Koregaon violence:PUDR demands repeal of UAPA charges, release of prisoners
New Delhi : September 5, 2018: In the wake of recent raids and arrests of five prominent activists --- Varavara Rao, Gautam Navlakha, Vernon Gonsalves, Sudha Bhardwaj and Arun Ferreira --- on charges under Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) for their alleged involvement in the Bhima Koregaon case, People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) has released a report “The Missing Terror Plot: Bhima Koregaon and the politics of UAPA”.
Responding to charges made by Maharashtra police of having unearthed “thousands of letters” and of having made a fool-proof case against these activists, and those five who were arrested in June ---vSudhir Dhawale, Surendra Gadling, Shoma Sen, Mahesh Raut and Rona Wilson --- on charges of inciting Bhima Koregaon violence and for conspiring with the Maoists to hatch a plot similar to the “Rajiv Gandhi style assassination attempt”, the present report demonstrates the absence of a terror plot linking these activists with either the violence committed at Bhima Koregaon on January 1 or with any conspiracy aimed at destabilizing the nation.
Based on evidence provided by police and after a study of documents and news reports, especially the invoking of UAPA charges on basis of an FIR lodged on January 8, the report draws attention to a number of issues.Police decision to prosecute these individuals has pointed out at facts that the first two FIRs lodged soon after the clashes were against Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide; that the report submitted by the coordination committee in January had clearly indicted them.
It has been pointed out in the report that Maharashtra government instituted a judicial commission to probe the violence. It has been described that decision of Maharashtra police to upstage the workings of a judicial commission and sidestep the investigation being done by Pune rural police and prosecute 10 activists under UAPA on charges of terror is evidence of a “growing political desperation”.
It has been cited that the first chapter “Politics of Suppression” delineates the political process by which Maharashtra government has attempted to discredit Dalit political assertion, deflect attention from the growing evidence against Ekbote and Bhide, and create an alternate discourse of intended violence incited by participants of Elgar Parishad.
It has also been stated that Maharashtra chief minister’s timing of giving a clean chit to Bhide toward March end conveniently coincided with the clamor against “so-called Maoist connection with the Elgar Parishad” and this coincidence was cemented through subsequent repeated demands for action against Maoists. The second chapter “The Politics of Omission” examines this political process and demonstrates how a similar process is at work under UAPA as far as Hindu terror suspects are concerned.
It has also been mentioned that the third chapter “Politics of Proscription” places the present case against 10 activists within this political understanding derived from the previous two chapters. It contextualizes how, by invoking UAPA in an FIR which was originally about communal disharmony, police hopes to create a sensational discovery of terror plot where none existed. Building on the clean chit offered to Bhide and the orchestrated campaign created by Bhide’s followers, cops raided houses of the activists in April, arrested five of them in June and followed it up with a targeted attack through selective media channels.
As per the report, the final chapter relies wholly on government data, National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), from 2014 to 2016, to show some staggering statistics related to the failure of UAPA. Inspite of an average of over 930 cases registered each year, the pendency rate remained astonishingly high, over 90%. The data has other shocking revelation that only 42% of the cases resulted in chargesheets while in 58% of the cases, police closed the cases. Average rate of conviction has stood at 2.36% and the remaining 97.64% cases either end in acquittal or linger on. Given the enhanced powers that UAPA gives to police over the accused, setting up of special courts for speedy trials, data shows the possibility of lowered threshold of investigation and increased detention periods of suspects on “flimsy charges”.
Now, PUDR has demanded for an unconditional repeal of UAPA and that the arrested “political prisoners” be released on an immediate basis. The Bhima Koregaon violence had broken out at an annual celebratory gathering to mark the 200th year of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon. One person had died, 30 cops were injured while over 300 people were detained following the incident.