On 14th April, Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha became the latest victims to the accelerating crackdown on human rights activists and public intellectuals and surrendered before the NIA on the order of the Supreme Court. They were an addition to the sudden and shockingly rapid arrests and house-raids of 10 other activists that happened in 2018 in connection with a gathering in Pune in December 2017 termed as the Elgar Parishad which, according to the police, led to violence in January 2018 at Bhima Koregaon village in Maharashtra. The police termed this gathering, primarily of Dalit organizations, to be one of those having connections with the banned Maoist party and has booked all the activists under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) which does not even allow anticipatory or regular bail. The concerned charge sheet also mentions about their involvement in a plot to kill the Prime Minister of India.
However, it’s regrettable that despite Gautam Navlakha and Anand Teltumbde not even being present at the Elgar Parishad or Bhima Koregaon during the concerned time period and prosecution not producing any evidence or new facts to back its allegations till now, their anticipatory bail petitions were rejected by the Supreme Court on 16 March and then, in another order on 8 April, they were directed to surrender within a week. Even after listening to the accused’s problems of old age (one reaching and another over 70 years) and pre-existing medical conditions, the Supreme Court refused to budge. During these times of Covid-19 epidemic and the grave risk of spread of infection in India’s overcrowded jails, the Court did not even refer to the situation created by the virus outbreak while directing them to surrender.
It’s noteworthy that the fact-finding report of an IG of police – constituted Committee found material evidence to conclude that Bhima Koregaon violence was preplanned by right wingers Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote. Nonetheless, one was never arrested and the other released on bail within one month. While the names of arrested activists, who now languish in jails for close to 2 years as undertrials facing consistent rejections of their bail applications by the courts, were not even in the FIR.
Having a bird’s eye view of the state of affairs in the recent years presents us the unsettling dichotomy where on the one hand, the operations of fascist goons including lynch mobs and rioters have not only increased but become more consolidated and organized, and on the other, the clampdown on democratic voices along with working class and people’s movements have reached unprecedented levels and is escalating through both State and non-State actors.
The arrests of Navlakha, a human rights activist and editor of EPW and Teltumbde, a professor and Dalit scholar, only go on to reaffirm the State’s policy of zero tolerance towards any form of dissent and as an unambiguous warning for public-spirited individuals to refrain from raising voices against it. Similar events on an unprecedented scale over the past few years have exposed the complete shedding of any remnants of democratic character by the various organs of the State, after their seemingly complete takeover by the current dispensation which has no regard for any democratic principle set even by bourgeois State for itself. Black laws like the UAPA, which reverses the criminal law jurisprudence through ‘presumed guilt’ of the offender making ‘jail as the norm, bail an exception’ and ensuring that the process becomes a punishment in itself, have been made more draconian and are habitually used while other pro-people laws, like the RTI Act, have been diluted, police oppression has increased manifold, mass surveillance systems through Aadhar, the newly created Aarogya Setu app, along with face recognition softwares are in place, media has become a mouthpiece of ruling regime, social media is replete with hateful and provocative posts, and the sanghi goons and gangs seem to be omnipresent and ever ready to initiate an attack on any target. The dangerous active nexus between police and media, where one manufactures evidences to tag targets as ‘urban naxals’ or worse, which does not mean anything less than a traitor or terrorist, while the latter, premising its narrative on that concocted evidence, leaves no stone unturned in restlessly pumping and building resentment within the public against such targets, is what drives justice today.
Today, when the whole world faces the outbreak of Covid-19 and is in a state of total or partial lockdown, the Indian ruling dispensation has found the arrest of two old-aged public-spirited intellectuals to be a priority task for itself. There have been other cases of police oppression, false cases, violence and arrests during this period of lockdown on public-spirited individuals and working-class activists which only show a glimpse of the situation that will unfold after the lockdown. Owing to lockdowns and halt of production activities, a situation of deepening of the economic crisis and further centralization of capital and the proletarianization of the society giving way to increased attacks on the working-class (through dilution of labour laws, police brutality, retrenchment etc.), will give rise to intensifying of class-struggles, albeit at small and scattered levels, which is bound to further increase the ferocity of the State and its functionaries towards working class and public-spirited individuals and organizations making such arrests, oppression and clampdowns by police and violence, lynchings, and policing by organized goons a daily affair.
Originally published in Scientific Socialism: PRC’s Theoretical & Political Weekly Commentary on Current Issues (Issue 1 / 15-21 April ’20)