Struggle continues: House arrest on activists extended till September 12

By Prarthana Mitra

In response to a Supreme Court petition posted by activist Romila Thapar and four others challenging the arrest of five activists and demanding their unconditional release, Maharashtra police filed an affidavit, alleging that they were planning to carry out armed rebellion in the country.

Testifying before a Supreme Court Bench on Wednesday, Pune police claimed that they had established cogent links between the five activists arrested last month and the proscribed CPI (Maoist party). The authorities insisted on the authenticity of the evidence confiscated from their residences and clarified that Sudha Bharadwaj, Gautam Navlakha, Varavara Rao, Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira were not arrested for dissent alone.

What did the SC bench ordain?

Post-hearing, the Supreme Court on Thursday extended the house arrests of these activists, who were booked under the controversial Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act or UAPA, till September 12. The Bench led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra reprimanded the Assistant Commissioner of Police of Pune for casting aspersions on the court, by presenting half-baked and unfounded opinions as evidence, and for leaking pieces of crucial evidence to the press before trial.

Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and D.Y. Chandrachud, told the Maharashtra government to direct its police officials to be “more responsible” on matters pending before the court. “You must ask your police officials to be more responsible. The matter is before us and we don’t want to hear from police officials that the Supreme Court is wrong,” the Bench told Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Tushar Mehta, appearing for Maharashtra government.

Mehta told the Bench that keeping the activists under house arrest could obstruct the ongoing investigation.

The Bench also asked petitioner Romila Thapar and others to clarify whether a third party could intervene in a criminal case, before scheduling the next hearing on September 12. In her petition, Thapar and four other members of civil society had stated that the arrests and raids by Maharashtra police were an “exercise to silence dissent, stop people from helping the downtrodden and marginalised people across the nation and to instil fear in minds of people”.

It started with Elgar Parishad

On August 28, they were arrested for alleged complicity in the Bhima-Koregaon violence near Pune, which erupted on New Year’s Day during a celebratory annual meet Elgar Parishad, organised by Dalit and Adivasi rights groups. At the time, however, the Pune Police had filed cases against Hindutva group leaders Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide for inciting the violence but no punitive action was taken.

By April, the police were convinced that the organisers were responsible for the violence and arrested the first batch of five activists in June, who are still in prison. Pune police joint commissioner, Ravindra Kadam, even claimed that the Elgar Parishad was funded by Maoist organisations. The recent series of raids are believed to have been a result of discoveries made during the probe into Elgar Parishad.

Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius