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Five Maharashtra Dalit rights leaders arrested: "Draconian" UAPA law invoked for Jan 1 Pune violence

Celebration on the 200th anniversary of Bhima-Koregaon victory
By Our Representative
In a surprise move, the Pune Police on Wednesday early morning, around 6.00 am, arrested several activists, imposing on them sections of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), which ensure long detention with added difficulties in obtaining bail. The arrests took place, purportedly, in response to the FIR registered on January 8, 2018 at Vishram Baug Police Station, Pune, with regard to the holding of the Elgar Parishad on December 31, 2017 by the Bhima-Koregaon Shaurya Din Prerna Abhiyan.
Reacting on the development, well-known Dalit rights leader Dr Anand Teltumbde, general secretary, Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR), said, the FIR was “originally registered “under sections 153(A), 505 (1)(b), 117 and 34 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC)”, but was turned into a “conspiracy case in March 2018”, with UAPA sections being added to it now.
Calling it a “draconian” move, Teltumbde said, “These arrests are in the face of the mass demand of several political parties and human rights organizations and activists and the Prerna Abhiyan, in particular, to arrest the leaders of Sangh Parivar organizations, Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote, who were responsible for the violence on January 1, 2018 at Bhima-Koregaon.”
He added, “The Phadnavis government, which has been protecting these actual perpetrators of the violence, has been attempting to create a false narrative that the violence at Bhima Koregaon was caused by the Elgar Parishad and that banned Maoist organizations are behind the Prerna Abhiyan.”
Those arrested in the early morning swoop are advocate Surendra Gadling, who happens to be general secretary of the Indian Association of People’s Lawyers from Nagpur; Prof Shoma Sen, head of department, English, Nagpur University; Sudhir Dhawale, editor, “Vidrohi”, Mumbai; Rona Wilson, public relations secretary, Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners; and Mahesh Raut, anti-displacement activist from the Bharat Jan Andolan and former fellow at the Prime Minister’s Rural Development (PMRD) for Gadchiroli district.
Arrested activists
The Bhima-Koregaon Shaurya Din Prerna Abhiyan is a coalition of around 260 mass organizations under the Chairmanship of Retired Supreme Court Justice PB Sawant and includes prominent political figures like Prakash Ambedkar, leader of the Bahujan Republican Party and Justice Kolse-Patil (retired).
In commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the battle of Bhima-Koregaon that “vanquished” the Peshwa rule, the Abhiyan organized a mass meeting on December 31, 2017 at the historic Shaniwar Wada in Pune, with several prominent speakers like retired High Court Justice Kolse Patil, Prakash Ambedkar, Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani and others.
Dr Teltumbde said, “The Elgar Parishad was organised with the stated objective of fighting the Nav-peshwahi. The programme was hugely successful and attended by thousands from across the state. However on the following day, those commemorating the event at Bhima-Koregaon were attacked by a mob carrying saffron flags and instigated by Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote, two right wing activists who are closely connected with the ruling BJP and this attack was part of a pre-meditated plan.”
According to him, “The entire operation has been stage-managed by the Maharashtra government keeping in mind the judicial enquiry headed by Justice JN Patel (Retd) in order to ensure that submissions from the victims of the Hindutva and State violence are suppressed. It has also been done to queer the pitch for the forthcoming elections in the State as well as 2019.”
He added, “The BJP government is desperate to create a reign of terror in order to polarize the Dalit and Bahujan votes. And also to create a terror narrative thereby protecting the real terror culprits Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote who will ensure votes for the BJP.”
Meanwhile, well-known Gujarat’s Dalit rights leader and MLA Jignesh Mevani, has termed the arrest as an “attack on Ambedkarite movement”, tweeting, the “Maharashtra police has arrested Ambedkarite activist and editor Sudhir Dhawale in Mumbai, advocate Surendra Gadling in Nagpur and Rona Wilson in Delhi. under draconian UAPA, while Bhima Koregaon culprit Manohar Bhide roam scot free.”

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