Saturday marks three years since trade unionist and human rights advocate Sudha Bharadwaj, columnist and activist Vernon Gonsalves, cartoonist and activist Arun Ferreira and poet and activist Varavara Rao were arrested by the Pune police some seven months after a mob attacked Dalits and Bahujans on January 1, 2018.
Initially all the accused were incarcerated at the Yerwada Central jail. However after the National Investigation Agency(NIA) took over the probe, Ms Bharadwaj was transferred to Byculla prison along with co-accused Shoma Sen and Jyoti Jagtap. Mr Gonsalves, Mr Ferreira and Mr Rao were shifted to Taloja Central Jail where their co-accused Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, Sudhir Dhawale, Sagar Gorkhe, Gautam Navlakha, Anand Teltumbde, Hany Babu, Mahesh Raut and Ramesh Gaichor are also lodged.
The case dates back to January 1, 2018 when a public meeting was organised called Elgar Parishad held on December 31 at Shanivarwada in Pune, 30 kilometres from Bhima Koregoan.
The violence occurred after the annual commemoration by Dalit and Bahujan communities of the 1918 battle against the Peshwa. Soon thereafter a mob attacked people returning from the memorial, resulting in a law and order situation.
Eight days after the attack, another FIR was registered on January 8, 2018 by Mr Bhide’s disciple Tushar Damgurde under several sections of the Indian Penal Code against Mr Dhawale, Jignesh Mevani, Mr Rao and two others.
On June 6, 2018, after conducting unauthorised and unlawful raids and seizures — Mr Dhawale from Mumbai, Mr. Wilson from Delhi, Mr. Gadling, Mr Raut and Ms Sen from Nagpur — were arrested by Pune police.
Second round of arrests were made on August 28, 2018 when Mr Roa, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves and Sudha Bharadwaj on the basis of allegedly incriminating documents found in electronic devices seized from the first batch of arrested activists. On October 26, 2018, regular bail applications filed by them were rejected by the Pune Sessions Court.
On November 26, 2018, the Pune Sessions Court granted an extension of additional 90 days to Pune police to file chargesheet against Mr Rao, Ms Bharadwaj, Mr Gonsalves and Mr Ferreira. This extension has been challenged by the accused before the Bombay High Court and is currently being heard.
After a round of litigation for a year, clone copies were finally submitted to all accused on November 20, 2019. The Bombay High Court is currently hearing a plea filed by Mr Gadling, Mr Dhawale, Ms, Sen, Mr Wilson, Mr Raut, Mr Gonsalves and Mr Ferreira.
They are challenging the order passed by sessions judge K.D. Wadane on September 5, 2019 rejecting their default bail pleas. They have sought for bail as the judge had no jurisdiction to take cognizance as original jurisdiction as the case was not committed by the magistrate.
On February 8, 2021, a report by a digital forensic analyst Arsenal Consultancy in the United States of America showed that all the electronic evidence gathered by the National Investigation Agency in the case was planted and malware was installed in Mr Wilson’s computer hence it was compromised. His plea seeking to quash the chargesheet against him on the basis of the report is currently being heard before the High Court.
On August 4, High Court reserved its order in plea by Ms Bharadwaj seeking default bail on the grounds that the judge who took cognizance of the chargesheet in the case was not entitled to do so.
courtesy The Hindu