Outrage over raids, arrests of rights activists

Outrage over raids, arrests of rights activists

"Absolutely chilling", "virtual declaration of emergency", "brazen attack on democratic rights and civil liberties" and action against "selfless activists obliged to fight in enveloping darkness of dictatorial tendencies".

Condemnation poured in from various quarters on Tuesday as prominent civil rights activists were arrested and their homes searched across the country as Opposition parties, academicians, lawyers, students and activists joined hands against the Maharashtra police action.

While activists like Varavara Rao and Sudha Bharadwaj were arrested and homes of at least four were searched accusing them of having links with Maoists following probe into violence that erupted in Bhima Koregaon, their supporters asked why there is no strict action against rightwing activist Sambhaji Bhide of Shri Shivpratishthan, who is accused of inciting violence against Dalits.

"I condemn those arrests in unqualified terms. No human rights activists can be arrested. They are selfless NGO activists obliged to fight in enveloping darkness of dictatorial tendencies," Congress spokesperson S Jaipal Reddy told reporters.

Describing it as a "brazen attack on democratic rights and civil liberties", the CPI(M) demanded that all cases against the activists be withdrawn. "Ever since the Bhima Koregaon violence against Dalits, Maharashtra Police along with central agencies have been targeting Dalit rights activists and lawyers who have been taking up their cases. False charges have been levelled and the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act invoked," it said.

Historian Ramchandra Guha said it was "absolutely chilling" and urged the Supreme Court must intervene to stop this persecution and harassment of independent voices. "Sudha Bharadwaj is as far from violence and illegality as Amit Shah is close to those things," Guha tweeted about one of those activists arrested.

"Fascist fangs are now openly bared...It is a clear declaration of emergency. They are going after anyone who has spoken against the government on rights issues. They are against any dissent," prominent lawyer Prashant Bhushan said.

Well-known writer Arundhati Roy said what is happening is "absolutely perilous" and the simultaneous state-wide arrests are a "dangerous sign" of a government that fears it is losing its mandate and is falling into panic. "That lawyers, poets, writers, Dalit rights activists and intellectuals are being arrested on ludicrous charges...while those who makeup lynch mobs and threaten and murder people in broad daylight roam free, tells us very clearly where India is headed," Roy was quoted by PTI.

In a joint statement, activists, students and academicians said, "this is also an attempt by the BJP to invent a false enemy and engage in scaremongering in order to polarise the 2019 elections in its favour."