Over 1000 Academics Urge Govt. to End Crackdown on Dissidents and Focus on Real Perpetrators in Bhima-Koregaon case

The statement mentions that “it appears to us that the NIA’s claims of investigating the ‘conspiracy’ in the Elgaar-Parishad case are actually a flimsy cover for cracking down on dissident intellectuals—and keeping them in prison indefinitely.

crackdown on dissidents

More than 1000 members of the scientific and academic community from Indian and foreign universities and research institutes pledged their support for the dissidents who are being harassed in the Bhima-Koregaon case. They have called on the government to immediately end the harassment crackdown on dissidents and instead focus on identifying and prosecuting the true perpetrators of the Bhima-Koregaon violence. The signed statement has been issued on 9th September, exactly a day before Dr. Partho Sarothi Ray has been asked to appear before the NIA in Mumbai.

The statement was initiated by Suvrat Raju (ICTS-TIFR, Bangalore), Bhavtosh Bansal (IISER Kolkata), Koel Das (IISER Kolkata), Sugata Ray (IACS Kolkata), Saikat Ghosh (IIT Kanpur) on 6th September. They said, “After the statement was opened for signatures, we received news that the NIA had arrested three cultural activists from the Kabir Kala Manch and also sent a notice to Prof. K Satyanarayana from the English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad and the senior journalist KV Kurmanath. These events add urgency to the statement’s call for ‘the government to immediately end its crackdown on dissidents, release those whom it has arrested in the Elgar-Parishad case, and instead focus on identifying and prosecuting the true perpetrators of the Bhima-Koregaon violence’.”

The statement is being re-produced verbatim below. The original statement with the list of 1039 signatories can be found here.

Statement on NIA Actions and Crackdown on Dissidents in the Bhima-Koregaon cases

Initiated: 6 September 2020. 

Released:  9 September 2020.

We are members of the scientific and academic community.

We are writing to express our deep concern at the actions of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in its investigation of the Bhima-Koregaon violence. Instead of investigating those responsible for the actual violent clashes in Bhima-Koregaon, the NIA (and earlier,  the Pune police) has focused on the Elgaar Parishad event—a large cultural and political gathering—where the main organizers were reportedly two eminent retired judges. Surprisingly, in this process, the investigating agencies have arrested several illustrious citizens—including academics, lawyers, and prominent activists.

Most of the individuals who have been taken into custody were not even present at the Elgaar Parishad event. So it is very unlikely that the government will secure a conviction in this case. However, by using the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), the government has prevented those who have been arrested from obtaining bail. As Gautam Navlakha pointed out on the eve of his arrest, under the UAPA, “the process itself becomes punishment” since the accused are deemed “guilty unless proven innocent.”

Therefore, it appears to us that the NIA’s claims of investigating the “conspiracy” in the Elgaar-Parishad case are actually a flimsy cover for cracking down on “urban Naxals”—who, in reality, are only dissident intellectuals—and keeping them in prison indefinitely.

After arresting Prof. Hany Babu of Delhi University a few weeks ago, the NIA has continued to interrogate academics and activists, and even the defence lawyers for some of the accused. Most recently, we understand that the NIA has summoned the well-known scientist and activist, Prof. Partho Sarothi Ray, of the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (Kolkata) to Mumbai on 10th September for questioning in this case. Separate from his outstanding scientific work, Prof. Ray has also been deeply involved in social causes. He has been working extremely hard in coordinating efforts in the Nadia district to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, by helping to set up and operate the government-run COVID-testing center in the district.

Prof. Ray has publicly stated that he has no knowledge of the Bhima-Koregaon incident and has never visited the area. But of course, it is well known that Prof. Ray has been critical of the central government’s response to the pandemic and we suspect that this may not be unrelated to the summons that has been issued to him. We are concerned that Prof. Ray may also be arrested on false charges.

We call on the government to immediately end its crackdown on dissidents, release those whom it has arrested in the Elgaar-Parishad case and instead focus on identifying and prosecuting the true perpetrators of the Bhima-Koregaon violence.

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