Timeline of Elgaar Parishad and Bhima Koregaon
On 31st December 2017, a day before the 200th anniversary of the battle of Bhima Koregaon, an event called Elgaar Parishad was held in Shaniwar Wada in Pune. It was organised by two retired judges, BG Kolse Patil and PB Savant. Speeches, songs, and plays were performed. Around 250 groups helped organise the event, one of them being the Kabir Kala Manch (KKM). Notable guests such as Jignesh Mewani and Umar Khalid attended the event.
The following day, thousands of Dalits who had gathered to commemorate the Bhima Koregaon victory were attacked by a mob leaving several injured. The following day an FIR was filed by anti-caste activist Anita Sawale, who was present at the scene during the violence. The FIR stated that the Samasta Hindu Aghadi president Milind Ekbote and Shiv Prathistan Hindustan leader Sambhaji Bhide were the “masterminds of the attack”. According to her, the attackers left people soaked in blood with their vehicles burned. Many were openly chanting the names of their leaders Ekbote and Bhide as well. She mentioned that while she described these events in detail in the FIR, the police have delayed the investigation at every step.
Another FIR was filed by a Pune-based businessman, Tushar Damgude relating to the Elgaar Parishad event, stating that the event was responsible for the violence that took place the following day. Interestingly Damgude is known to be a supporter of Bhide. Harping onto the claims made in the FIR, the Pune Police claimed that the event was planned by the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist). The police made the claim that during the investigation, they had stumbled on an underground network of “urban Naxals” organising an “anti-fascist front”. This has become the prime justification in the arrests of activists, academics, and poets in the years to come.
Phases of arrests
Currently, around 16 people have been branded as “urban Maoists” and are languishing in jail; they have been arrested under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), for their alleged involvement in the Elgaar Parishad event as well as their links to the “urban Naxal network” of the CPI(Maoist). The arrests have been carried out in phases over the past three years. The first phase, when the investigation was under the jurisdiction of the Pune Police, was in June 2018; five activists: Sudhir Dhawale, Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut, Shoma Sen, and Rona Wilson, were arrested. Following this, in August 2018, Arun Ferreira, Sudha Bharadwaj, Varavara Rao, and Vernon Gonsalves were detained.
The National Investigation Agency (NIA), a central body, took over the investigation in January of 2020. What followed was the arrests of the Goan activist and intellectual Anand Teltumbde, and Delhi based human rights activist Gautam Navlakha on April 14th. The arrest of Delhi University professor Hanybabu Tariyil took place on July 28th. The arrests of KKM members Jyoti Jagtap, Sagar Gorkhe, and Ramesh Gaichor took place in September. The latest arrest was that of 83-year-old Jesuit priest, Father Stan Swamy in October. Their homes have been raided, their families harassed, and their devices have even been hacked into. Fabrication of stories that detail involvement in organising the event as well as correspondence with banned organisations, have been the tactics used in the name of providing evidence. In addition, highlighting of specifically Ambedkarite, anti-caste, and leftist literature found in raids in the homes of the arrested termed as “Naxalite literature” by the NIA is used to further legitimate these so-called links to the CPI(Maoist) and the larger conspiracy of overthrowing the government.
The arrests have been carried out under the UAPA, which has allowed the NIA to circumvent a number of procedures when it comes to providing evidence. In addition, recent amendments to the UAPA have allowed 90 days of arrest with barely any evidence. The NIA is also allowed to file a charge sheet within 180 days or 6 months. If the court’s first impression of the accused is guilty, they can deny bail as well. Reports of the inhumane treatment towards the prisoners have been coming out, with the court even rejecting the request for a sipper for Father Stan Swamy, currently suffering from Parkinson’s Disease.
No Luck in Bhima Koregaon Accused Investigations
While on the one hand the arrests have been carried out with hardly any importance given to evidence or a proper investigation in the case of the Elgaar Parishad event, arrests of the accused in the FIR filed by Sawale has been delayed continuously. While the two Hindutva leaders were booked under Section 153 and Section 295 of the IPC as well as the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities Act), both are out free today, along with other members of their organisations, booked under the same. According to Sawale, the police took no action until March 18th, when the Supreme Court denied Ekbote pre-arrest bail. He was taken in but was released a month later after being granted bail by a Pune Sessions court.
To this day, neither Ekbote nor Bhide have been called into questioning, or arrested, even after a supreme court order was issued ordering their arrest. Many have criticised the initial arrests against the activists by the Pune Police as a means to divert from the accusations against the two Hindutva leaders. This is evident in the way, just days after the FIR was filed, the blame was shifted onto the “Maoists” and “Urban Naxals” by the then BJP government in Maharashtra.
Interestingly, the stalling of the investigation continued even after the BJP government was ousted in the Maharashtra elections by the Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party, and the Congress Alliance. Sharad Pawar, the current head of the NCP, even mentioned the setting up of a separate judicial inquiry into the matter, however, no such thing has come into effect as of yet. The political clout that Bhide enjoys by both Congress, NCP, and the BJP explain this to some extent. Many times law enforcement has often been told to “go easy on him” by NCP and Congress members when instances of violence by his followers have taken place.
It is important to note that a number of these arrests are of Dalit intellectuals and activists, who have been vocal in criticisms towards the Hindutva politics, and neoliberal policies of the ruling party. Many such as Sudha Bharadwaj and Stan Swamy have worked with Adivasis against corporate imposition on their land. It is clear these narratives, whereby there is an assertion of marginalised folk, their rights to dignity, and their criticisms towards an oppressive political and social landscape, pose a threat to the government. These criticisms reveal gaping holes in the pride and glory the ruling party wants to project. The result is a brutal attack aiming to snuff out any form of dissent and make an example of the same to the rest of the country. The culture of impunity towards those who are powerful supporters of the government drives this point further.