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Arrest of rights activists an act to silence dissent: Plea by Romila Thapar, others in Supreme Court

The arrest of five rights activists by the Pune police on alleged Maoist links is aimed at silencing dissent and instilling fear in the minds of the people

india Updated: Aug 30, 2018 12:11 IST
Press Trust of India
Press Trust of India
New Delhi
Romila Thapar,Supreme Court,rights activists
Delhi Police personnel stand on duty as activists from various organisations stage a protest pertaining to the arrest of five activists, in connection with the Bhima-Koregaon protests, in New Delhi on Wednesday, Aug 29, 2018. (PTI)

The arrest of five rights activists by the Pune police on alleged Maoist links is aimed at silencing dissent and instilling fear in the minds of the people, noted historian Romila Thapar and four other academicians told the Supreme Court on Wednesday.

The petition filed by the five intellectuals alleged that the Pune police action was the “biggest attack” on freedom and liberty of citizens by resorting to high-handedness without any credible evidence. It also alleged that no action was taken against right-wing workers, against whom FIRs were lodged as they “were behind” the Koregaon-Bhima violence.

While observing that the dissent was the “safety valve” of democracy, the apex court today kept the five human rights activists arrested in connection with the Bhima-Koregaon violence case under house arrest at their homes till September 6.

Besides Thapar, noted economist Prabhat Patnaik, Padma Bhushan awardee and noted economist Devaki Jain, Sociology professor in Delhi University Satish Deshpande and Maja Daruwala who is barrister by training and senior advisor with Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative have filed the petition in the SC challenging the arrests.

The petition sought to “bring on record the gross abuse of police power in the country which intended to stifle, if not kill, independent voices and differing ideology from the party in power.”

“The entire exercise is to silence dissent, stop people from helping the downtrodden and marginalised people across the nation and to instill fear in minds of people,” the petition said.

“The timing of this action leaves much to be desired and appears to be motivated to deflect people’s attention from real issues,” the petition said.

The petition alleged that the charges against the activists on the face of it appears to be indiscriminate, unwarranted and part of a campaign to threaten human rights defenders, independent journalist, writers and thinkers from criticising the government.

“The use of the UAPA (Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act), meant for exceptional and violent activity, against such persons when there has been absolutely no evidence of acts of violence by these activists is deeply disconcerting and calls for an urgent intervention by the court,” the plea said.

The plea by the academicians said the police had filed FIRs on January 4 this year against Hindutva leaders Milind Ekbote and Shambhaji Rao Bhide based on eyewitness accounts that they and some fringe groups had incited the violence against the Dalit congregation.

They alleged that the Maharashtra government and its police did not take any purposeful and decisive action against the right-wing leaders “who were behind” the Koregaon-Bhima violence and instigated the attacks. “The police instead embarked on a motivated process of arresting a large number of human rights activists, lawyers and journalist...,” it said.

First Published: Aug 29, 2018 23:04 IST