5 Activists Under House Arrest: Meet Those Who Stood In Support

Meet the petitioners Romila Thapar, Devaki Jain, Prabhat Patnaik, Satish Deshpande and Maja Daruwala.

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Seeking relief for lawyers and activists arrested by Pune Police for their alleged involvement in Bhima Koregaon violence, five petitioners moved to the Supreme Court, challenging the detention on Wednesday.

A pack of lawyers comprising Indira Jaising, Vrinda Grover, Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Prashant Bhushan among several others demanded from the constitutional bench that the matter be listed for urgent hearing as liberty of the individuals is being compromised. The matter was listed for hearing at 3:45 PM by the Chief Justice of India.


Arguing on behalf of the respondents, Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, questioned the relevance of the petitioners and asked why people “with no connection” in the case are before the Supreme Court.

Mehta was referring to Romila Thapar, Devaki Jain, Prabhat Patnaik, Satish Deshpande and Maja Daruwala.

He further called the petitioners “strangers asking for stay on arrest”.

But how much of a “stranger” are Romila Thapar, Devaki Jain, Prabhat Patnaik, Satish Deshpande and Maja Daruwala?

Romila Thapar

Known as an expert on Ancient India, Thapar has been awarded Padma Bhushan, the third highest award for a civilian in India. However, Thapar has rejected the award both the times, citing personal reasons.

Thapar’s alma mater include Punjab University and she is a doctorate from London University. She has held a chair in Ancient Indian History at the Jawaharlal Nehru University. Thapar is an emeritus professor of Jawaharlal Nehru University.

An Honorary Fellow from Oxford's Lady Margaret Hall, her gamut of academic responsibilities also include her stint as a visiting professor at Cornell University, University of Pennsylvania and College de France in Paris. On the domestic front, Thapar was elected as General President of the Indian History Congress in 1983.


Thapar is a renowned expert on evolution of Hinduism and her published works include A History of India, Ashoka and the Decline of the Mauryas, Ancient Indian Social History: Some Interpretations, From Lineage to State, History and Beyond, Histories and Cultural Pasts: Essays on Indian History as well the Children's book Indian Tales.

She has also authored textbooks on history and social sciences in India.

Devaki Jain

The daughter of the Diwan of the erstwhile princely state of Mysore, M A Sreenivasan –Devaki Jain is a pioneer in the field of "feminist economics". A Padma Bhushan awardee, Jain graduated in Mathematics and Economics from Mysore University, in 1953 with three gold medals for her overall performance.

Securing another degree in economics from St Anne's College, Oxford University, she returned to India and became a professor at Delhi University, where she taught economics till 1969.

Strongly abiding by Gandhian principles, Jain’s role as an activist for women’s rights and empowerment was brought to light, when she was asked by the Indian government to write a comprehensive book on Indian women for the first UN conference on women in 1975.

Through the course of writing her book, she realised the gross inequalities that existed between men and women in all spheres and the incorrect representation of women in India, in the statistical profiles.

Becoming a public figure in this sphere, Jain founded the Institute of Social Studies Trust (ISST) in 1980, to initiate and coordinate research and analyses on women's issues. She provided support to set up several women's publishing houses such as Kali and later formed the Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN) – a network or community of women from third-world countries, engaging in development concerns.

For her contributions to women empowerment, she was asked to be Chair of the Advisory Committee on Gender for the United Nations Centre in Asia-Pacific. She was also a member of the advisory panel of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 1997 and 2002.


Prabhat Patnaik

Patnaik is an Indian economist and political commentator. Hailing from Orissa, he completed his BA in Economics Honours from St Stephen's College, Delhi.

Following this, he enrolled in Oxford University in 1966 on a Rhode's scholarship and studied at Balliol College and Nuffield College. Academics being his life, he joined the Faculty of Economics and Politics of the University of Cambridge, UK in 1969.

He returned to India in 1974, as an Associate Professor at the newly established Centre for Economic Studies and Planning (CESP) at JNU. He became a Professor at the Centre in 1983 and was even the Dean of the School of Social Science, JNU, for a bit. 

Specializing in Macroeconomics and Political Economy, he has written several internationally-acclaimed books around them, such as: Time, Inflation and Growth (1988), Economics and Egalitarianism (1990), Whatever Happened to Imperialism and Other Essays (1995) and many more.

He also acted as the chairman of the Kerala State Planning Board from 2006 to 2011. In 2008, he was part of a four-member UN task force put together to suggest reform measures for the global financial system.


Satish Deshpande

At 60 years, Satish Deshpande is the youngest petitioner of the five. A student of JNU and later the University of California, he is now a sociology professor at Delhi University.

A staunch academic, Deshpande’s work focusses on Dalits and their absence in academia. He also draws particular attention to the socially inferior position of Dalit converts among Muslims and Christians in India.

His research interests also lie in the sphere of contemporary social theory, as well as politics and history of the social sciences. He is the author of two books: Contemporary India: A Sociological View and Untouchability in Rural India, which he authored along with Ghanshyam Shah, Harsh Mander, Sukhadeo Thorat and Amita Baviskar.

A fierce thinker at heart, he also writes occasionally for news publications on a variety of topics, bringing much discussion to the table.


Maja Daruwala

The daughter of late Field Marshal, Sam Maneckshaw, Maja Daruwala is Senior Advisor at the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), an organisation which focuses on the realisation of human rights in the Commonwealth countries. Daruwala’s focus at the organisation is the Access to Justice Programme in particular. Prior to this, she was Director of CHRI for 20 years.

Daruwala has lived and worked in India, England, Singapore and Sri Lanka.

A barrister by training, she has been a strong advocate for rights and social justice for over 40 years and is actively engaged in several human rights initiatives. 

She concentrates on issues related to civil liberties ranging from police reform and prison reform to freedom of expression. For her contribution in this field, she has also received the Nani Palkhiwala Award for protection and preservation of civil liberties in India.

Apart from this, Daruwala is part of several charitable boards including the International Women’s Health Coalition, NAMATI, International Record Management Trust, Public Affairs Centre (PAC) Bangalore.

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