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Release Sudha Bharadwaj, top academic, critic of govt lawlessness: Petition to Thackeray

Sudha Bharadwaj
Counterview Desk 
Through a petition to Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray, Prof Sandeep Pandey, the Magsaysay award winning social activist, along with university academics, students and other activists*, have sought wider support for immediate release of Prof Sudha Bharadwaj, in jail since August 2018 for her alleged involvement in Maoist terror activists following a Republic TV report said she was conspiring to create public disorder and unrest in India.
One who has been a visiting professor at the National Law University (NLU), Delhi, calling her a people’s advocate, the petition says, “Through her advocacy, her teaching, and her life, Sudha Bharadwaj exemplifies the transformative role of a lawyer in a society like ours”, claiming, “NLU Delhi students feel fortunate to have benefitted from her academic prowess. Her students can testify her unwavering commitment to the transformative vision of the Indian Constitution.”

Text:

We the undersigned request you to order the immediate release of Prof. Sudha Bharadwaj* - a civil rights activist who has been in jail since August 2018. She was taken into police custody on 26 August 2018 on suspicion of being involved in Maoist terror activities after Republic TV claimed that she had allegedly written a letter to Maoists and is conspiring to create public disorder and unrest in India. The said channel felt no shame in broadcasting that the elderly Professor was planning to murder the Prime-Minister of India.
Prof. Bharadwaj is a dedicated trade unionist lawyer and a civil rights activist who has diligently worked for the poor and marginalized. As a general secretary of Chhattisgarh People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), she has often led protests against the unfair land acquisition policies of the state. She has campaigned to protect the lives and livelihoods of tribals including those from indigenous Adivasi communities, to secure them land and forest rights and exposing administrative corruption.
She has been at the forefront in raising her voice against the systematic state oppression and injustices against the downtrodden. She has also been a visiting professor at the National Law University, Delhi, and has impressed students with passionate lectures on law and poverty.
This does not seem to be an isolated attack on an individual but appears to be a part of a planned and systematic agenda of some groups with vested interests to target various civil rights activists, pro-bono lawyers, and intellectuals who have vehemently criticized the anti-people policies the State. Also, the way these individuals are being maliciously branded as Urban Naxals and anti-nationals on national television, especially in such times of shrinking democratic spaces is extremely dangerous. 
Many who have interacted with Prof Bharadwaj in both professional and personal capacities have been pained to witness this deplorable attempt to attack a people’s advocate and an elderly professor who has been a vehement supporter of the transformative values of the Indian constitution.
In the opinion of Prof Aparna Chandra and other leading professors of the National Law University Delhi: 
“Prof Sudha Bharadwaj is an embodiment of the best in the academic profession and a fearless critic of governmental lawlessness, an emphatic and empathetic advocate amplifying the voices of those who are rarely heard within the corridors of power, and a beacon for future generations of lawyers in this country.
"Through her advocacy, her teaching, and her life, Sudha Bharadwaj exemplifies the transformative role of a lawyer in a society like ours. We can only hope to be as brave, insightful, and conscientious as her in our work and our daily lives. Citizens like Sudha Bharadwaj are the reason that our democracy lives and thrives”.
It is worth noting that previously Prof Bharadwaj had been invited to the national and state judicial academies for her positive contributions to labor law, development, environment, women’s rights, and access to justice. She had also been nominated to the governing body of the Chhattisgarh State Legal Services Authority.
NLU Delhi students feel fortunate to have benefitted from her academic prowess. Her students can testify her unwavering commitment to the transformative vision of the Indian Constitution and she has constantly emphasized the use of constitutional methods in addressing injustice and not violence. One wonders, how can a professor who owes unwavering allegiance to the supreme law of this land and non-violence can be accused of toppling the government using questionable means.
It is sad and unfortunate that this elderly professor and crusader of people’s rights along with many others is being continuously harassed and mistreated by the state and its agencies on one pretext or other.
Through her advocacy, her teaching, and her life, Sudha Bharadwaj exemplifies transformative role of lawyer in our society
She has been falsely labeled as Maoist and Naxalite and booked under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and other provisions of the Indian Penal Code, that include but is not limited to sedition (section 124 A), the punishment of criminal conspiracy (section 120 B), unlawful association (section 153 A) and imputations, and assertions prejudicial to national-integration (section 153 B).
These sham accusations and trials just to keep these civil rights activists under incarceration flies in the face of several leading Supreme Court judgments wherein the apex court has held that arrest could not be made by police in a routine manner.
This is certainly not the characteristics of the swaraj that Gandhi and other freedom fighters dreamt of. They did not fight tooth and nail against the colonial rule for an independent India, in which the harassment and arbitrary arrests of activists would become commonplace and where even basic civil liberties would be under threat.
Whereas the father of the nation enjoined upon the Indian state to strive to bestow freedom and Swaraj to the poorest and weakest, the current dispensation seems to be doing the opposite. It seems to be determined to depriving them of their freedom and liberty by arbitrarily arresting and throwing them in dark and filthy dungeons.
Now in this time of deadly Covid pandemic, the continued incarceration of Prof. Sudha Bharadwaj is inhumane and unconscionable. Prof Bharadwaj recently sought interim bail on medical grounds stating that she suffers from two severe comorbidities, diabetes, and high blood pressure, and also has a history of pulmonary tuberculosis.
But the agencies opposed the bail by arguing that she is “taking undue benefit” of the Covid-19 pandemic in seeking interim bail on medical grounds. The state must either prove its charges conclusively or set her free. The Socialist Party (India) demands Prof Sudha Bharadwaj and other political prisoners be released and the charges against them dropped immediately.
---
*Endorsed by: Sandeep Pandey, Ph.D., UC Berkeley, visiting faculty IIT Kanpur, IIT Gandhinagar, BHU Varanasi, IIM Ahmedabad; Shreekumar, organic farmer, taught at National Institute of Technology, Karnataka; Lubna Sarwath, PhD and former visiting lecturer, Trisakti University, Jakarta, Indonesia; Surabhi Agarwal, MPhil, Hyderabad University, with the Socialist Party (India); Poornima Padma, artist (alumnus of Shantiniketan), organic farmer, Karnataka; Bobby Ramakant, Citizen News Service; Atul, law student, National Law University, Delhi

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