All you need to know about Bhima Koregaon raids: Supreme Court offers relief to activists but controversy unlikely to die down

The Supreme Court has granted interim relief to five activists arrested in connection with the Bhima Koregaon case after swooping nation-wide raids, but the battle outside court is unlikely to lose steam anytime soon. The matter is listed for 6 September next, however, the political slugfest is likely to ensue with the Opposition blaming BJP for trampling upon people's right to dissent. Meanwhile, several activists and rights' groups have planned a protest in New Delhi.

The Pune district sessions court, which was hearing a Maharashtra Police plea seeking the custody of Varavara Rao, Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira for 14 days, has said that the activists should be kept under house arrest as directed by the apex court, until further orders. The Delhi High Court, meanwhile, halted the hearing on a plea against transit remand of one of the detainees, journalist Gautam Navlakha, after the Supreme Court's order.

Here is all that has happened so far since the police arrested Rao, Gonsalves, Ferreira, Navlakha, and human rights activist and lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj over allegations of Maoist links and for inciting the Bhima Koregaon violence.

File photo of activists Sudha Bharadwaj, Gautam Navlakha, and Arun Ferreira. PTI and Wikimedia Commons

File photo of activists Sudha Bharadwaj, Gautam Navlakha, and Arun Ferreira. PTI and Wikimedia Commons

Supreme Court sends notice to Maharashtra govt; says those arrested can't be sent to jail till 6 Sept

The apex court has issued a notice to the Maharashtra government and the state police on the plea by five leading intellectuals, including historian Romila Thapar and economists Prabhat Patnaik and Devaki Jain, against the arrests in connection with the case. The Maharashtra government is asked to file its reply by 5 September.

The court also stayed the imprisonment of the five activists, ordering that they should be kept under house arrest until the next hearing, which is on 6 September.

The court, while passing the interim order, took a strong objection to the arrests and said, "Dissent is the safety valve of democracy and if you don't allow these safety valves, it will burst." The matter is being heard by a bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra and comprising Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud.

It also questioned why the activists were arrested now, almost nine months after the violence broke out between Dalits and upper caste Peshwas in Koregaon-Bhima village near Pune.

While trade unionist and lawyer Bharadwaj is confined to her home in Faridabad and civil liberties activist Navlakha to his Delhi residence, Telugu poet Rao and activists Gonsalves and Ferreira were taken to Pune late on Tuesday night. The district court there has ordered them to be sent back to their homes, following the Supreme Court order. The petitioners had also sought an independent probe into the arrests and the Supreme Court is expected to take up the matter on the next hearing.

What does the police say?

The Maharashtra Police says it has a strong case against the five activists arrested Tuesday. The prosecution told the Pune court that the accused were planning to "wage a war" against the country and were involved in procuring arms, funding Naxal activities and recruiting students from reputed educational institutes.

The police told the court that Rao, Gonsalves and Ferreira were active members of the banned CPI (Maoists), and submitted some letters, seized earlier, that mention the three men. It said that one of the seized letters showed that Rao was the only authorised person to speak to Maoist activists in Manipur and Nepal to facilitate import of weapons. Another letter said that Maoists were facing heavy casualties, and Rao and Surendra Gadling (arrested in June) pressed for inflicting heavy damage on the security forces as a revenge, she said.

"One of the letters which has a mention of Ferreira states the need of recruiting 'professional revolutionaries' and for that these accused were targeting reputed institutes like Tata Institute of Social Science and other," she said.

"The anti-fascist front floated by CPI (Maoists) is trying to spread its wings in different parts of the country to incite people to revolt against the present government.

"The Elgar Parishad held in Pune on 31 December was organised mobilise the Dalit community against the government," Pawar contended.

The seized letters also showed connection of the Maoists with other banned organisations including some operating in Jammu and Kashmir, the prosecution lawyers said.

Earlier in the day, Maharashtra minister of state for home Deepak Kesarkar said all procedures were followed before conducting the raids against the activists. "It is due to their links with naxal movements that they have been arrested. If there was no evidence, we would not have taken the action," he said.

What is Bhima Koregaon case?

Koregaon Bhima is a small village in Maharashtra's Pune, which is closely associated to the Dalit history in the state. This was the place where a few hundred Mahar soldiers of the East India Company defeated the massive Peshwa army, led by Peshwa Bajirao II on 1 January 1818. The victory of Dalit soldiers over an army of upper caste Peshwas came to be associated deeply with the lower caste community's history. Every year, the anniversary of the battle is marked by Dalits assembling in Pune and marching to the Koregaon-Bhima war memorial. The victory is seen as an assertion by Dalits against the age-old upper-caste oppression. However, this year the Dalit march came under attack by the local upper caste community, which led to widespread Dalit protests two days later, leading to one person's death.

Events that created faultlines ahead of the incidents

This year, being the 200th anniversary of the battle, the gathering in Bhima Koregaon was much larger than usual. Over 150 organisations, including Dalit groups collectively organised a public conference called the Elgar Parishad a day before the march was due to be taken out. It is alleged by the Maharashtra Police that the agenda of the conference was to oppose the Hindutva politics and the upper caste's domination in the power corridors.

The parishad was also attended by Gujarat MLA and Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani, JNU student leader Umar Khalid, Rohit Vemula's mother Radhika Vemula, and Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh president Prakash Ambedkar. The list of attendees also gave the gathering a political colour fanning sentiments in the village.

The Elgar Parishad was blamed to have organised a well-thought-out conspiracy to incite Dalits against the upper caste community, which became the reasons behind the conflict that Pune witnessed in January. This is the current line of investigation by the Pune Police, based on an FIR filed by one Tushar Damgude on 8 January.

However, a committee appointed by the Pune rural police to investigate the incidence had said it was a pre-planned attack on Dalit community and blamed the Hindutva leaders Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide for the violence. The report stated the atmosphere had been heating up a few days prior to the Elgar parishad as on 27 December 2017, Ekbote held a press conference and made inflammatory statements. On 29 December 2017, the report stated around 200-300 Hindutvavadis vandalised a Dalit memorial, which led to tension in the area. On 30 December, Ekbote again held a public meeting in which he appealed to people to observe 1 January as 'black day' and called for a bandh. The Pune police rejected the report.

A tale of two FIRs

The first FIR in the case was filed at Shikrapur police station on 2 January by a woman named Anita Ravindra Sawale, who alleged that while she was on her way to Vijay Stambh in Koregaon Bhima for commemorating Shourya Divas (victory day), a pre-planned attacks was launched on Dalits by weapon yielding individuals at the behest of Bhide and Ekbote. Both were charged with non-bailable offences under various section of the IPC, including the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Attrocities) Act of 1989.

Following this, police arrested Ekbote on 2 January but he was later released on a conditional bail two months later. Bhide was also implicated in the case, who was later given a clean chit by chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, stating that Sawale later told the magistrate that she did not know Bhide, nor had she seen him.

"She had just filed the complaint against him on the basis of what people in Bhima-Koregoan were saying after the January violence", said Fadnavis. The police is yet to file a charge-sheet on this FIR.

On the other hand, Damgude's counter FIR registered on 8 January is said to have spurred the Tuesday's raid, a similar crackdown in April, and the subsequent arrest of five Dalit rights activists in June. Sudhir Dhawale from Mumbai, lawyer Surendra Gadling, activist Mahesh Raut, professor Shoma Sen from Nagpur, and Rona Wilson from Delhi were arrested on 6 June for alleged Maoist links in connection with the Elgar Parishad.

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Updated Date: Aug 30, 2018 10:29:42 IST

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