The recent arrest of five well-known human rights activists by the Maharashtra Police has brought the BJP-led Modi government and the civil society into a confrontation mode. Activists said that these are fabricated charges levelled under various provisions of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and the IPC.
Hearing a petition filed by five eminent persons — Romila Thapar, Devaki Jain, Prabhat Patnaik, Satish Deshpande and Maja Dharuwala, the Supreme Court has ordered the Pune police to place all the five activists they detained in a countrywide crackdown on August 28, under house arrest, and that too, in their own homes.
Anju Grover for Indian Currents spoke to noted Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan, who is appearing for the petitioners in the PIL against the arrests. Bhushan said that the arrest of five human rights activists is a signal of their intention and this trend is in many ways more dangerous than the emergency of 1975. According to him, the latest arrests represent a new and extremely dangerous phase in the steady erosion of civil liberties, fundamental rights and democracy in India.
IC: What are your views on the arrest of five human rights activists for allegedly having links with Maoists?
Prashant Bhushan: The charge against them is that they have a link with Bhima Koregaon incident and Maoists. These activists have been working for the protection of human rights for the last 25 years and suddenly they were found to be involved in a conspiracy and subsequently raids and arrests were made. The reality is these activists were not present in Bhima Koregaon. Their names were not in the FIR registered in connection with Bhima Koregaon incident.
IC: The Pune Police said these activists were arrested on suspicion of plotting an assassination attempt on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Isn’t it a very serious charge?
It is ludicrous to know that these people would be involved in a conspiracy to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi. And if so, when did the police discover this plot? How did the police discover? What is the evidence with the police that there was a plot and these people were behind it? It is totally absurd. They cooked up the same story during false encounters episode. These activists arrested are well-respected human rights crusaders. Their writings, advocacy of the rights of the poor and oppressed and fight for civil rights are a testimony to their selflessness and dedication. They are being systematically targeted and maliciously charged with an “intent to strike terror in the people of India” or “intent to threaten the unity, integrity, security, economic security or sovereignty of India”. These activists have never been accused of any act of violence or criminal activity except Ferreira and Gonzalves who were acquitted.
IC: The Pune Police has used term, `Urban Naxals' for these activists? Your views.
Urban Maoists/Naxals has been coined to describe these activists. A media campaign was launched to describe urban supporters as Urban Naxals. The coining of the term “Urban Maoists” is like the earlier coining of the term, “Tukde Tukde Gang” in connection with the protests in JNU. Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya were arrested in connection with these protests but even after three years, no charge sheet has been filed against them by the Delhi Police. Many of the videos run by the news channels that showed the students’ slogans, insinuating the break-up of India, were found to be fabricated. Initially they targeted dalits and minorities and then started arresting the activists. Urban naxals is used to describe those who fought for the rights of dalits, minorities. What is the meaning of urban naxal? I am being described as urban naxal. Arundhati and Aruna are being called 'urban naxal'. It is strange that a person who defends these human rights activists is being described as ‘urban naxal’. It is ironical that the Pune police used it while seeking remand of these activists in the court.
IC: What, according to you, is the reason behind targeting NGO activists?
The objective of arresting human rights activists is to stifle voices of dissent, deter human rights defenders and those who have been fighting for the rights of dalits, adivasis and minorities. The idea is to curb peaceful struggles against this government’s anti-people ideology. Democracy is under siege in India. The arrest of five human rights activists is an indication of escalation in fascist activities in India which is dangerous. Human rights are being openly violated and still people are unable to understand it. This kind of Emergency is more dangerous than 1975 Emergency. At stake are the Indian Constitution, democracy and human rights.
IC: Congress President Rahul Gandhi has tweeted on the arrest of these activists. In his tweet, he sarcastically said that there is only one NGO and that is RSS. Similarly, few other parties have criticised the arrest.
Yes. I must say that the opposition parties are with us against this kind of fascist act of the government.
IC: The general elections are due next year. Do you think, this will have an impact on 2019 elections?
Of course, the BJP is seeing it. It is written on the wall that people have now turned against the BJP. So, they are going to lose in 2019 elections. That is why they are acting in such a manner.(Published on 03rd September 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 36)