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Silence on the part of Indian judiciary on vital aspects of human rights "abuse" is painful

By Stan Swamy*
India has vowed to be a socialist, secular, democratic republic. Sadly, all these values are steadily being eroded in the present political developments. About 20 intellectuals, professionals, activists who are working for the fundamental rights of the poor and marginalized and upholding the above mentioned constitutional values are being labeled ‘urban naxals’ and are being harassed no end either as ‘accused’ or as ‘suspects’. Their premises have been raided, their electronic devices seized, serious cases filed. Some are already in prison, others face arrest anytime.
I am one of the ‘suspects’, I was also raided on August 28, 2018, even after more than four months Pune police have not made any charges, and when I appealed to Bombay HC (No 4741 of 2018) to quash the FIR against me my petition was rejected. Instead it authorized Pune police to continue its investigation on me, without prescribing any time frame, to see if I have committed any offence under UAPA and if needed take strong legal action. Really an open-ended offer to the police !
Several of the accused have refuted the charges against them. But the court seems to go by police’s version with scant regard to what petitioners are saying.
This is an appeal to all democratic minded individuals/groups/ organizations/ movements/ordinary citizens who are genuinely concerned about the steadily deteriorating human rights situation in our country and to raise their voice against it.
***
The following considerations may be taken for what they are worth:
1. Justice PB Sawant, one of the organizers of the Bhima-Koregaon ‘Elgar Parishad’ event on 1st January 2018, in an interview testified that “For years these pilgrims had been going to Bhima Koregaon, no incident happened. Why did it happen last year only? Our sources tell us that these two people (Bhide and Ekbote) were working at least two months before the violence there because they knew many people were going to come because of the 200th anniversary.
This government wants to protect the Hindutva forces. They have been consistently trying to protect Hindutva activists who had indulged in violence… No Maoists were involved in the programme and the activists had been arrested because they criticised the government" (Pavan Dahat in Huffpost, Dcember 30, 2018).
Why the Investigating Officer and the courts did not pay attention to the above statement of a respected judge is a point of concern.
2. Various fact-findings took place, the most prominent amongst them was one conducted at the behest of Pune Rural IG, Vishwas Nagare Patil, wherein ex-mayor of Pune was part of the team which visited many places and submitted its report on January 20, 2018. Summarising the report we find the following chronological events narrated in the report. Note the careful planning by communal forces.
  • On December 16, 2017, one person namely Kaustubh Kasture had posted on Facebook that there would be riot on January 01, 2018, this person is supporter of Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote.
  • On December 30, 2017, Milind Ekbote took a meeting in Bhima Koregaon, whereat he decided to treat January 01, 2018 as black day and ensure bandh all across the area.
  • On December 29, 2017, memorial of Govind Mahar, who has legend to his credit of having shown courage to cremate the dead of Sambhaji Maharaj son of Shivaji Maharaj, came to be defiled. This resulted into a riot like situation in Vadu Budruk and adjacent areas, however all the villagers acted with responsibility and sorted out the issue amongst themselves and peace was restored. By December 30, 2017, though the issue at the Vadu Budruk was resolved peacefully, it is said that Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote, instigated the villagers.
  • On December 30, 2017, a message was circulated on social media that there is a meeting called by Sambhaji Bhide in Vadu Village on January 01, 2018 and the supporters should gather in large numbers.
  • On the night of December 31, 2017 Pradip Kand, Anil Kand and Ganesh Kand were threatening hotel owners to ensure bandh on January 01, 2018.
  • Women in the vicinity knew prior about the riot on January 01, 2018, President of Tanta Mukti (dispute resolution) Committee, namely Vaibhav Yadav, had stored sticks and swords in his shop a night before.
  • Suddenly on late night December 31, 2017, a letter was sent to police station, near Bhima Koregaon purportedly written by Bhima Koregoan Gram Panchayat, wherein police were informed about the bandh to be observed next day. (Nihal Singh Rathod in The Leaflet, January 6, 2019).
The Bombay HC while giving credence to the police version of the events has not asked the police whether any other reports were made. Could it have asked for this report to see the other side of the coin?
3. Within a week, the Pune Rural Police registered at least 22 FIRs, including Anita Sawale’s, in multiple incidents of attacks against the pilgrims across different routes leading to the war memorial. The state government has stated before a Pune court that there are over 1,400 suspects in these cases, and estimated a total loss to public property of over Rs 1.5 crore. In the first information report registered against her complaint, Sawale named Manohar Bhide, president of the Shiv Jagar Pratishthan, Milind Ekbote, president of the Hindu Janjagran Samiti, and their “savarna sathidar”—savarna associates (The Caravan, September 14, 2018 by Sagar).
To my knowledge, no courts have directed the police to act upon these FIRs. It is strange that one man’s FIR has galvanized against human rights activists and the defenders of the poor but 22 FIRs got no response and interestingly the judiciary did not comment on it.
4. The raid of my living room-cum-office by Pune police on August 28, 2018 was illegal and inhuman. Both the Search Order and the Report-cum-inventory were written in Marathi language which I could not understand. The search on my premises at 6 am August 28, 2018 by Pune police accompanied by a contingent of Namkum police thana, Ranchi, Jharkhand, was illegal. When I asked to see the Search Warrant the Pune police showed a Search Order. It was in Marathi language which I do not know. Hence I asked them to give me a translation of the Search Order either in Hindi or English, so I could understand the nature of the order. The Pune police responded that it was not possible and that the search had to be carried out immediately.
Thus they forcibly entered my room and spent three hours scrutinizing everything. They seized my laptop computer, a tablet, a camera, mobile phone and some instrumental music CDs. Then they produced a report-cum-inventory of seized articles, which was also in Marathi language, and asked me to sign the same. At this point I refused to sign a document in Marathi language which I do not understand until after an oral translation was done.
Pune police had brought two persons from Pune as ‘Panch’ which makes the search illegal. The law on Search prescribes that a few respectable civilian people in the area be present during the search and that they sign as witnesses. But Pune police had brought two ‘panch’ along with them who signed as witnesses. This is a gross violation of the law and caused injustice to me. There were raids all over India on those who speak against injustices, but these raids did not follow the well-laid procedures. Its illegal nature is blatant.
5. Torture in Police Custody: Adv Arun Ferreira, one of the accused, was tortured in Pune Police Custody. “Arun Ferreira alleged in the court that he was beaten up during custodial interrogation. He said that on November 4 around 4 pm, during the interrogation he was punched about 8-10 times by the Investigating Officer (I.O.) Shivaji Pawar. The IO also hit him in the eye. While beating up Ferriera, IO Pawar was asking him questions about Indian Association of People's Lawyers (IAPL). On November 5, he was taken to the Sassoon hospital. Injuries and contusion near eye were noted by the doctors at Sassoon hospital while conducting his medical examination" (Sushmita in Sabrang India, 6 November 6, 2018).
This is a serious human rights issue. Just last year when the United Nations Human Rights Council was trying to muster the nations of the world to sign the Treaty Against Torture, the Indian envoy loudly proclaimed, “The very idea of torture is completely alien to Indian culture” ! On this basis India did not sign the UN document against torture.
But everyone knows the police everywhere in India do torture prisoners to extract ‘confessions’. And when even eminent persons who have dedicated their life for the cause of the oppressed masses are subjected to this inhuman practice it is a matter of serious concern. This is also a violation of Supreme Court observing “ ‘custodial torture’ as a violation of human dignity and degradation that destroys self-esteem of the victim and does not even spare his personality” (SC - SCC No. 416 / 1997 D.K.Basu vs State of WB).
But strangely enough, the judge at the Pune court did not comment on the petitioner’s mention of the torture. Silence from the judiciary on this vital aspect of human rights is painful.
I have thought these things aloud. I am sharing some questions that popped out. I do hope we can get answers.
---
*Text of the "Appeal to the Conscience of the Nation", released by Father Stan Swamy, one of the accused in the Bhima-Koregaon case, on the occasion of the Republic Day, "when India took on the mantle of a socialist, secular, democratic Republic"

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