The proceedings in the Bombay High Court regarding the bail plea of Vernon Gonsalves, an activist facing charges under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) for his alleged links with the CPI (Maoist), are a pointer to all that seems questionable about the police action that followed the Bhima-Koregaon incident in January 2018.
Gonsalves was arrested by Pune Police on August 28 last year and has been in prison since. Police has provided a list of CDs, documents and books that were allegedly seized during a search at Gonsalves’ home to the court to oppose his bail — including Anand Patwardhan’s acclaimed film, Jai Bhim Comrade, and the online library Marxist Archives.
The exchanges in court reveal the callous and shoddy manner in which the police have apparently proceeded in this case: On Wednesday, Judge Sarang Kotwal pulled up the prosecution for not listing the contents of the seized CDs in the chargesheet. As Justice Kotwal said, the police “have to show that the material that it has is incriminating evidence”. It is a travesty of justice to hold a person in judicial custody for a year when the prosecution seems to rest its case on pieces of literature and music.
In fact, the Bhima-Koregaon case has the markings of a laboured attempt by the state to paint a subaltern political gathering as a violent uprising. The Bhima-Koregaon event (it resulted in caste violence and the death of one person) on January 1, 2018 and the Elgar Parishad in Pune that preceded it, were public events organised after securing the necessary permissions from the state.
The police, wary of the political implications of targeting a celebration of Dalit pride, has sought to read a Maoist conspiracy into it and target activists, who are lawyers, civil rights activists and so on. Along with Gonsalves, the police had arrested and charged trade leader and lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj, poet Varavara Rao and activist Arun Ferreira for alleged Maoist links.
Even before it moved against Gonsalves and others, Pune Police arrested Dalit activist Sudhir Dhawale, Nagpur academic Shoma Sen, activists Mahesh Raut and Rona Wilson on similar charges. Family members and supporters of the persons detained have accused the government of using them as an instrument to stifle potential dissent.
The onus is on the police to prove that it has a case against these individuals, and it must do so in reasonable time. As for bail, it is the right of every citizen and should be denied only in exceptional situations. The judiciary, hopefully, will recognise the injustice in the continued incarceration of those arrested after Bhima-Koregaon and order corrective steps.