Opposition leaders, intellectuals slam arrest of activists

Source: PTI | By I.G. Bhatkali | Published on 29th August 2018, 9:46 PM | National News |

New Delhi: The arrest of prominent Left-wing activists was condemned by several opposition leaders and people from different walks of life today, with some of them terming it as a "manifestation of autocracy".

The Maharashtra Police had yesterday raided the homes of prominent Left-wing activists in several states and arrested five of them as part of a probe into the violence between Dalits and upper caste Peshwas at Koregaon-Bhima village near Pune after an event called Elgar Parishad, or conclave, on December 31 last year.

The five activists will not be sent to jail but be under house arrest until September 6, the Supreme Court ruled today.

Senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, in a tweet today, said he has no sympathy whatsoever for Maoism, but freedom of thought, belief and expression were fundamental rights in any democracy.

"To arrest activists who have neither committed nor facilitated violence is to betray our democracy. This is not the India that Gandhiji fought to free," he said.

Former finance minister and senior Congress leader P Chidambaram said he condemns the arrests of human rights activists, a lawyer and a poet.

"I will strongly disagree with those who hold extreme left or extreme right views, but I will defend his right to hold that view. That is the essence of freedom," he said.

"Anyone holding extreme views is punishable only if he indulges in violence or incites violence or aids and abets violence in support of his ideology," he added.

Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejashwi Yadav also strongly condemned the arrests. 

"Anyone who defends human rights, raises concerns about atrocities against poor and condemn authoritarian regime is arrested in RSS's New India. Remember, Fascism will not last longer," he said in a tweet.

Dalit leader and Independent MLA from Gujarat Jignesh Mevani slammed the arrests and said that the move was "nothing less than emergency".

"Had Gandhi, Dr BR Ambedkar and Sadar Patel been with us today, they would have surely appeared as lawyers for all these human rights activists who are arrested by Pune police dubbing them as maoists. This is nothing less than emergency, indeed," he tweeted.

Near simultaneous searches were carried out at the residences of prominent Telugu poet Varavara Rao in Hyderabad, activists Vernon Gonzalves and Arun Farreira in Mumbai, trade union activist Sudha Bhardwaj in Faridabad, and civil liberties activist Gautam Navalakha in New Delhi.

Subsequently, Rao, Bhardwaj, Farreira, Gonzalves and Navalakha were arrested under IPC Section 153 (A), which relates to promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place or birth, residence, language and committing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony, said the official.

Congress communications in-charge Randeep Surjewala hit out at the government over the arrests, saying, "'I am the State' is the loud cry that has been heard by the activists who were swooped, raided and arrested." 

"Cracking down on NGO's by the 'State' due to ideological differences is the manifestation of Autocracy! Deeply disturbing for Democracy. Reprehensible & Deplorable!" he said.

Congress leader Abhishek Singhvi termed the arrests as "systematic harassment" of civil rights activists.

Aam Aadmi Party leader Raghav Chadha, in a tweet, said, "They are silencing & persecuting all opposition before 2019. First they came for AAP and we were silent, they came for dissenting intellectuals we were silent, now they've come for social activists and lawyers, how long can we remain silent, who is next?" 

"Bravo to the lawyers who have moved the SC to stay the malafide arrests and raids till September 6," noted activist Kavita Krishnan said. 

Actress and activist Swara Bhaskar condemned the arrests and raids, saying Indian jails were "only for writers, human rights activists and academics... And doctors who saved the lives of children." 

"Freedom is not lost all at once, it is lost in units of one, one at a time, one activist, one lawyer, one writer till finally it's each one of us..," author-producer Twinkle Khanna tweeted.

In a statement released by SAHMAT, several intellectuals and academics such as Irfan Habib, Mushirul Hasan and Amiya Kumar Bagchi, said, "What is being conducted is a witch-hunt against those who dare to take up the cause of the downtrodden and who dare to criticize the government for trampling upon their rights." 

Leftist economist Prabhat Patnaik said the incident was a "sign of nervousness" of the government as it was loosing support of farmers, workers and among people at large. 

People's Union for Civil Liberties, a human rights body, said they were "nothing but a targeted crackdown and attack by the police and state on civil liberties and democratic rights activists across the country".

The Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS-Rajasthan) also condemned the action as "mala fide allegations" and the "coercive use of state power".

The All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA) said it was "repressive and arbitrary action as a part of the wider politics of silencing dissent and deterring activists, lawyers and intellectuals for raising their voice".

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