Pune Police today (on June 6) have arrested five activists, slapping sections of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) in connection with the Elgar Parishad – a public meeting organised at Shaniwar Wada Fort on December 31, 2017, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the battle of Bhima-Koregaon.
The five arrested are advocate Surendra Gadling, general secretary, Indian Association of People’s Lawyers from Nagpur, Professor Shoma Sen, Head of Department (HoD) of English, Nagpur University, Sudhir Dhawale, editor of the Marathi magazine Vidrohi from Mumbai, Rona Wilson, public relations secretary, Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners (CRPP) and Mahesh Raut, anti-displacement activist from Bharat Jan Andolan and former Fellow at Prime Minister’s Rural Development for Gadchiroli District.
These arrests were purportedly made under an FIR registered on January 8, 2018 at Vishram Baug Police Station, Pune with regard to the holding of the Elgar Parishad. While the FIR was originally registered under sections 153(A), 505 (1)(b), 117 and 34 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), sources said that the case was later turned into a conspiracy case in March, after adding sections of UAPA to it.
The Elgar Parishad was organised by Bhima-Koregaon Shaurya Din Prerna Abhiyan, a coalition of 260 mass organisations. The mass meeting was addressed by prominent speakers including Justice P B Sawant, retired Supreme Court judge, Prakash Ambedkar, leader of the Bahujan Republican Party (Bharipa), Justice Kolse Patil, former judge with the Mumbai High Court, Jignesh Mevani, MLA from Gujarat, and other Dalit activists.
While the Elgar Parishad was underway, Hindutva groups had reportedly unleashed attacks on the Dalits who were on their way to the meeting. This resulted in a riot-like situation wherein Dalit and Maratha groups clashed at several places in Pune district, in which, one Dalit was killed and hundreds of people were injured.
On January 3, an FIR was registered at Pimpri police station, Pune, in which two pro-Hindutva leaders Milind Ekbote of Samast Hindu Aghadi, and Sambhaji Bhide of Shiv Pratishthan Hindustan were charged for orchestrating violence during and aftermath of the Elgar Parishad.
Reportedly, Ekbote and Bhide along with others, on December 29, had desecrated the Samadhi of Dalit icon Govind Gaikwad in Wadhu village, near Koregaon village, instigating violence between Dalits and Marathas in the district. Of the two accused Hindutva leaders, only Ekbote was arrested (who was later released on bail), while Bhide, who claims to be a close aid of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was never questioned by the Maharashtra Police in this regard.
Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR), in a statement, has condemned the arrests as “open show of State terror and complete bypassing of the Rule of Law by the BJP government” and demanded immediate release of the activists.
“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 1st January, 2018 at Bhima-Koregaon. The Fadnavis 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,” read the CPDR statement.
Condemning the arrests of the Dalit activists as “arbitrary police action”, various human rights activists held a demonstration at the Deonar police station in Mumbai.