News Analysis |
The Maharashtra police has turned the investigation into the Bhima Koregaon violence on its head by arresting three Dalit rights activists, a professor and a social activist from across three cities. The arrests were made as a part of a “joint operation” carried out by the Pune police along with its counterparts from Mumbai, Nagpur and Delhi. Contrary to earlier investigations, which focused on Manohar alias Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote, both Brahmins and prominent Hindutva leaders, the police now claim that “Naxals and their sympathisers” were behind the January 1 violence at Bhima Koregaon.
Wednesday’s arrest of five Dalit activists for their alleged role in the Januray 1 Bhima Koregaon violence came after the Pune police in April claimed to have retrieved an explosive letter from the laptop of one of the accused, Rona Wilson, who was arrested in Delhi.
The Pune city police have arrested suspected members of the banned Communist Party of India (CPI-Maoist) in connection with the Elgaar Parishad held at Shaniwarwada in Pune on December 31. The event, police said, allegedly led to the violence on January 1, during the 200th year celebrations of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon. The arrests were made in Mumbai, Nagpur and Delhi.
Prominent examples are Sudhir Dhawale, a well-known social activist in Maharashtra, who was arrested by the police for his alleged links with the Maoists, was released from Nagpur’s central prison in May 2014 after being acquitted of all charges.
The arrested, who police claim are “top urban Maoist operatives”, include an Elgaar Parishad organiser Sudhir Dhawale, leader of Republican Panthers Jati Antachi Chalwal, Delhi-based Rona Wilson of Committee for Release of Political Prisoners (CRPP) and Nagpur-based lawyer Surendra Gadling of Indian Association of People’s Lawyers (IAPL).
Searches were on at the residence of Nagpur university professor Shoma Sen in Bharat Nagar, Nagpur and Mahesh Raut, former Prime Minister Rural Development Fellow (PMRD), in East Nagur. The chances of them being arrested are likely, said police sources.
Police sources said that following the forensic analysis of electronic and other evidence obtained during the search operations, four teams of Pune city police were dispatched to Mumbai, Delhi and Nagpur on Tuesday. Police teams started arresting the suspects in the early hours of Wednesday. Dhawale was picked up from his office-cum-residence in Govandi, Mumbai around 6 am. Wilson was picked from Munrika area in Delhi and Gadling from North Nagpur.
A top police official said that suspects would be produced in local courts for seeking transit remand and then will be brought to Pune for further investigation. A police officer confirmed that Potdar, who is a close aide of Dhawale and KKM artists from Pune, has not been arrested. Members of the Bhima Koregaon Shauryadin Prerna Abhiyan, which organised the Elgaar Parishad, have condemned the police action.
Earlier, the Pune city police had on April 17 conducted searches at the residence of Dhawale, Wilson, Gadling, Elgaar Parishad organizer Harshali Potdar, and also Pune-based Sagar Gorkhe, Deepak Dhengle, Ramesh Gaichor and his wife Jyoti Jagtap, all artists of “cultural group” Kabir Kala Manch (KKM).
A complaint lodged by one Tushar Damgude at the Vishrambag police station had accused Dhawale, Potdar and members of KKM of promoting enmity and disturbing peace. The complainant had also alleged that the suspects, as per the strategy of banned CPI-Maoist, tried to mislead Dalits and incite violence.
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Among the arrested are Sudhir Dhawale, a Dalit activist and editor of Marathi magazine ‘Vidrohi’, Dhawale founded the Republican Panthers Jatiantachi Chawal to provide a common political platform for Dalits. He also launched a movement called Radical Ambedkar. He was previously arrested in January 2011 on charges of sedition for his alleged Maoist links. However, he was acquitted of all charges by a Gondia court in May 2014. Dhawale was active in organising the Elgaar Parishad in Pune.
Contrary to earlier investigations, which focused on Manohar alias Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote, both Brahmins and prominent Hindutva leaders, the police now claim that “Naxals and their sympathisers” were behind the January 1 violence at Bhima Koregaon.
Another is Surendra Gadling who is based in Nagpur, Gadling, a lawyer, is general secretary of Indian Association of People’s Lawyers. Known to be a tribal and Dalit rights activist, he has been providing legal aid to those arrested for Maoist links, including Saibaba and Dhawale. He had provided legal help to Kabir Kala Manch artists who had been questioned by Nagpur police in September 2013 on allegations of carrying banned literature.
According to prominent Indian intellectuals, labeling dissenters as part of armed anti state movements os common practice in India. Dalits and Adivasis who campaign for their rights are often branded as parts of the Naxalite movement and then imprisoned on trumped up charges.
Prominent examples are Sudhir Dhawale, a well-known social activist in Maharashtra, who was arrested by the police for his alleged links with the Maoists, was released from Nagpur’s central prison in May 2014 after being acquitted of all charges. Yet, he had had to spend forty months in jail as an undertrial. Eight of his co-accused were also acquitted with him.
In 2005, the Dalit poet Shantanu Kamble was arrested on similar charges and tortured for over a hundred days before he got bail. He now stands cleared by the court of all charges. The radical political activist, Arun Ferreira, confined in jail for well over four years, was tortured and harassed, repeatedly arrested in fresh cases after being acquitted in earlier ones, before he could finally get bail in January 2012.