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Challenging Times for the Human Rights Movements in India

In an unprecedented manner, in the early morning hours of 28th August, 2018, the Pune - Maharashtra police, assisted by local state police, simultaneously launched a multi-state raid in the houses of 5 prominent human rights activist in Delhi, Gurugram, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Thane, arresting

  • Sudha Bharadwaj, National Secretary of PUCL,
  • well known journalist and human rights activist, Gautam Navalakha of PUDR,
  • noted poet of Andhra, Varavara Rao and
  • human rights activists and lawyers Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira in Thane and Mumbai respectively.

The reason put forth by the police was that they were all connected with a conspiracy behind the Bhima Koregaon incidents that occurred in Bhima-Koregaon outside Pune on 31st December, 2017 – 01st January, 2018 and that they had collectively conspired with others to cause nationwide unrest, and eventually planned to assassinate the Prime Minister. The stealthy manner of carrying out the arrests was accompanied by a shrill media outburst, orchestrated by the police forces, that these 5 activists were part of 'Urban Maoists' and selective leaking of so called letters allegedly recovered by the police in the course of investigation.

An event carefully orchestrated by the police forces to create fear in the minds of the larger human rights community and meant to silence anyone from questioning the police and investigation forces, resulted in such a backlash of anger and indignation from across India, that within a day, numerous cities witnessed agitations and protests. In Delhi, Mumbai, Chanidigarh, Jaipur, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad and innumerable other towns and cities, angry citizens vocally protested the open violation of all laws in the manner of arrests, brazen sense of impunity exhibited by the police secure in the knowledge that they enjoyed protection from the political executive and lack of accountability with which the police was functioning. Conversations amongst ordinary citizens were replete with references to the current situation being like in an “undeclared emergency”, the state agencies resembling “fascist forces”, and acts of the central and state government being “anti- democratic acts of the BJP led Central and State governments”.

The shocking nature of the raids and arrests and the need to seek accountability of both the central and state investigating police resulted in a PIL being filed by prominent citizens led by Romila Thapar, Satish Deshpande and others questioning the manner of arrests and demanding the constitution of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) by the Supreme Court to independently investigate not just the arrests but the genesis of the case, the Bhima Koregaon case itself. The apex court ordered that the 5 activists be returned to their respecrive homes and kept under house arrest while the entire case was heard at length by the court.

In high voltage hearings, the Supreme Court heard a battery of the country's senior most lawyers appearing in the PIL filed by the prominent citizens, as also for the 5 arrested activists, as also other accused arrested earlier in the same Bhima Koregaon cases, as also for the Central and State governments. By the time this issue of the PUCL Bulletin in published the apex court will have passed Orders in the case. We are carrying a number of statements and articles related to the above arrests in this issue. We intend carrying more articles in following issues of the Bulletin.

Numerous members and friends in the human rights community have asked PUCL to resume training programmes earlier conducted by PUCL members in different states, to educate citizens about the constitutional protections provided to us, about the scope and nature fundamental rights especially the expansion of the right to life, the DK Basu judgment and the Commandments to Protect citizens against arbitrary and illegal actions of the police and investigating authorities, about the provisions of UAPA and other draconian legislations and finally about how we all can protect, promote and preserve the constitutional rights and our Constitution itself.

We invite readers and members to write to us about issues that they will like us to address or explain, to send in their critical notes in the form of articles and other useful information like case laws, reports of expert agencies like NHRC, National Crimes Record Bureau (NCRB) and so on.

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Related Bulletin : Oct 2018