War Against People: Are Wings Of Dissent Being Curbed?

“The Sanctity of the law can be maintained only so long as it is the expression of the will of the people.” - Revolutionary Bhagat Singh.


Amid ongoing investigation in the Nalasopara Explosive Case and Dr. Narendra Dabholkar Murder Case, the state-run Maharashtra Police raided the residence of human rights activists and arrested them, for their connections with the five accused arrested earlier on June 6, in connection with the Bhima-Koregaon Violence. 

According to media reports, the police raided the house of Comrade Varavara Rao, a poet and activist, in Hyderabad and took him into custody. After the raids, police also arrested Human Rights advocate Sudha Bharadwaj in Faridabad along with activist Gautam Navlakha from Delhi. Dalit Activist Anand Teltumbde’s house in Goa was raided in his absence while Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves were arrested from Mumbai.  

Being labelled as ‘Urban Maoists’ or ‘Urban Naxalites’, the five arrested – Varavara Rao, Sudha Bharadwaj, Gautam Navlakha, Arun Ferreira, and Vernon Gonsalves – were picked up from their residences on the basis of mere suspicion for connections with the Maoists. 

Many politicians, academicians, and activists have reacted to these arrests implying that we are living in dark times. Condemning these arrests, Activist and profound writer Arundhati Roy said that this particular incident is as close as we can get to an emergency.

With the arrests of five activists on various charges filed by Maharashtra police, the Indian state has been successful in curbing dissent yet again. Earlier on June 6, Pune police in a joint operation arrested organiser of Elgaar Parishad and Dalit activists, Sudhir Dhawale, along with Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut, Shoma Sen, and Rona Wilson and booked them under Unlawful Activity Prevention Act (UAPA), 1967. Of the convicted individuals under UAPA, 72.7 per cent have been acquitted by the courts, as per the government statistics.

The act which aims to deter the “unlawful” activities of individuals and organisations have been grossly misused and has not only helped the establishment to violate the fundamental rights of the alleged accused but also their human rights.

Laws like UAPA have given immense power to the state including one where they can arrest and search an individual on the basis of mere speculations and without a warrant, respectively. Similarly, the Indian state has produced laws like Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) and Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) to defend the integrity of the country and to tackle terrorism.

However, TADA and POTA were scrapped in 1995 and 2004, respectively, but UAPA was given more bite. Since its inception, the nature of the Indian state to tackle its opponents has been highly aggressive. From the Naxalbari movement to the struggle in Kashmir, they have suppressed every struggle started for the people. Similar to the British rule, the Indian state also possesses the imperialistic approach to control the rebels in the country by military pressure and using the law against its own civilians.

UAPA: A draconian law?

Many activists and lawyers have labelled this law as draconian and highly vague which enables the government and law enforcement agencies to act on any individual or organisation without any proof and for their different political and ideological beliefs. Moreover, If an individual is booked under this law, the provision to get bail is almost impossible. This act denies the natural and fundamental right of the alleged accused - to breathe in the open air and to live with dignity.

Under UAPA, one can be booked for inciting disaffection against India and the one who believes in an ideology which goes against the Indian state - they can be booked under this law labelled as terrorists. There have been such cases where individuals were arrested under this law for their political beliefs. In 2011, Jyoti Babasaheb Chorge, 19, was arrested under this law by the Pune Police and she was released a year later - her offence was that she possessed Maoist literature, according to the police. 

  • Earlier in 2014, Delhi University professor G.N. Saibaba, a 90 per cent disabled person, was booked under UAPA for allegedly possessing Maoists links and the reason cited by the police was to prevent him from carrying out “Anti-National Activities”. However, in this case, a JNU student and cultural activist Hem Mishra, and four others are in jail serving life imprisonment, as per the verdict carried out by Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli district court. 

  • The JNU student was arrested, earlier in 2013, for being a Maoist courier and spent almost two years in jail after his arrest deprived him of his freedom given under the Article 19 of the Indian Constitution.

The Kerala High Court carried out a verdict stating that being a Maoist is not a crime until the person commits an actual crime followed by the Supreme Court’s verdict that to believe in any ideology doesn’t make a person criminal. Despite this, the Indian state has managed to violate the rulings and has arrested individuals for their political beliefs.

Know the so-called "Urban Naxals"

Maharashtra police have arrested 10 activists till now who are known to stand against the discrimination and exploitation of the marginalised sections of society – Dalits and Adivasis. The search warrant against them which cite sections of the anti-terrorism law, the UAPA, and Indian Penal Code (IPC).  

  • Varavara Rao, a poet and activist, has dedicated his whole life to fight for the people’s issues. His contribution to Teague political literature is noted and he is also the founder of Virasam (Revolutionary Writers' Association). 
  • Sudha Bharadwaj, an advocate, working in Chattisgarh, fighting for the rights of mine workers for 28 years as a member of late Shankar Guha Niyogi's Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha. Despite High Court’s order to put her under house arrest, the police took her to Surajkund Police station. 
  • Arun Ferreira was jailed for being part of the banned Maoist group in 2007. He was acquitted of all charges later in 2014. However, he waited for four years after writing a letter to the court that he is not a Maoist. He penned down his experience in his book, Colours of the Cage: A Prison Memoir, which narrates the events when he was tortured in jail.
  • Gautam Navlakha, a Delhi-based journalist associated with People’s Union for Democratic rights, has written extensively about the alleged exploitation of human rights in Kashmir. Vernon Gonsalves, an activist and former lecturer, has been charged in 20 cases but was acquitted due to lack of evidence after six years of prison.
  • Since the inception of his political career, Dhawale participated in people’s struggle since the inception of his political career. From the very beginning, he has been aware of the plights of his community. Thus, Dhawale started participating more in social movements and due to this, he was always under the radar of the state and police.

  • Surendra Gadlinga lawyer, who fights the cases of people identified as “political prisoners”. Until his arrest, he was fighting the case for G.N. Saibaba and handles cases like these with his expertise in UAPA and he never made money out of it. 

  • Mahesh Rauta fellow in the Prime Minister Rural Development fellowship, is known for his active role in fighting against the mining operations in Gadchiroli’s Surjagad. For the tribals, Surjagad is a sacred place where the Indian state plans to initiate mining operations and while working with the Visthapan Virodhi Jan Vikas Andolan, Raut has been against this move proposed by the establishment. With the other activists, the associates of his alma mater, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, have also criticised Raut’s arrest.

  • Rona Wilson and Shoma Sen were also arrested for Maoists links. Wilson actively struggled for the release of the political prisoner and he was arrested for alleged Maoist links.

During Dhawale’s arrest in connection with the Bhima-Koregaon violence, the police dragged him, out of his Mumbai residence, in his night Pajamas and did not even allow him to change. However, on the other hand, for the other accused Hindutva leader Milind Ekbote, the police waited two hours outside his residence in order to question him in this regard. Ekbote was busy in his daily pooja. Doesn't this raise questions over the partial treatment of police while making an arrest?

Dhawale organised Elgar Parishad to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Koregaon battle in which the Mahar community defeated the Peshwas. The celebration of the anniversary at Bhima Koregaon is an every year affair. However, this year, it took a violent turn escalating a clash between the saffron forces and the Dalits. However, there have been many protests in Mumbai after the incident, with Dr. Prakash Ambedkar carrying out a massive rally demanding to arrest the culprits - Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote.

Repeal UAPA

There are so many cases under UAPA in which many individuals have been jailed for years and have lost their dignity, freedom and this article will not be enough to list them down. Arrests made under UAPA makes it harder for the accused to get justice and the dissenters face unreasonable jail time with torture and ill-treatment from the police and state.

Using such laws to curb dissent has been the old strategy of the Indian state. When TADA was introduced during Indira Gandhi’s regime in 1985, it was highly misused against the Khalistani agitators in Punjab which enabled the government to take action against those who voiced out against the action of the Indian state. Is history repeating itself with the current scenario?

Prime Minister Modi, in his speeches, has massively criticised Congress for their policies and happenings under their rule, but recent happenings in the country raise a question over draconian laws like UAPA and the way they have been used. 

The recent happenings are a result of high insecurities that the Indian state possess, the establishment is scared of the ideas and resistance posed by the people of the country. 

Ideas which are concrete and work in the favour of people while criticising the government and its actions is what threatens the Indian state. People’s struggle against the UAPA remains, many notable activists, journalists, and academicians have spoken against the vagueness of this law. It is time for us to realise the true and insecure nature of the Indian state and stand beside the people and their struggle. 

In solidarity with all the political prisoners. Demand for their release and Repeal UAPA.

Cover Image Artist: Jaybee

Note: This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. Mumbai Live neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.