"I have an unblemished record of service for nearly five decades to this country in various roles in corporate world, as a teacher, as a civil rights activist and a public intellectual......But at the fag end of my life, I am being charged for the heinous crime under the draconian UAPA [Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act]. An individual like me obviously cannot counter the spirited propaganda of the government and its subservient media……. I am aware this may be completely drowned in the motivated cacophony of the Bharatiya Janata Party-Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh combine and the subservient media, but I still think it may be worth talking to you as I do not know whether I would get another opportunity. Well, I am off to National Investigative Agency custody and do not know when I shall be able to talk to you again. However, I earnestly hope that you will speak out before your turn comes."
These are words from a three-page open letter written on 14 April by intellectual, management expert and Dalit activist Anand Teltumbde, who is also the husband of the grand-daughter of the architest of Indian constitution, BR Ambedkar. Charged under UAPA in the Bhima-Koregaon case, Teltumbde surrendered before NIA on 15 April and is already in jail. Also under NIA custody with Teltumbde is another illustrious media and human rights personage, Gautam Navlakha.
The notable case of Bhima-Koregaon is about an event organized by Dalit organizations on 1 January 2018 in Bhima-Koregaon, Maharashtra. That rally of tens of thousands of people was to commemorate two centuries since the Koregaon war of 1818. But the programme, which was widely thought to mark a turning point in the Dalit mobilisation of Maharasshtra, was marred by clashes and one man was killed. The organisers say that it was engineered by government's agents with a pre-planned move to create trouble during at the event. But what was seen subsequently was that the case involving the confrontations during the programme started turning in different directions. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) lost no time in filing cases including a plot to assassinate prime minister Narendra Modi and made a case under UAPA. Other prominent civil rights activists like Rona Wilson, Sudha Bharadwaj and Arun Ferreira were implicated in the case and arrested. The arersts of Navlakha and Teltumbde are the last two in the series.
It was only in the last few days that leader of RJD (Rashtriya Janata Dal) students wing and student in Jamia Millia University in Delhi Meeran Haider and female activist and student of Jamia Safoora Zargar were framed under the Delhi riots case and arrested. News reports have also been coming in about implicating and interrogating students of different colleges in Delhi who were organisers and activists of anti-citizenship amendment law (CAA). On 1 April, Uttar Pradesh police filed a case against eminent mediaperson and editor of online portal 'The Wire', Siddharth Varadarajan. He was served notice to report to Ayodhya police station when lockdown restrictions were in force. The provocation for this was his having published an article unpalatable to UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath related to religious functions during lockdown period and spread of corona virus. Although the Editors Guild, and an array of respected personalities and well-known media figures of the country, and lawyers and former judges of the Supreme Court came out against the UP police action against Varadarajan, the ruling establishment has so far not showed any signs of relenting.
This is the time when the whole world is engrossed in the drive against Covid-19. News come everyday from most corners of the world causing pain in human being. Indian states including Delhi, are no exception to this scourge of the pandemic. Other than the prime minister appearing on television at regular intervals, the central government has not yet succeeded in evolving an effective strategy to prevent the spread of Covid. But even then, the regime appears to be bent on pursuing its favourite agenda unhindered. This is a time of Covid, when various governments are thinking of releasing as many prisoners as possible from jail. But at the same time, Amit Shah is working haovertime to send as many of his political foes as possible to jail under fake charges. Cases like that of Siddharth Varadarajan, as a well-known figure, may be attracting attention at national level. But Safoor Zargar and Meeran Haidar may not enjoy that privilege. The ministry of home affairs is in a ceaseless attempt to get through its anti-democratic plot by taking capital of the lockdown situation. And that is exactly the time for democratic advocates to stay awake – and vigilant too.