The arrests of prominent civil rights activists and multi-city searches of their homes triggered outrage and condemnation by several lawyers, academics and authors today, some who termed the move “absolutely chilling” and others saying it amounted to a “virtual declaration of emergency”.
What is happening is absolutely perilous, said author and Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy after the raids, whichwere carried out as part of a probe into the violence at Maharashtra’s Koregaon-Bhima village, triggered by ‘Elgar Parishad’ event in Pune on December 31 last year.
Searches were carried out at the residences of poet Varavara Rao in Hyderabad, activists Vernon Gonzalves and Arun Ferreira in Mumbai, trade unionist and lawyer Sudha Bhardwaj in Faridabad and Chhattisgarh and civil liberties activist Gautam Navalakha in Delhi, a police official in Pune said. The official said Rao and Bhardwaj were arrested.
There were unconfirmed reports about arrests of several other activists in the raids. “The simultaneous state-wide arrests are a dangerous sign of a government that fears it is losing its mandate and is falling into panic. That lawyers, poets, writers, Dalit rights activists and intellectuals are being arrested on ludicrous charges… while those who make up lynch mobs and threaten and murder people in broad daylight roam free, tells us very clearly where India is headed,” Roy told PTI in a message.
She added that murderers are being honoured and protected and anybody who speaks up for justice or against Hindu majoritarianism is being made into a criminal. “What is happening is absolutely perilous. In the run up to elections, this is an attempted coup against the Indian Constitution and all the freedoms that we cherish,” Roy said.
In June, five activists were arrested in connection with the case. Voicing their deep anguish at today’s developments, civil rights activists said the scale of raids and subsequent arrests were unprecedented. “Fascist fangs are now openly bared,” tweeted lawyer Prashant Bhushan.
“It is a clear declaration of emergency. They are going after anyone who has spoken against the government on rights issues. They are against any dissent,” Bhushan said. Noted historian Ramachandra Guha called the action “absolutely chilling” and demanded the intervention of the Supreme Court to stop this “persecution and harassment” of independent voices. “Sudha Bharadwaj is as far from violence and illegality as Amit Shah is close to those things,” tweeted Guha. Rights activist Shabnam Hashmi, too, strongly condemned the raids. “Strongly condemn raids on human right defenders’ homes since Morning in Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Telangana, Delhi, Goa. Stop harassing HRDs! Condemn Modi’s authoritarian regime,” Hashmi said on Twitter. JNU student leader Shehla Rashid alleged the raids were an attempt to “instil fear among those are vocal about issues”. “It is also to manufacture a narrative and a sense of false enemy to misguided people ahead of the 2019 elections I highly condemn these,” she said. Former JNU leader Umar Khalid said the raids are an attempt to send a message to those who are raising their voices. “Ahead of 2019 elections, a sense of fictitious enemy is being conjured,” he said.