Bhima Koregaon raids: Writ seeks activist Sudha Bharadwaj's release, calls police action 'assault on liberals'

Raids on activists in multiple cities dominated the headlines on Tuesday. The Maharashtra Police led the raids — carried out as part of the investigation into the violence in Bhima Koregaon near Pune after an event on 31 December — at the homes of prominent left-wing activists in several states. At least five of them were arrested for suspected Maoist links.

Searches were carried out at the homes of activists Vernon Gonzalves and Arun Ferreira in Mumbai, trade union activist Sudha Bhardwaj in Faridabad, left-wing activist and poet Varavara Rao in Hyderabad, Father Stan Swamy in Ranchi and civil liberties activist Gautam Navalakha in Delhi. They have been charged under several sections of both the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the Indian Penal Code.

These detentions have been criticised by activists, journalists and public intellectuals countrywide, and petitions have been filed seeking their release and protection.

Sudha Bharadwaj

A civil rights activist and lawyer, Bharadwaj was taken into custody after the police raided her home early on Tuesday morning. She has been detained at the Surajkund Police Station in Faridabad, on the request of Pune's Swargate Police.

 Bhima Koregaon raids: Writ seeks activist Sudha Bharadwajs release, calls police action assault on liberals

Activist Sudha Bharadwaj. Image procured by Greeshma Rai/Firstpost

Advocate Ankit Grewal has moved the Punjab and Haryana High Court, seeking a stay on her remand. The plea requests that she "be allowed to stay at her house under police supervision" till the current petition is pending. It also seeks the issuance of a writ or any other order to the police to not arrest the detainee (Bharadwaj) "without prior notice", an order "in the nature of a habeas corpus" to directing officials to "immediately set the detenue at liberty"

A habeas corpus is a writ requiring a person under arrest to be brought before a court, especially to secure his or her release.

"In what appears to be a witch hunt for unsympathetic political views, Maharashtra Police officials came early morning on 28th August 2018 to her home at Badarpur border in the state of Haryana under the jurisdiction of PS (police station) Surajkund where she stays with her daughter," the plea read. It added that the police team conducting the raid had violated sections 165 and 166 of the Code Of Criminal Procedure (CrPc) on the process to conduct raids and had also handed Bharadwaj documents in Marathi, which she cannot read.

"Neither the grounds nor the purpose of conducting the search, supposed to be made in writing by the searching officer in terms of Section 165(1) of the CrPc have been made available to the detenue (Bharadwaj) and the remaining occupants of the premises under search," Grewal's plea said.

More importantly, it highlights that the FIR lodged at the Vishrambagh Police Station in Pune, based on which the raids were conducted, does not mention Bharadwaj's name "rightly so because she was not even present at this cultural meeting". This was in reference to the Elgar Parishad event held in Pune on 31 December to commemorate 200 years of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon in 1818.

"The search has not yielded any objectionable material, yet the detenue, who has been detained and kept under preventive custody and has been arrested," Grewal added in the plea. "This is clearly an assault on liberals, liberal thinking and a motivated act. There is no ground for detention or restriction of movement. The actions are illegal and unconstitutional. Yet the detenue has extended all possible cooperation to the searching officers, even in these circumstances."

Grewal said that he had filed the writ because Bharadwaj has been "illegally detained" and the actions of the police teams have been "arbitrary, illegal and unjust", infringing her right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.

Gautam Navlakha

In his writ, Grewal pointed out the "illegal detention" of journalist and activist Gautam Navlakha. To emphasise his call to have Bharadwaj's detention stayed, he highlighted how the Delhi High Court had stayed Navlakha's transfer to Pune till Tuesday till it hears the matter again.

The bench held that the journalist would remain at his house under police supervision and be allowed to meet only his lawyers, the same demand Grewal had made for Bharadwaj. The high court ruled that "no precipitate action of removing the petitioner from Delhi" can be taken till the next hearing. The bench also pointed out that as the documents produced were in Marathi — as was the case with Bharadwaj — it was not possible to make out "what precisely the case against the petitioner is". Translated documents are to be produced before the court on Wednesday.

These raids and arrests come after five people were arrested in June for suspected Maoist links. This was after they allegedly made "provocative" speeches at the Elgar Parishad event that triggered the Bhima Koregaon violence. Dalit activist Sudhir Dhawale was arrested from his Mumbai home; lawyer Surendra Gadling, activist Mahesh Raut and Shoma Sen were picked up from Nagpur; and Rona Wilson was arrested from his flat in Delhi — all in simultaneous raids in June.

The police raids on Tuesday and the arrests of prominent civil rights activists triggered outrage from several quarters. It was condemned as a "brazen attack on democratic rights", "absolutely perilous" and an "attempted coup against the Indian Constitution", among a myriad other criticisms.

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Updated Date: Aug 28, 2018 23:59:52 IST