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A "fake" attempt: Why didn't Maharashtra police produce "incriminating" evidence in court, released it to media?

By Adv Masood Peshimam*
The liberal movement in any country, and more so India, has a positive side: It helps check ultra-conservatism, ultra-orthodoxy and ultra-nationalism. It is under the liberal spell that extremist mindsets, seeking to target vulnerable sections and stifle dissent, can be curbed to an extent.
One can express dissent on any issue. The Constitution gives the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19, though subject to certain restrictions. However, the concept of reasonable restrictions is capable of widest interpretations, and hence there is a scope of its misuse.
In the prevailing political atmosphere in the country, attempt is being made not just to stifle dissent but sustain the campaign of violence against the weak and the feeble. The worst part of the scenario is that all the wrong things are done in the name of nationalism, and those opposing the establishment are retaliated with the stigma of being anti-national. Liberal voices are not only attempted to be curbed with heavy outpouring of criticism, even violence is perpetrated.
It is against this backdrop that the government of the day is refusing to discourage belligerence and bellicosity of communal forces, who perpetrate a high degree of tyranny and repression, curbing the freedom of intellectuals expressing their dissent.
Recently, the police swooped down on human right activists. The action was described as a follow up of a plot to assassinate the Prime Minister, "unravelled" after the seizure of a letter from a Maoist sympathiser. Those arrested included lawyer-activist Sudha Bharadwaj from Faridabad, civil rights activist Gautam Nanlakha from Delhi, activist Vernon Gonsalves and lawyer-activist Arun Ferreira from Mumbai, and 78-year-old Telugu poet and activist Varavara Rao from Hyderabad.
The arrests, which took place alongside raids on several others' houses, police said, were based on names that emerged during the investigation of five other activists they had arrested in June in connection with the Bhima-Koregaon violence.
While the Pune Police termed raids and arrests a crackdown on “Urban Naxals”, who they claimed were responsible for the violence, many reacted with shock, describing the action as “absolutely chilling” and “virtual declaration of Emergency”, treating it as an assault on democracy. There are allegations of victimisation of the intellectuals.
Meantime, the Supreme Court expressed dismay over the manner in which the five activists were arrested in connection with the Bhima-Koregaon violence, observing that dissenting voices in a democracy should not be crushed. “Dissent is the safely valve of democracy, if dissent is not allowed then the pressure cooker may burst”, said Justice Y Chandrachud.
Subsequently, making out a case for the recent nationwide crackdown on activists by Pune Police, Maharashtra Additional Director General (Law & Order) Parambir Singh claimed that they have enough evidence to prove that the arrested activists Varavara Rao, Sudha Bhadwaj and Rona Wilson had links with outlawed Naxal groups.
At a media briefing, he said he had “email-letters” which purportedly spoke about arms procurement, muzzling of democracy and raising of funds, suggesting, they had solid Maoist links  The police also said that they have recovered “thousands of such letters” from the laptops seized from the accused.
But questioning the credibility of the letters, lawyer Susan Abraham, wife of Vernon Gonzales, one of the arrested activists, accused the police of not following the due process of law. 
“This is just to prejudice the minds of the public and divert the attention from the real issues like involvement of Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote [in Bhima-Koregaon violence] and Sanatan Sanstha’s involvement in the killing of rationalists. There is no credential value of the letters as none of these was authenticated in the Court, nor given to the defence lawyers”, Abraham said.
She asked why the police did not mention the “letters” in the Court if those were so important. “When the Pune Police filed a remand application in the District and Sessions Court on August 29 during the production of Varavara Rao, Vernon Gonzales and Arun Ferreira, they had stated 18 reasons. Not a single reason mentioned any letter or procurement of arms. I don’t understand why such kind of maligning of the accused is being done when the matter is already in the domain of the Court. This is illegal”.
“Any such document, if it is so sensitive, cannot be opened before the media before being examined by the Supreme Court. This is a actually part of the prosecution’s evidence”, a senior lawyer, practising at the Bombay High Court, Sanjay Kantawala, said. Senior lawyer Mihir Desai also said that the letters appeared to be suspicious.
Clearly, the possibility of someone faking the mail ID and "sending" incriminating documents cannot be ruled out. However, without verifying the accuracy of the documents the media briefing was uncalled for as the information fed at this stage tantamounted to influencing the public opinion. Advocate Abu Zaid Iraqi, prsacricing in Kalyan and Bombay sessions court, believes, “The Apex Court can take suo motu action against the prosecution for prematurely releasing the letters”. Another advocate Anand Khanderao feels that the arrest of these human rights activists is to divert the attention from some other sensitive issues.
Meanwhile, top writer-activist like Arundhati Roy, Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani and senior activist Aruna Roy have protested against the arrests. Roy said, “They should raid those who lynch and murder people in broad daylight. It tells very clearly where India is headed. Murderers will be honoured and celebrated. Anybody who speaks for justice or against Hindu majoritatianism is being made into criminal. What is happening is absolutely perilous”.
Justice Kolse Patil said that the Elgar Parishad had been suddenly linked to Bhima-Koregaon riots when an earlier report had said the riots were linked to incitement by Hindutva activists Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide. To Patil, the wrongful arrest of activists was an attempt by the state and the Central government to divert attention from the recent arrests of Sanatan Sanstha activists.
The outpouring of criticism against the arrest of activists born out of suspicion is based on the premise that there is an attempt to politically influence different components of the government, more so the law enforcing agencies. Political interference in police functioning is a matter of serious concern. 
 The prejudiced role of certain section of the police to prevent the repeated occurrence of mob lynching, absence of action against those indulging in inflammatory utterances against vulnerable sections and turning a blind eye over similar acts of commission and omission have put the credentials of the police at stake.
However, the entire police force cannot be tarred with the same brush. There are a lot of secular people in the police, who don’t want any section of society to be victimised on the basis of narrow considerations.
Series of gory events are leading to undeclared Emergency with heavy misuse of nationalism, which is much more dangerous than the declared Emergency of 1975-77. During the Emergency there was no attempt to provoke assault over any particular section of society, but currently intense hatred is being provoked against particular sections, sometimes in the name of religion, sometimes in the name of nationalism.
---
*Based in Kalyan, Maharashtra

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