminent detention, thousands of individuals and organisations have endorsed a global solidarity statement urging the Indian state to delay the arrest of the two, given the dangers posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, Mihir Desai, the lawyer who is representing Teltumbde noted that the duo will have to go and surrender themselves on April 14 as legally there is nothing that can be done to prevent the arrest. Subsequently, the duo can apply for bail again. However, he pointed out that, “in the first place, no court has said that they both have to be arrested. The court only mentioned that if the police wants to arrest, then the court will not come in the way. So the police can very well say let us wait for some time because of the crisis caused by coronavirus. But I know they will not do that as they know that going to the jail at this time of COVID-19 is virtually a death sentence.”

Nine other activists and intellectuals, who have been accused in this case and charged with sections under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) have been imprisoned since 2018. Among them is Nagpur University professor Shoma Sen, who has underlying medical conditions.

On March 16, the SC bench comprising judges Arun Mishra and Mukeshkumar Shah rejected the anticipatory bail pleas by the two activists. The duo were booked by the Pune police UAPA for alleged maoist links and subsequently were asked to surrender. However, Desai maintains that Teltumbde was not present at the Bhima Koregaon event. “Despite being in Pune for a marriage on that day he never attended the event,” he said.

.On April 11, activists along with Teltumbde’s daughter Prachi Teltumbde, journalist and MP Kumar Ketkar, senior journalist Nikhil Wagle, former MP Prakash Ambedkar, writer and activist Meena Kandasamy, discussed the issue through video conferencing organised by the forum Mumbai Rises to Save Democracy (MRSD).

Ms. Kandasamy said the case against the professor was fabricated and a classic way of punishing intellectuals. Mr. Wagle condemned the court’s decision and termed ridiculous the charges levelled by the Pune Police. Mr. Ambedkar said there is a need to mobilise people and stage a protest.

Rajya Sabha member Bhalchandra Mungekar said the case defies rules of jurisprudence and pointed out that the term ‘urban naxal’ used to describe Mr. Teltumbde was coined by the Pune Police.

Ms. Prachi read out a statement released by Dalit activists such as Jignesh Mewani and Chandrashekhar Azad. The statement said the direction to surrender “is both tragic and shameful for all Dalits, Adivasis, OBCs, and minorities on many counts for all of India. When even repressive regimes around the world are releasing political prisoners in the face of coronavirus, great minds like Dr. Teltumbde are incarcerated.”

“There’s so much political vendetta and political manouevering against these individuals that it is dangerous for the democracy,” said Meena Kandasamy.

The arrest of Teltumbde, a post-retiree, is an obnoxious warning of the casteist Brahminical regime to the sharp minded, courageous dalit, adivasi, OBC and minority intellectuals to be intimidated and not raise voice for protecting India’s constitutional rights, activists and intellectuals observed.

“Now I do not trust the Supreme Court of India. It has acted in an absolute anti-democratic manner and has become a compromised lot. The Pune police has no substantial evidence to arrest these activists who have contributed immensely towards social welfare and empowerment. This is based on a totally false case. It is a big blow to the nation’s democratic spirit and this arrest should be immediately stopped,” said Ambedkar.

The conspiracy is to create situation of fear and further fear among those protesting against the government, said Ketkar. “This is a repetition of what was happening in 1969-71 when so many people were arrested on charges of naxalism just because they found books in their drawers. This is a political action to snub the protest movement,” he added.

They expressed disappointment over the move to shield the “the real perpetrators of violence, namely the Hindutva brigade led by Milind Ekbote and Manohar Bhide from prosecution.”

“The person against whom FIR is filed, Bhide, is outside the jail and is not questioned at all and the person who spent his entire life fighting the cause of the marginalised has been targeted. This judgement is inconsistent with principles of justice,” said Dr Bhalchandra Mungekar.

On January 1, 2018, violence broke out between dalits and marathas in the village of Bhima Koregaon near Pune. This came a day after an event in Pune, called the Elgar Parishad was organised to commemorate the Battle of Bhima Koregaon in 1818 in which the dalit soldiers fighting for the British Army defeated the Brahmin Peshwa rulers of the Maratha empire. “We need to raise or voices against this injustice and prevent it from happening. Stand with democratic principles and principles of jurisprudence. This is not the way in which any authority that has power to wield must act. The state has blatantly snatched away the constitutional rights and civil liberties of those who advocate civil-rights,” said Prachi Teltumbde.

Courtesy- The Week, the Hindu