Who Is Vernon Gonsalves, the Activist Held for ‘Naxalite’ Links
"Any form of freedom of expression and dissent is only tokenism. If you have ideals and they question you and your authority, then you will be arrested."
These are the words of Sagar, who is still coming to terms with his father Vernon Gonsalves' arrest from their residence in Mumbai on Tuesday, 28 August.
Sixty-one-year-old Gonsalves, a former academic, is among the five activists who have been taken into custody over the ongoing investigations into the Bhima-Koregaon violence, which took place in January 2018.
Like the other four activists – Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Sudha Bharadwaj, and Gautam Navlakha – he is critical of the establishment.
Gonsalves has worked in some of the prominent colleges in Mumbai, including HR College of Commerce and Economics, and Akbar Peerbhoy College of Commerce and Economics. A writer and social activist, Gonsalves writes for online publications regularly.
This isn't the first time he has come under the scanner.
A Six-Year Trial
On 19 August 2007, the Maharashtra Anti-Terror Squad arrested Gonsalves from his residence in Mumbai's Andheri. They alleged that he was a "top-level" Naxalite, who possessed explosives.
Soon after Gonsalves’ arrest, a delegation reportedly met the then Maharashtra Home Minister RR Patil, a Congress leader, to make his case. However, the then ATS Chief KP Raghuvanshi told the minister that they had "evidence of numerous accounts" with huge funds. The security agencies slapped 20 cases against Gonsalves under various sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and Arms Act.
In 2007, he was even convicted under various sections of UAPA and Arms Act by a Mumbai court.
Writing about the incident on DailyO, Gonsalves said the trial went on for the next six years, "without any evidence."
In 2013, Gonsalves was acquitted in 17 cases against him. He walked out of jail after spending nearly six years in various Mumbai prisons.
Speaking to Rediff after his release, he said:
“The falsehood was evident even to the magistrate. During the trial, the explosive expert was called to give his assessment. He said with the kind of explosives mentioned, it could blast a whole station and I was supposed to have stored it here? It is absurd for such things to be stored in a match-box-size house of sorts that we live in. The expert did mention the unlikelihood. It was all absurd.”
In 2013, Gonsalves’ lawyer told The Times of India, “Since most charges were disproved against Gonsalves, it is unfair to call him anti-national. Moreover, the prosecution also failed to prove that he was abetting war against nation or government.”
Gonsalves, the Writer
The former academic was not a regular writer, prior to 2013. It was during his time in the prison that he started writing short stories. He started writing regularly in early 2014, months after he was released from the prison.
Gonsalves, along with Arun Ferreira, now writes regularly on prevailing law and order issues, and is critical of the establishment.
He also writes extensively on Dalit and tribal rights, the condition of prisons in India, and is a vocal about wanting UAPA to be scrapped.
If, on the other hand, should the oppressed dare to show some militancy in resistance, they must be ready to face all the vehement violence that the security agencies are capable of – lathi-charges, firing, implication in false cases under draconian laws, and even torture.Gonsalves wrote in 2017
Ironically, when the first five activists were arrested on 6 June 2018, in connection with the Bhima-Koregaon protests, Gonsalves had called it "sinister sensationalism."
In an article reasoning why he thought the letter on the 'Rajiv Gandhi-type' assassination plot to kill Prime Minister Narendra Modi was "fake," he wrote:
The sole purpose seems to be to whip up a false narrative, favourable to the current regime. Sidetracking the demands of the Dalit movements to punish the Hindutva leaders and the organisations responsible for the attacks of 1 January 2018 on the congregation at Bhima Koregaon can be another probable purpose.
‘Arrest Under Govt’s Pressure’
Activist and lawyer Susan Abraham, wife of Vernon Gonsalves, said the raids are being conducted under pressure from the government.
“This is being done under government's pressure. If you think Bhima-Koregaon was an assassination plot, then file an FIR. You've made this case, will it stand before the court,” she asked.
(The Quint is now available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)