The Supreme Court. Image used for representational purposes. 

Supreme Court Orders House Arrest Of Activists Till Sept. 6

The Supreme Court of India in an interim order said that five human rights activists arrested by the police in connection with the probe into Bhima Koregaon violence should be kept under house arrest till Sept. 6.

The top court agreed to hear a batch of petitions challenging the arrests filed by civil society members Romila Thapar, Satish Deshpande, Parbhat Patnaik, Devaki Jain and Maju Daruwala. Till the next hearing on Sept. 6, all related cases in other courts will be on hold.

Vernon Gonsalves, Gautam Navlakha, Sudha Bhardwaj, Arun Ferreira and Varavara Rao were arrested from various locations across the country yesterday in sudden raids by the Pune Police. The arrests stem from the probe into last year’s violence that took place at Bhima Koregaon, Maharashtra, during an event to commemorate the Jan. 1, 1818 victory of the British East India Company soldiers, mostly drawn from the Mahar Dalit community, over the upper-caste Peshwa army.

The action of “the Pune Police is the biggest attack on the freedom and liberty of citizens by resorting to high handed powers without credible material and evidence,” according to the petition filed by Thapar. “The entire exercise is to silence dissent, stop people from helping the downtrodden and marginalised people across the nation and to instil fear in minds of the people.”

A number of high-profile lawyers including Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Indira Jaising, Dushyant Dave, Raju Ramachandran, Rajeev Dhawan, Prashant Bhushan, Vrinda Grover and others appeared for the petitioners.

Singhvi, a senior advocate, argued that those arrested were neither present in Bhima Koregaon when the violence took place, nor were they named in the FIR that was registered. The Maharashtra government, represented by Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, opposed the petition saying that none of those arrested had approached the court.

At one point during the hearing, an upset Justice Chandrachud told the lawyers appearing for the state that “dissent is the safety valve of democracy. If dissent is not allowed, this safety valve will burst”.

Also read: Climate of ‘Fear’ Among Rights Groups as India Arrests Activists

Singhvi sought a stay on the arrest, saying that if citizens are arrested in this fashion, it will be the end of democracy in the country.

Thapar’s petition said the charges against them “on the face of it appear indiscriminate, unwarranted and part of a malicious campaign to threaten human rights defenders, independent journalists, writers and thinkers in this country, from critiquing the government and its policies and an attempt to muzzle dissent”.

Supporting her argument, Singhvi, and senior advocates Rajeev Dhawan and Dushyant Dave called them “random arrests”. The arrested individuals have no criminal antecedents, Dave said, adding that India’s not a police state where people can be arrested in this manner.