April 15th 2020
On April 14th, with undeniable irony, we have witnessed the surrender/arrests of Prof. Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha by the National Investigation Agency (NIA). Both Prof. Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha are known to us through their activism, writing and relentless pursuit of democratic principles. They have also remained steadfastly opposed to Brahmanical Hindutva fascism in all its manifestations. While the country marks the 129th Ambedkar Jayanti on April 14th, members of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s family find themselves charged and incarcerated under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) under the ludicrously concocted Bhima Koregaon 2018 case. The Bhima Koregaon case has been a catch-all for incarcerating voices of dissent that have spoken out against the anti-people policies of the State, exposed instances of increasing state repression and stood in solidarity with the most oppressed people of this country. At a time of an extraordinary global health crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country, where hundreds of thousands of migrant informal workers are struggling to return to their native homes in the wake of the apathy of the State and industry , when medical professionals are compelled to risk their lives due to lack of personal protective equipment and healthcare facilities, and measures to tackle the disease seem to be aimed to target and vilify the minority communities, the authorities remain aloof to the true conditions of the large sections of people. In the same breath, activists and democrats like Teltumbde and Navlakha, who are around the age of 70, are denied reprieve by the highest courts of this country. While on the one hand the courts are ordering the decongestion of prisons due to overcrowding, activists and human rights defenders are being incarcerated in jails that are insufficiently placed to tackle the spread of the virus. This is a stark reflection of the country today. At this political crossroads, the spirit of democracy faces a direct challenge by the very institutions of the state responsible for upholding it.
Besides Teltumbde and Navlakha, the Bhima Koregaon case has led to the raids and arrests of several voices of democracy including wss members Shoma Sen, Sudha Bharadwaj ,along with Arun Ferreira, Mahesh Raut, Rona Wilson , Sudhir Dhawale, Surendra Gadling, Varavara Rao and Vernon Gonsalves. While each of them have long histories of leading struggles against caste, class and gendered oppressions, fighting for the rights of the most marginalised in society and raising issues of gross human rights violations, they are denied freedom and maligned through press conferences organised by the police where the ‘evidence’ against them is stage-managed even as it is not placed on record in the court of law. The keenness of the Maharashtra police, prosecutors and the former BJP led state government in Maharashtra and the BJP led Central government to detain these activists was further revealed in the sudden transfer of the case to the NIA in January this year . Despite spending almost two years in jail, no case has been made out against the accused. The years of detention made possible through a law like the UAPA and the branding by media becomes the punishment passed before any evidence is brought to light let alone wrong doing proved. Meanwhile, those who instigated the violence in Bhima Koregaon, persons like Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote, continue to enjoy the impunity afforded only to the agents of the ruling dispensation.
The struggle for democratic rights has a long history in this country. Human rights activists have faced several challenges when faced with the might of the State. Today, the entire state machinery is involved in incarcerating such voices. At such a time it becomes crucial to strengthen our collective resolve to sustain the struggle for democracy and against state repression. Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression strongly condemns the arrests of Prof. Anand Teltumbde, Gautam Navlakha and all such voices of dissent and demands the immediate release of all political prisoners!
Women Against State Repression and Sexual Violence
WSS – Conveners Nisha , Ajita & Aloka