On 28th August, 2018 the Pune Police swooped down on prominent rights activists of the country: Sudha Bharadwaj, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Gautam Navalakha, and Varavara Rao. They were to be taken to Pune on the fabricated charge of being linked to CPI (Maoist) party and funding Elgar Parishad. At the same time, premises of Stan Swamy and Anand Teltumbde were also raided, and both have been shown as “suspected accused” under various sections of the UAPA. All of the arrested and accused are long-standing contributors to various public discussion fora, including Sanhati, espousing their commitment to the people and democracy.

The Supreme Court has given reprieve to the detainees by stalling the arbitrary move. As of now, the activists are placed under house arrest till 12th September, 2018.

Earlier, five activists, including lawyers, Sudhir Dhawale, Surendra Gadling, Shoma Sen, Mahesh Raut and Rona Wilson, have been arrested on similar fictitious charges.

There are also reports that the Home ministerial agencies have sent watch-lists to various states, to keep an eye on various organizations and individuals, in the name of curbing “Urban Naxals”. One such list, which surfaced in West Bengal, includes one of our members, Partho Sarathi Ray.

We condemn this concerted persecution of the activists and the overarching suppression of dissent, in the strongest possible terms.

It is important to contextualize these draconian moves.

The 2014 Lok Sabha elections were won on the slogan of “Sab ka Saath, Sab ka Vikas”. This was a call to subsume all on a promised journey of development. It found many takers, who were fed up with previous Congress-led government’s rampant corruption, corporate loot of public resources, and armed forces’ highhandedness. What has transpired since 2014 is neither inclusive nor development.

The disastrous economic policies of the previous government have not been reversed, in fact they have been reinforced. Environmental protections have been made lax to help big capital plunder natural resources. Labour laws are being eroded to enable capitalists exploit the poor with greater ruthlessness. Big corporate houses are being showered with rewards as a quid pro quo of helping win elections. And to make matters worse, the country has been inflicted with harebrained disruptions like demonetisation and GST leading to large scale closures of small and medium units and massive unemployment. Predictably, all these moves have intensified the misery of the masses

To divert attention from the failures, and also to serve its religio-fascist ideals, Muslims, Dalits, Leftists, rights activists, rationalists are being attacked and killed. Anybody who does not concur with the image of the Hindu Rashtra has been targetted. This is being done at broadly three levels. Firstly, through roaming vigilante mobs across the country, and secondly, by shadow armed organisations — both associated with the ruling dispensation. The third is through mass media, especially crony TV channels. Based on concocted documents, these media outlets spew venom against the naysayers of the regime. After the canard is spread far and wide and hysteria is created, the State, that is, the police, jumps into action, on a cue, using fabricated premises. For example, it is public knowledge that Sudha Bhardwaj has had a long running smear campaign against her. And the ensuing confusion creates an atmosphere of fear which further silences dissenting voices in the society.

These draconian moves are preparations of the upcoming elections, in the states this year and in the centre in 2019. It also boosts communal polarization and loot of resources, for both of these help strengthening the ruling party and therefore, anyone speaking against these moves and policies are treated in an exemplary manner. This is the message of the arrests.

As citizens of a democratic country we condemn such cynical ploys by our elected government.

We demand immediate release of the detainees, withdrawal of all charges, and unconditional apology from the government.