Pune court sends Mr. Ferreira, Sudha Bharadwaj and Vernon Gonsalves to 14-day judicial custody.

Activist Arun Ferreira is escorted from his Thane home after his arrest on October 26, 2018.Activist Arun Ferreira is escorted from his Thane home after his arrest on October 26, 2018.   | Photo Credit: PTI

A special court on November 6 directed activists Sudha Bharadwaj, Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves to be remanded to a 14-day judicial custody for alleged Maoist links and their roles in the controversial Elgaar Parishad, and the subsequent Bhima-Koregaon clashes.

All three activists were produced at the Pune sessions court after their police custody ended on November 6.

In court, Mr. Ferreira alleged that he had been physically assaulted during his custodial interrogation by Assistant Commissioner of Police Shivaji Pawar, the investigating officer in the Bhima-Koregaon case. He alleged that he was slapped several times by the IO during interrogation on November 4.

Mr. Ferreira’s counsel said that the beatings had resulted in swelling below his eyes which had resulted in the activist being admitted to the Sassoon General Hospital for treatment the next day.

Mr. Ferreira further said the officials had relentlessly quizzed him about his association with the Indian Association of People’s Lawyers (IAPL), which the police claimed was a front for the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist).

In October, during his bail hearing, the activist’s counsel had submitted that the IAPL fought legal battles for the downtrodden and marginalised sections of the society and that the organisation operated well within Constitutional limits.

All three were first arrested on August 28 along with poet-activist Varavara Rao and civil rights activist Gautam Navlakha as part of the second countrywide crackdown on ‘urban naxalism’ by the Pune Police probing the Bhima-Koregaon clashes of January 1.

However, in a relief to the arrested activists, the Supreme Court on August 29 directed them to house arrest following a petition filed by historian Romila Thapar and the others casting aspersions on the methods of the Pune Police in effecting the arrests.

The plea had further sought the immediate release of the five rights activists and an SIT probe monitored by the apex court into the actions of the Pune Police.

The Maharashtra government on September 5 submitted before the Supreme Court that the activists had not been arrested for their “dissenting views” but that there was cogent evidence to link them with Maoist organisations.

Following a number of extensions on the period of the house arrests, the Supreme Court on September 28 refused to interfere with the activists’ arrests and said that there was prima facie material to show that they had links to a banned Maoist group.

It gave the arrested activists four weeks to seek alternative legal remedies which led to Ms. Bharadwaj, Mr. Ferreira and Mr. Gonsalves filing their bail pleas in the Pune court.

The pleas were rejected by the court on October 26. Mr. Ferreira and Mr. Gonsalves were taken into police custody from their respective residences in Mumbai the same evening while Ms. Bharadwaj was taken into custody from her home in Faridabad in Haryana the next day.

On October 27, the Pune court sent the three to a 10-day police custody.

The prosecution submitted that all three activists had been tasked by the Maoists with recruiting cadres from prominent educational establishments like the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in a bid to spread Naxalism.

The prosecution had further argued that Ms. Bharadwaj was apparently an active member of the proscribed CPI (Maoist).

In its first countrywide swoop on June 6 in connection with the Elgaar Parishad meeting and the Bhima-Koregaon clashes, the city police arrested activist Sudhir Dhawale, prominent human rights lawyer Surendra Gadling, tribal activist Mahesh Raut, Nagpur University English Professor Shoma Sen and activist Rona Wilson.

All activists have been slapped with provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and Arms Act.

The two swoops by the Pune police — in June and in August — were based on an FIR registered at the city’s Vishrambaug Wada police station in connection with ostensibly provocative speeches made during the controversial Elgaar Parishad held on December 31, 2017, a day before clashes erupted in Bhima-Koregaon.

The FIR was based on a complaint by one Tushar Damgude against six participants, including Mr. Dhawale, of the Parishad. Those named in the FIR were members of the Kabir Kala Manch, a radical Dalit cultural troupe.

The complaint had accused the KKM activists of making a number of “inflammatory” speeches and delivering “socially divisive” presentations during the course of the troupe’s performance and recitals at the Elgaar Parishad, which lasted nearly eight hours and witnessed the participation of thousands of persons from more than 250 progressive social outfits including several left-leaning and Ambedkarite groups across Maharashtra.

Several activists and intellectuals critical of the establishment have since alleged that the arrests were a diversionary move on part of the ruling government to protect the real perpetrators of the Bhima-Koregaon riots.

The Pune Police have justified the arrests of the activists and the raids on their homes, alleging that they were part of a conspiracy destabilise the state and stating that the raids were part of a larger probe into the activities of proscribed outfits like the CPI (Maoist).

FIRs were lodged by the Pune Rural Police against Hindutva leaders Milind Ekbote, who heads the fringe outfit Samasta Hindu Aghadi, and Sambhaji Bhide ‘Guruji’, founder of the right-wing Shiv Pratishthan, in the immediate aftermath of the Bhima-Koregaon riots of January 1, which left one person dead besides aggravating social tensions across Maharashtra.

While no move has been made to investigate Mr. Bhide, the Pune District and Sessions Court granted bail to Mr. Ekbote in April.