'We all know how the police function'

There is a fascist government at the Centre: SAR Geelani

The recent arrests of five activists, in addition to the earlier five, accusing them of inciting violence and having links with Maoists have triggered an avalanche of protests. Questions have been raised over the way police and the State are acting against activists. Activists claim that those who fight for the oppressed Dalits and Adivasis are being targeted. Delhi University Professor SAR Geelani, who was acquitted by the Supreme Court in the Parliament Attack case and now associated with Committee for Release of Political Prisoners (CRPP), finds a pattern in the arrests and the branding of activists as Naxals. CRPP was earlier described as a Naxal-front organisation, a description which Geelani and others find a ploy to target them. Geelani spoke to DH's Shemin Joy. Excerpts:

How do you see these arrests? Why are these arrests happening now?

There is a pattern. It has not happened overnight. It is not happening haphazardly. The first arrest was that of Delhi Universit, Professor GN Saibaba. He was convicted but it was on flimsy ground. You will realise it when you review the judgement. The team, including lawyer Surendra Gadling and activist Rona Wilson, which was actually working for the release of Saibaba were arrested in the second round in June. In the third round now, the arrests have happened when the first five are completing 90 days in custody. It is now time for filing chargesheet and all. So before that, they have done another round of arrests. These people, Arun Ferreira and Vernon Fernandes and others, were providing legal help to these people were arrested in June. This time there was a hue and cry over these arrests. But earlier when the arrests happened, there was no protest in the manner and scope of what we are seeing now. I don't know why there was not much protest then. I don't know whether there was fear among people that they will be labelled Naxals. If you don't rise, this will happen. 

Second thing is that those named in the Bhima Koregaon violence, they are roaming around. Sambhaji Bhide is not arrested at all while one of them who were arrested is already on bail. The activists are accused of inciting people, hate speech and all. Now we have the case of Sanatan Sanstha. Some of them were arrested with arms. They held a press conference in Mumbai demanding abolition of Indian Constitution, making changes in it. The kind of threats they are giving to minorities. None of them are arrested. Lynching is going on. None of them are arrested. One has to call a spade a spade. There is a fascist government at the Centre. They are doing these things to those people whom they think oppose them, or those who have a different ideology. These people can be a hurdle in the present government's way. Those people are being pounced upon and put behind the bars. 

Protests three months ago were not this vocal. What changed in these three months from the first set of arrests?

I think one should understand the design of the government. What is happening is that the civil society is falling into the right-wing trap. When you say something, they (right wing) bring the bogey of national vs anti-national. We should not fall into that trap. A similar thing happened in Jawaharlal Nehru University in 2016. The whole issue then was that of freedom of speech. But we ended up making it a national-anti national debate. That should not happen now. One has to be very clear. You cannot be sectarian. This government is fascist. One should stand with the oppressed despite whether they believe in your ideology. What I am saying is that if this kind of outrage was there when Saibaba was arrested, if there was this kind of outrage in June when five other activists were arrested, this (latest arrests) could not have happened. You being mute, your silence has encouraged them (government) to move forward further.

The arrests of the activists have raised a lot of hue and cry. Interestingly, the Supreme Court has ordered house arrest and not given police an immediate remand. Is it a positive sign?

Police case is nothing. They have not even put the translation of the warrant before Magistrate. How did the magistrate grant transit remand without understanding the nature of it? How do you protect the rights of people? We all know how the police function. Second thing is that the Supreme Court has given seven days house arrest of activists. Seven days is enough for police to fabricate documents and evidence. They are masters in fabrication. Now, they might fabricate a lot of things. Unfortunately, we tend to believe these fabrications and there is no public scrutiny. I hope for the best, something good should come up. But actually, I keep my fingers crossed. 

There is an increasing tendency to brand people a Naxal. We have the new coinage 'Urban Naxal'. How do you see this trend? 

It is not that this (BJP-led NDA) government started. It is the continuation of what the previous (Congress-led UPA) government did. The agencies did it and they are doing it now also. If you work for the minorities, if you talk about their oppression, you are a terrorist. If you work for Dalits, Adivasis, oppressed sections of the society, you are a Naxal. This is how they picturise you. Unfortunate thing is that people will start distancing themselves from organisations branded as Naxal-linked. If PUDR or PUCL is branded Naxal front organisation, will people start distancing themselves from the organisation? If you are doing so, that is an encouragement to the agencies. That is what is encouraging them. They are branding any organisation as a Naxal front outfit. CRPP is working for prisoners. They brand us a Naxal-front. People start distancing from the organisation and if they are doing this, they are actually helping the State and establishment to further their designs. You will have to stand firm. 

The CRPP was branded. How such actions affect the activists?

We are getting entrapped in this branding thing. They can brand anybody. Tomorrow if they say CPI(M) is Maoist, are we going to accept it. Should people stop getting involved with it. This is the issue here. Nobody is ready to say that this government's nationalism is based on hatred. And, hell with this kind of nationalism. 

Has the civil society fallen into that trap?

They are falling into the trap. When the branding happened earlier, there was no outrage. If this kind of outrage was there three months ago, this would not have happened.  

Do you see any link between the recent actions and the 2019 Lok Sabha polls?

Definitely. All these actions are to polarise the society. This is to hide their incompetency, hide their failure in fulfilling the promises they have made. They could not fulfil even 1% of the promises they made. They have done the exact opposite of what they have promised. There is more oppression, there are lynchings. This has got some sort of sanctity now. The society has become a barbarian society. There is no civilisation left. To hide all this, the government is doing all these kind of things. These are all done keeping in mind 2019 polls.

It seems you believe we are living in scary times?

Yes, indeed scary times.

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