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To Be Murdered, To Be Lynched, To Be Poor, To Defend The Poor, Is A Crime Now: Arundhati Roy

'Urban Naxal' theory is a diversionary tactic by Modi government, said Arundhati Roy.

In a press conference held at Press Club of India on Thursday, over 25 organisations including People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR), People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Safai Karmchari Union and Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS), signed a letter of protest against the recent arrests of human rights activists Arun Fereira, Sudha Bharadwaj, Varavara Rao, Gautam Navlakha and Vernon Gonsalves.

The conference was addressed by lawyers Prashant Bhushan, Harish Dhawan and ND Pancholi, prominent author Arundhati Roy, activists Aruna Roy and Bezwada Wilson and Gujarat independent MLA Jignesh Mewani, reported The Wire.

They demanded immediate release of all five activists as well as a repeal of the draconian UAPA. “While we demand their immediate release, our main demand is to completely scrap the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act,” said Dhawan.

Dhawan also pointed out that only one of the arrested activists’ name was mentioned in the original FIR filed in the Bhima Koregaon incident, and that the police was falsely targeting the activists at the behest of the government. They also demanded that action be taken against the Maharashtra police and that the items seized from the activists be returned as well.

Arundhati Roy attacked the ‘urban naxal’ theory and said that it was a part of the Modi government’s “divert and rule” tactic. “To be murdered, to be lynched, to be poor, to defend the poor, is a crime now. The government knew that all of us will rise in protest to attack the government, yet it arrested those people. Recent surveys have clearly shown that Narendra Modi’s popularity has fallen to a great extent,” she added.

 Aruna Roy said that there was a constitutional breakdown and that the arrests raise questions over the future of rule of law in the country. “ The right to freedom of expression is being crushed almost on a daily basis. Imagine, if these prominent activists could be arrested without any evidence, what is happening to all those in rural India, who dissent and speak about their rights,” she said.  

She added that corporates and the government had come together to create a system of fear, “Justice Sawant and justice Kolse Patil were leading the Elgaar Parishad in Bhima Koregaon. How, thus, such a legitimate event, with a huge support of Dalits, is being seen as having connections with Maoists? These arrests clearly show that the government wants to scare people so much they do not speak.”

Jignesh Mevani said that the arrests were a result of undeclared emergence, fascism and the Gujarat model. “Those who have always strived to work towards a secular, socialist, democratic India, as enshrined in our constitution, are being terrorised now. So we have a situation where a Dalit movement is being branded as a naxalite upsurge.”

Prashant Bhushan brought to notice the fact that Hindutva leaders Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote, were named the first FIR lodged after the the Bhima Koregaon incident. However, only Ekbote was arrested but was granted bail ‘in minutes’. “Then the second FIR suddenly appeared, which made a claim that the violence in Bhima Koregaon could have been incited by Naxalites. Everyone knows who is protecting whom in the case.”

The simultaneous arrests of prominent human rights activists and the raids carried out by Pune police on Tuesday sent shockwaves across the civil society, inviting condemnation from almost all directions. The current government is being accused of suppressing dissent and creating an atmosphere where people are afraid of criticising the Modi government.

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