Bhima Koregaon violence: Anand Teltumbde's cry for help is a sad tale of state ruthlessness, injustice

Here is a simple quiz for Firstpost readers. Predict the future of a man who did his MBA from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, worked as executive director of Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited, was managing director and CEO of Petronet India Ltd, an energy concern, was professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur for five years, is currently designated senior professor, Goa Institute of Management, specialises in Data Analytics as well as in Dalit politics, has a long list of books and writes a column for a prestigious weekly?

Wow, you will exclaim, the future is his for the asking. He must have, at the least, made his millions to live the life of the mind.

You have got the answer horribly wrong.

Bhima Koregaon violence: Anand Teltumbdes cry for help is a sad tale of state ruthlessness, injustice

Anand Teltumbde. Image courtesy News18

For all his enviable accomplishments, the man fears he is likely to end up in jail for a crime he says he did not commit. But the Indian state thinks otherwise – and the Indian state is always right, or so it has been dinned into us.

In case you haven’t yet guessed who the person is, he is Anand Teltumbde.

On 16 January, Teltumbde released a statement, a veritable plaintive cry for help. This was because the Supreme Court on 14 January refused to quash the first information report filed by the Pune Police against him in connection with the violence at Bhima Koregaon on 1 January, 2018. He was, however, given protection from arrest for four weeks, during which period he can seek pre-arrest bail.

You will wonder: Who will ever deny bail to Teltumbde? He does not seem a Nirav Modi or Vijay Mallya or even a Lalit Modi who will scoot off to another country. For the record, Teltumbde does not suffer from paranoia.

Teltumbde’s fears are real as he has been booked under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act or UAPA, which has stringent bail provisions. Simply put, a police officer has to merely claim that he has evidence against the accused – and he or she is doomed to languish in jail until exonerated after a prolonged trial.

That is why, in the statement released to the public, Teltumbde assumes he will have to hop from one court to another seeking bail. He wrote, “… My hopes stand completely shattered and I am left with just seeking bail right from the sessions court in Pune to the Supreme Court. The time has come to build a visible campaign in support of me from various sections of people so as to save me from imminent arrest.”

Chicken, you will exclaim.

Perhaps anticipating such a response, Teltumbde explained: “The arrest for me is not simply the hardship of prison life, it is keeping me away from my laptop, which has been integral with my body…my students who staked their future or my professional reputation…” Forget his reasons, it is, anyway, legitimate for anyone to wish that his freedom is not taken away even before he is proved guilty.

Teltumbde should appeal to the political class instead of the public, you will suggest. Let us face it the Indian political class is hypocritical and callous.

About its hypocrisy, here is an illustration – Teltumbde is married to the granddaughter of Babasaheb Ambedkar, who we fete as the architect of the Indian Constitution.

From Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Congress president Rahul Gandhi, to Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati, there isn’t a political leader who does not lay claim to the legacy of Ambedkar. Yet none of them will stand up for a man who is married into Ambedkar’s family, not even wonder whether he could have fomented violence at Bhima Koregaon and have links with the Maoists.

Questions pop up in your mind: What if Teltumbde is indeed guilty of the charges levelled against him? Isn’t it for courts to determine his innocence? Without even going into the evidence that Teltumbde furnishes in his public statement to establish his innocence, there are compelling reasons why bail should be granted to him at the least.

To understand rewind to the arrest of 10 activists whose houses were raided and arrested in two batches. On 6 June, Shoma Sen, Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut, Rona Wilson and Sudhir Dhawale were arrested. Then, on 28 August, the Pune Police swooped down on Gautam Navlakha, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Sudha Bharadwaj and Varavara Rao. Of them, only Navlakha remains free, having secured protection from arrest for the moment. It is hard to tell when his luck too would run out.

Soon after the first batch of rights activists was arrested on 6 June, Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves, then free, wrote a piece describing the drama around it as “sinister sensationalism”. They spoke of how the police were leaking fabricated letters to the media. The purpose, they said, was to trigger a media trial to build “upon a false narrative to create a fanciful impression on the minds of people at large”. Both Ferreira and Gonsalves were among the five who were arrested on 28 August.

But don’t think theirs was a wild charge. They said they have experienced first-hand how the police craft a media trial, obviously, at the behest of their political masters.

When Ferreira was arrested in May 2007, the media was told that he was the communications chief of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) and was plotting to bomb the Deeksha Bhoomi in Nagpur, where Ambedkar converted to Buddhism. “The media went to town with it. But during the trial, which lasted for more than four years, there was not even a single attempt to mention either of these charges, leave aside producing any evidence to support them,” they wrote.

Ferreira was acquitted in 2012.

Likewise, when Gonsalves was arrested, he was accused of being a top Naxalite, possessing explosives and financing the Maoists. In fact, a delegation which approached then Maharashtra Home Minister RR Patil on Gonsalves’ behalf was told that the Anti-Terrorism Squad had evidence of large amounts of money in his bank accounts. Ferreira and Gonsalves wrote, “The trial went on for almost six years without any evidence regarding the funds being ever brought before the court.”

Gonsalves was acquitted in 2013.

Obviously, the police did not befriend Ferreira and Gonsalves during their incarceration. Ferreira went on to write Colours of the Cage to detail the torture he underwent in jail. “To make me more amenable to their demands, they stretched out my body completely… My arms were tied to a window grille high above the ground while two policemen stood on my outstretched thighs to keep me pinned to the floor,” Ferreira wrote.

Look at their plight from another perspective. When Ferreira was arrested, his son was just two and a half years. Five years later, his son, now seven years old, perhaps would have had a hard time recognising his father, let alone understand why he was in prison. Ferreira was quoted saying he had to rebuild his relationship with his son anew.

Ferreira is back in jail, once again, for his Maoist links. During the interrogation, he was repeatedly slapped so hard that he, as was recently reported, had to be admitted to hospital for treatment.

After the second batch of human rights activists was arrested on 28 August, five public intellectuals petitioned the Supreme Court requesting that it should constitute a special investigation team for probing the charges against the 10 activists. In a majority verdict, justice Dipak Mishra and justice AM Khanwilkar dismissed the plea. Justice DY Chandrachud dissented from the majority opinion.

It is pertinent to point out what Chandrachud said in the minority judgement: “Sufficient material has been placed before the Court bearing on the need to have an independent investigation.” Not only did justice Chandrachud order the appointment of the Special Investigation Team, but he also wanted the petition to be listed after three days of the judgment, delivered on 28 September, to decide on who its members should be.

His order spawned media stories that speculated whether Chandrachud was to deliver a unanimous judgment, but the other two judges had second thoughts so late that it became impossible to alter the sentence asking the petition to be listed three days. Why would a judge do that when his was a minority opinion and therefore, could not be implemented? (A footnote in the judgment was added to clarify the matter.)

That could well have been an example of media over-reaction. Yet what is irrefutable is the statistics reeled out in Chandrachud’s judgment: VV Rao, arrested on 28 August, had been previously implicated in 25 similar cases out of which 13 ended in acquittal, three in discharge and nine in the withdrawal of the prosecution. Ferreira was acquitted in all the 11 cases in which he was implicated before being arrested, once again, last year.

Likewise, Gonsalves had been acquitted in 17 out of the 19 cases in which he was accused. In the remaining two, Chandrachud noted,  “a discharge application is pending in one case while an appeal against conviction in another case is pending before the Nagpur bench of the High Court, where he has already served his sentence.” Imagine the wasted years if Gonsalves was to win an acquittal in the 19th one. It is another matter that the spectre of 20th case stares at him now.

Given this backdrop, there is no reason why Teltumbde should undergo the harassment because of the state’s propensity to fabricate cases against those who disagree with it. If a man married to Ambedkar’s granddaughter, with accomplishments that are extraordinary, can be treated with such disdain and so callously, you then know you are in the heart of darkness.

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Updated Date: Jan 18, 2019 11:21:23 IST

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