(This article was published after the first five activists were arrested on 6 June in connection with the Bhima Koregaon protests. It has been republished from The Quint‘s archives in the context of the recent crackdown on five more activists.)
“Intent to strike terror in the people of India”
“Intent to threaten the unity, integrity, security, economic security, or sovereignty of India”
Raising funds “knowing that such funds are likely to be used by a terrorist organization to commit a terrorist act.”
These are elements of some of the charges that have been slapped against a professor, a lawyer who fights for the release of political prisoners, an editor of a magazine, a human rights activist and an anti-displacement activist by the Pune police, under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967 or UAPA.
These five people – Shoma Sen, Surendra Gadling, Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson and Mahesh Raut – were arrested on 6 June and remanded to police custody –which has now been extended till 21 June. The public prosecutor told the court that they are involved with banned Maoist organisations.
But does any of this stand up to scrutiny? What exactly did these people do to get arrested? And does any of it actually make out the offences they’ve been charged with?
Let’s go back to how this all began in the first place.
On 31 December 2017, an ‘Elgar Parishad’ was organised by Sudhir Dhawale and others, ahead of the anniversary of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon. The Peshwas, considered caste oppressors by Dalit activists, were defeated at the Battle of Bhima Koregaon on 1 January 1818 by an army of the British East India Company – for whom a regiment of Mahars (a Dalit caste) played an instrumental role.
Dalit groups have commemorated this battle for decades, organising marches on the anniversary of the battle to the obelisk raised at the site to honour the fallen – all without any incident whatsoever. Till 1 January 2018, that is, when violence broke out after those gathering for the commemoration were attacked, following protests by right-wing groups in the days leading up to it.
On 3 January, the police filed FIRs against Hindutva leaders Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide for inciting the violence. However, the police seem to have abandoned this line of inquiry despite a number of eyewitness accounts and other evidence. Instead, they are following up on an FIR filed on 8 January claiming that the violence was instigated by the speeches made during the Elgar Parishad. Cases had also been filed against Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani and Umar Khalid for their speeches at the event.