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SC issues notice to Centre, Maharashtra govts, orders house arrest for activists till Sep 6



Supreme Court

A three-judge Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra today provided interim relief to the five activists arrested by Pune police on Tuesday, August 28, by ordering they be kept under house arrest till the next date of hearing on September 6.

The court also issued notices to the Centre and Mahrashtra government, seeking their replies.

The apex court observed that those arrested are prominent rights activists, professors and lawyers.

Justice Chandrachud, who was part of the bench, said that dissent is the safety valve of democracy

Hearing over the arrests were also held in the Delhi High Court and a sessions court in Pune. The Delhi HC, which had on Tuesday stayed the transit remand of activist Gautam Navlakha, has said that it would examine the legality of the Maharashtra police action. The court also slammed police for failing to produce the translated version of the FIR and said it was yet to hear the grounds of arrest.

Hearing that the SC has stayed the transit remand of activist arrested yesterday and ordered house arrest till Sep 6, Delhi HC refrained from passing any order on Gautam Navlakha’s plea and stopped dictation of order and put it for tomorrow.

Varavara Rao, Arun Fereira and Vernon Gonsalves, on the other hand, were produced by Pune police at the sessions court there.

Varavara Rao, lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj, Arun Fereira, Gautam Navlakha and Vernon Gonsalves were arrested, the police have said, for their involvement in organising Elgaar Parishad earlier this year in Pune. Elgaar Parishad is an event to mark the 200th year of the Battle of Koregaon, which Dalit groups observe as a victory over the forces of the upper caste Peshwas. The raids were carried out in Delhi, Faridabad, Goa, Mumbai, Ranchi and Hyderabad.

The police contend the activists are linked to Maoists and were planning to recruit members from 35 colleges and launch attacks.

Earlier today, the petition by Thapar and others was mentioned for urgent hearing before a five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra. Besides Thapar, the other four petitioners are Prabhat Patnaik, Devaki Jain, Satish Deshpandey and Maja Daruwala.

Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for the petitioners told the bench that extraordinary circumstances have cropped up due to the Maharashtra Police action of arresting several human rights activists.

The petition to the top court sought the release of all the activists arrested during raids in connection with the Bhima-Koregaon case. The petitioners say the arrests were meant to muzzle dissent. “Are these arrests a demonstration to show that the democratic rights of the Indian citizen have been annulled?” petitioner Romila Thapar said in a statement.

Justice DY Chandrachud, one of the five judges hearing the case, said, “Dissent is the safety valve of democracy. If you don’t allow the safety valve pressure cooker will burst.”

The activists have been charged under the controversial Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, which authorises raids and arrest without warrant if a person is suspected to “support terrorist acts or unlawful activities”.

The accused cannot apply for bail and the police have 180 days to file a chargesheet, instead of 90.

Police had earlier arrested Shoma Sen, Rona Wilson, Sudhir Dhawale, Antachi Chalwal, Surendra Gadling and Mahesh Raut for allegedly sourcing funds from banned Maoist groups to help in organising Elgaar Parishad. It also accused them of planning to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a “Rajiv Gandhi-like manner”.

The arrests provoked sharp reactions.   

Congress president Rahul Gandhi said, “There is only place for one NGO in India and it’s called the RSS. Shut down all other NGOs. Jail all activists and shoot those that complain. Welcome to the new India.”

Union minister Kiren Rijiju, trying to portray that as defence of Maoists and painting the Dalit activists and intellectuals as naxalites, said: “As Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh had declared that Maoists are No.1 threat to India’s internal security. Now the Congress president openly supports the front organisations and sympathisers of the Maoists. Keep national security above politics.”

Reacting to NHRC’s notice to Maharashtra over arrest of five activists, Maharashtra minister Deepak Kesarkar has said that the arrests were not politically motivated. He also said that they would give an ‘apt’ reply to the NHRC. “This is a fight for the country. Naxalism a major threat to country’s security,” Kesarkar said.

Ajai Sahni, executive director of Institute for Conflict Management, and an expert on security issues, said: “The entire police action on the Bhima Koregaon violence is misconceived, and the case itself, including the so-called seized correspondence with Maoist leaders, appears concocted.”

He added, “There is a strong constituency in the ruling dispensation that feels that it is necessary to intimidate Left-leaning activists who are thought to be ‘sympathetic’ to the Maoists. The fabrication of the entire idea of an escalating ‘urban Maoist’ movement is part of this campaign.”

About the police case, he said, “None of these cases are expected or intended to stand under judicial scrutiny, but the judicial process itself is the intended end in these cases. This is a process of ‘punishment by trial’. Irrespective of the outcome, the torment of a protracted judicial process will silence these activists, and many others who will get the intended ‘message’. When the police cases eventually fail, as usual, no one will be held accountable.”

Further, in an indictment of government approach, he said, “This is an extension of a model long used in Chhattisgarh against a range of alleged sympathisers. The eventual consequences can only be counterproductive. It is crucial that the ideological middle ground should be preserved. A polarised society can never find its way to peace. Where clear evidence of criminal collusion or of other criminal activities is available, of course, action must be taken. But, as I said before, that does not appear to be the case or intention here.”

Arundhati Roy hit out, saying, “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. Murderers are being honoured and protected.” Roy added: “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.”

“They should raid those who make up lynch mobs and murder people in broad daylight. It tells us very clearly where India is headed,” she said.

Historian Ramachandra Guha blamed it on the “corporate cronies of the ruling government,” who, he said, were bent on grabbing tribal land, forest and mineral resources.

Guha said that this was a completely autocratic behaviour of the government and this needs to be condemned. He called the actions “chilling.”

He said: “As a biographer of Gandhi, I have no doubt that if the Mahatma was alive today, he would don his lawyer’s robes and defend Sudha Bharadwaj in court; that is assuming the Modi Sarkar hadn’t yet detained and arrested him too.”

Mayawati called the arrests an “abuse of power’ by the BJP government in Maharashtra. She said the government is taking trying to muzzle voices that support Dalit rights. “This is a tactic to divert attention from the failures of BJP government in Maharashtra as well as centre,” she said.

CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury was quoted as saying: “This is a brazen attack on democratic rights and liberties.” The BJP government, he said, is “desperately trying to protect the culprits of Koregaon-Bhima violence by harassing civil and human rights activists”. He said the arrests were meant to shield the real culprits involved in the violence. “Ever since the Bhima-Koregaon violence on December 31, the Maharashtra police, along with central agencies have been targeting Dalit rights activists and lawyers who are taking up the case.”

Journalist Shekhar Gupta said: “‏Arrests of Left activists/intellectuals is McCarthyism taken to another level. Playbook: use commando-comic channels to malign those you want to ‘fix’ with zero evidence, then arrest them on nothing charges but draconian laws. Courts will be tested for their wisdom & spine.”

A columnist Mihir Sharma said, “‏For decades, Dalits have celebrated #BhimaKoregaon without being attacked by Hindutva-vadis. This year, that changed. Now, instead of arresting instigators of violence like Bhide, the BJP has ordered cops to go after Dalit activists, their lawyers and members of the PUCL. Brazen.”

A write-up on BBC was a scathing comment on state of affairs:

“Although many of its ancient texts encourage inquiry, doubt and challenge, India has a chequered history of dissent.

“Successive governments have often easily caved in to demands from fringe groups: India was the first to ban Salman Rushdie’s 1988 novel, The Satanic Verses, which many Muslims regard as blasphemous. International publishers have been forced to recall and destroy books written by scholars following pressure from little-known right-wing Hindu groups. One of the country’s best-known artists, MF Husain, was hounded out of the country after he was accused of obscenity by hardline Hindu groups.

“Antiquated colonial laws remain on the books and continue to undermine free speech. For decades, governments have used a colonial-era sedition law against students, journalists, intellectuals, social activists, and those critical of the government. The Indian state, which often appears to be feeble or unwilling to impose the rule of law, can be selectively harsh on dissenters.

“What is different this time, many say, is a concerted campaign by the government to target dissenters.

“Mr Modi himself and his party have been accused of using dog-whistle politics – coded, divisive messages – to whip up religious tension and stoke sectarian politics. In a culture of what many believe is a growing politics of hate, “whataboutery” and finger pointing, people critical of Mr Modi’s government and party have often been branded as “urban Maoists”, or anti-national, much like US President Donald Trump continues to label reporters “enemies of the people”.

“The upshot is a rising lynch-mob mentality that has begun to pervade many aspects of life.

“On bloodthirsty prime time shows on government-friendly news channels, all propriety and decorum is thrown to the winds as selected guests are targeted and shouted down by anchors and guests who support them.

“Since Mr Modi stormed to power in 2014, vigilante cow protection groups have lynched more than 20 people, the majority of them Muslims, for transporting beef. In homes and streets, people speak of what many say is an imagined threat to the future of Hinduism – it’s a strangely majoritarian nationalism based on past glory and present victimhood. Large parts of the mainstream media, heavily dependant on government advertising in a sluggish economy, prefer to remain silent.

“All this has corroded Indian democracy. Many believe the quiescence of the middle class, the silence of the media, the failure of the political parties to support dissent and now a growing muscular nationalism is to blame for the state of affairs.

“”The silencing of dissent, and the generating of fear in the minds of people violate the demands of personal liberty, but it also make it very much harder to have a dialogue-based society,” Amartya Sen, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, remarked at a lecture last year.

“Indians have not turned intolerant, he said. In fact, “we have been too tolerant even of intolerance”. India, clearly, needs more dissent, not less.”

India News

Lucknow court shootout: Western UP gangster shot dead by man dressed as lawyer

Maheshwari himself was a dreaded shooter and was booked under several other criminal cases. He was also said to be a close aide of Munna Bajrangi, who was killed while serving time in Baghpat prison in 2018.  



Gangster Sanjeev Jeeva

Security in India’s courtrooms and court complexes were again exposed on Wednesday when gangster Sanjiv Maheshwari, also known as Sanjiv Jeeva, was shot dead by a man dressed as a lawyer right inside a Lucknow court.

Sanjeev Maheshwari had come to the SC/ST court for hearing in a murder case and was entering the courtroom when the shooter opened fire, injuring a young girl and a policeman.

Maheshwari, who led a criminal gang in Western UP, was said to be a close aide of gangster-politician Mukhtar Ansari. He was accused in the murder case of BJP MLA Brahmadatt Dwivedi. Ansari is currently serving life imprisonment. The shooter was nabbed by lawyers in court and police and has been identified as Vijay Yadav.

Maheshwari himself was a dreaded shooter and was booked under several other criminal cases. He was also said to be a close aide of Munna Bajrangi, who was killed while serving time in Baghpat prison in 2018.  

The police constable injured in the attack sustained a bullet wound in his right leg and his colleagues helped him out of the court complex. He is undergoing treatment in the Lucknow Civil Hospital. Meanwhile, heavy police deployment has been made in the Lucknow court as well as the city after the shootout.

Commented on the law and order situation in UP, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav said the question is not who is being killed but the question is that one is being killed in the presence of high security.

In his reply to a journalist’s question on the incident, UP Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya said the police will not spare anyone who is involved in the killing.

Lucknow DM Surya Pal Gangwar told the media that Maheshwari was shot dead, a girl of 8-10 years has also been injured. He added the shooter has been caught and the investigation into the incident has begun.

In Delhi, gangster Jitender Gogi was killed in a shootout in a Rohini court in 2021. The inter-gang rivalry ended with the knifing murder of Tillu Tajpuriya inside Tihar Jail in May this year.

The security of local courts has been a matter of concern for judges with former Chief Justice of India Justice NV Ramana raising it with the government.

A three-member SIT (Special Investigation Team) including Mohit Agarwal ADG Technical, Joint CP Nilabja Chaudhary, Ayodhya IG Praveen Kumar has been constituted to investigate the incident: UP CM Yogi Adityanath.

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India News

Wrestlers meet Sports Minister Anurag Thakur, put forth 5 demands, protest still on but suspended till June 15

On Wednesday morning, Sports Minister Anurag Thakur and the top wrestlers, led by Olympic Medallist Bajrang Punia, began a crucial meeting at Anurag Thakur’s residence.



Wrestlers Protest

With the Central government offering to complete the probe against Wrestling Federation of India chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh by June 15, Olympian Bajrang Punia told the media that the agitation by the wrestlers will be suspended till then.

On Wednesday, the wrestlers met Sports Minister Anurag Thakur at his residence after the minister had tweeted late last night that he looked forward for a discussion with the protesters.

Reports said the wrestlers represented by Sakshi Malik and Punia have made five demands in the meeting with Anurag Thakur. Their demands were: (1) Free and fair elections for the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI), (2) a woman to be made the WFI chief, (3) withdrawal of the Delhi Police case against the wrestlers registered on May 28, (4) the arrest of Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh and (5) preventing Brij Bhushan or his family or his acolytes from being part of WFI.

Punia, Sakshi Malik, and her husband Satyawart Kadiyan, who is also a wrestler, attended the meeting. Vinesh Phogat did not attend the meeting as she was to attend a pre-scheduled panchayat in her village Balali, Haryana. Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait, who supports the protesting wrestlers, did not attend the meeting.

In the space of five days, this is the second meeting between the protesting wrestlers and the government. Wrestlers met Home Minister Amit Shah on Saturday night and briefed him on their demands. Shah had asked them to trust the investigation process.

The wrestlers have been demanding the arrest of Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who they have accused of sexual harassment, since January this year. The wrestlers resumed their protest against Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh on April 23 at Jantar Mantar. On May 28, they were removed from the protest site by police and detained for violation of law and order after they began a march to the new Parliament building without permission. The police action resulted in an iconic photograph of Sangeeta and Vinesh Phogat.

The rub in this melee is that while the government is willing to accept most of their demands, the arrest of Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who is also the BJP MP from Kaiserganj, and wields significant clout in that part of Uttar Pradesh, remains a tricky question.

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India News

Section 144 imposed in Kolhapur after clashes break out over socmed post with offensive audio message, Tipu Sultan photo  

The Law and order is the state affair and Maharashtra government takes the responsibility of it. He also appeals to the public for peace and calm. Police investigation is under way and action will be taken against those found guilty.



Kolhapur clash

Prohibitory orders have been issued in Kolhapur on Wednesday banning the assembly of five or more persons till June 19 after clashes broke out between two groups. Right-wing outfits objected to the use of Tipu Sultan’s image along with an objectionable audio message as a social media status put up by a few residents. Police had to lathicharge to disperse the crowd as the situation became tense.

Police have also applied for banning mobile internet from Wednesday till Thursday evening to prevent the issue from snowballing. On Tuesday, a group of right-wing activists held a protest demanding action against those who put the image of the 18th-century Mysore ruler along with an offensive message on their social media profiles. Police assured action and told them to return. Police also informed the protesters they had booked some people in connection with the post.

Kolhapur SP Mahendra Pandit said the protesters again hit the streets on Wednesday. Few organisations had called for a Kolhapur bandh and the members of these organisations gathered at Shivaji Chowk early today. After their demonstration ended, the crowd began to disperse but some miscreants started pelting stones, forcing police to use force against these people to disperse them. The SP also said they appealed to the agitators to maintain peace and withdraw the agitation.

Dipak Kesarkar, guardian minister and minister of education and Marathi language, said action has been taken against those who had used Tipu Sultan’s image along with an objectionable audio message with the detention of 21 people so far.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde appealed for calm and peace. He said law and order is a state responsibility and the Maharashtra government will act. Police investigation is under way and action will be taken against those found guilty. Maharashtra Deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis said this was part of a larger well-thought out plan by some people.

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