NEW DELHI: Maharashtra police raided homes of leading intellectuals and rights activists in a nationwide swoop on Tuesday, arresting several and quizzing some more in a move that their colleagues described as “undeclared emergency”.
They said the early morning swoop by police from the Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled state was a way of diverting attention from recent revelations that a Hindu militant group was allegedly involved in the murder of writer Gauri Lankesh and other rationalists.
They said the arrest of intellectuals, lawyers, human rights defenders and writers reflected desperation in the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party that fears Prime Minister Narendra Modi could lose next year’s general elections.
Arundhati Roy sees coup against constitution
“The simultaneous arrests are a dangerous sign of a government that fears it is losing its mandate and is falling into panic,” writer Arundhati Roy said in a statement.
“That lawyers, poets, writers, Dalit rights activists and intellectuals are being arrested on ludicrous charges while those who make up lynch mobs and threaten and murder people in broad daylight roam free, tells us very clearly where India is headed. Murderers are being honoured and protected.”
Among those arrested in Delhi was the former head of Peoples Union of Democratic Rights Gautam Navlakha. He is a regular voice for Kashmiris fighting rights abuse.
“Anybody who speaks up for justice or against Hindu majoritarianism is being made into a criminal. What is happening is absolutely perilous. In the run-up to elections, this is an attempted coup against the Indian Constitution and all the freedoms that we cherish,” Ms Roy said.
“What else is fascism if not this,” queried historian Harbans Mukhia. Tribal and women’s rights activist Sudha Bhardwaj was picked up from her home in Delhi. In some cases the police waited for pro-government TV units to arrive and film the arrests, a standard drill under the current dispensation.
Intellectuals from across the country protested angrily. “We, the undersigned, are shocked by the serial raids across the country on the homes of activists and public intellectuals who are critical of the government and the ruling party at the Centre,” they said in a statement.
“The arrests of prominent activists and intellectuals Sudha Bharadwaj, Vernon Gonsalves, Gautam Navlakha, Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Kranthi Tekula and others, are nothing but an attempt by the government to strike terror among those who are fighting for justice for the marginalised,” the statement said.
The signatories included Shehla Rashid Shora, former Vice-President, JNU Students’ Union, Mohit Pandey, former President, JNU Students’ Union, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Author, Journalist, Publisher, Neha Dixit, Journalist, Jignesh Mevani, Dalit MLA Vadgam, Gujarat, Sanam Sutirath Wazir, Human Rights Activist, Nakul Singh Sawhney, Documentary Filmmaker, Teesta Setalvad, Journalist and Social Activist, Harish Iyer, Equal Rights Activist, Swami Agnivesh, Arya Samaj, Social Activist, Nina Rao, Tripta Wahi and Ali Javed from Delhi University, Kuldeep Kumar, Journalist, Aban Raza, artist.
Protesting groups saw the arrests also as an attempt by the BJP to invent a false enemy and engage in scaremongering in order to polarise the 2019 elections in its favour.
“Already, the government and the media houses close to the BJP have been trying to spin a false narrative of a Maoist conspiracy since June, 2018. Terms like ‘urban naxals’ are invented in order to stifle any criticism of the government. We have learnt that the Delhi Police, after having arrested Sudha Bharadwaj, waited for Republic TV to arrive before taking her to the court. This simply shows that the arrests are incomplete without the accompanying sensationalist media propaganda to demonise activists, human rights defenders and intellectuals.”
Published in Dawn, August 29th, 2018