Koregaon-Bhima riots: several Dalit activists, Maoist sympathisers held

Koregaon-Bhima riots: several Dalit activists, Maoist sympathisers held

Protesters burn a bike at Vikroli in Mumbai during a protest over Bhima-Koregaon violence. (PTI File Photo)

In a major pre-dawn swoop, the police arrested five Dalit activists and Maoist sympathisers on Wednesday in connection with January 1 riots at Koregaon-Bhima in Pune district.

Surendra Gadling, general secretary of Indian Association of People’s Lawyers from Nagpur; Prof Shoma Sen, head of Department of English, Nagpur University; Sudhir Dhawale, the editor of 'Vidrohi' from Mumbai; Rona Wilson, public relations secretary, Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners (CORPP) and Mahesh Raut, anti-displacement activist from Bharat Jan Andolan and former Fellow at Prime Minister’s Rural Development (PMRD) for Gadchiroli district.
While Dhawale was arrested in Mumbai, Wilson was arrested in Delhi, three others, Gadling, Sen and Raut, were picked up from Nagpur by the Pune Police.

The operations were spearheaded by Pune’s Joint Commissioner of Police Ravindra Kadam, who was earlier the Inspector General of the Maoist-infested Gadchiroli range. “We are also investigating the Maoist link in Koregaon-Bhima,” Kadam said in Pune. 

The arrests and searches have been purportedly made under the FIR registered on January 8 at Vishram Baug Police Station in  Pune with regard to the holding of the Elgar Parishad on December 31, 2017, by the Bhima-Koregaon Shaurya Din Prerna Abhiyan. 

The FIR, originally registered under Section 153(A), 505 (1)(b), 117 and 34 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), was made a conspiracy case in March 2018 and now has had sections of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) added to it.
“It is just a ploy to victimise us,” said Harshali Potdar, one of the coordinators of the Elgaar Parishad. 

“They have been arrested illegally,” she said, adding that these arrests are being done to save Sambhaji Bhide Guruji, the founder of Shree Shiv Pratisthan Hindustan and Pune-based Milind Ekbote, the founder of Samastha Hindu Aghadi, for violence at Koregaon-Bhima. 

While Ekbote was arrested to probe his role in the riots, Bhide Guruji has been given a clean chit by the government.

The arrests were made on the basis of the complaint that accused Kabir Kala Manch members of promoting enmity and disturbing peace. 

The complainant had also alleged that the suspects, mostly activists of CPI-Maoist, tried to mislead Dalits and incite violence. 

Arrests condemned

“The arrests have thus been made under UAPA, which has several draconian provisions which ensure long detention and makes it difficult to obtain bail,” said ​Dr Anand Teltumde, general secretary of the Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR), Maharashtra.

"​The entire operation has been stage-managed by the Maharashtra government keeping in mind the judicial enquiry headed by Justice J N Patel (retd) in order to ensure that submissions from the victims of the Hindutva and state violence are suppressed. It has also been done to queer the pitch for the forthcoming elections in the state as well as 2019,” he added.

The Maharashtra state unit of People Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) said that the arrests amount to blatant violation of citizen’s rights to freedom of expression and voicing dissent, and is clearly a move to target individuals working for rights of the marginalised sections of society, and to produce a chilling effect on voices of dissent. 

“This has been a standard protocol followed by the state for years. Under the garb of countering 'Naxalites' any democratic protest is labelled as unlawful activity against the State. People are arrested and incarcerated in jail for years. They are subsequently released as the State fails to prove their case,” said Mihir Desai, convenor, Ad-Hoc Committee, CPDR.