Pune police has arrested five high-profile human rights activists and known Maoist sympathisers in connection with violence between Dalit and the upper caste groups at Koregaon-Bhima village near Pune after an event called Elgar Parishad on January 1, this year.
The police arrested 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.
Subsequently, Rao, Bhardwaj, Farreira, Gonzalves and Navalakha were arrested under the Indian Penal Code Section 153 (A), which relates to promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place or birth, residence, language and committing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony.
The multi-city raids and subsequent arrests of several prominent activists by Pune Police which claimed that they were involved in the Bhima Koregaon violence has stirred a massive outrage across the country. The Opposition has described the action against these 'urban Naxals' as 'virtual declaration of emergency'.
However, the security officials in Delhi said letters, purportedly exchanged by Maoist leaders indicating plans to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP President Amit Shah and Home Minister Rajnath Singh, led to the police action.
As the debate on their arrest rages on, here is all you need to know about the five high-profile activists:
Sudha Bharadwaj, 57, is a trade unionist, a civil rights activist against land acquisition and a lawyer, who has been working and living in the state of Chhattisgarh for 29 years. She is the general secretary of the Chhattisgarh People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), and also the founder of Janhit (a lawyers collective) and is also associated with the late Shankar Guha Niyogi’s Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha.
Sudha was born an American citizen, but she gave up her US citizenship at the age of 18, and joined the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur, to study mathematics, completing the five-year integrated course in 1984. In 1986, she joined Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha to work for the people affected by the land acquisitions done by the private sectors companies.
Varavara Rao is a Maoist sympathiser, poet and journalist from Telangana. Known as a Marxist critic, Rao has written several articles and addressed public gatherings condemning the neoliberal state. He was also responsible for founding the Revolutionary Writers' Association, popularly known as Virasam, known for propagating Maoist ideology.
The 77-years-old rights activits is also considered to be a prolific poet, having published 15 poetry collections of his own. Rao has been arrested on several occassaions, first being arrested under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act (Misa) in Andhra Pradesh in 1973. He was also arrested during the Emergency.
Vernon Gonzalves is a former professor in a prominent Mumbai college and was allegedly a Maoist central committee member.
Gonsalves, who won a gold medal when he took his MCom exams at Bombay University, has been a teacher at Mumbai colleges, including HR College and DG Ruparel College. He was a management trainee at Siemens before becoming a social worker in Maharashtra’s Chandrapur area. In 2007, the police accused Gonsalves of being a former central committee member of the Maharashtra state committee of the Naxals and charged him in 20 cases. He was acquitted in 19 of these. The last is still pending.
His wife Susan Abraham is involved in the defence of lawyer Surendra Gadling, who was arrested in June in connection with the Bhima Koregaon investigation.
Arun Ferreira, who studied at Mumbai’s St Xavier’s College, is a lawyer and political activist. In 2007, Ferreira was arrested on charges of being a Naxalite along with Vernon Gonzalves. Among the several accusations against him was that he was plotting to blow up Deekshabhoomi in Nagpur, where BR Ambedkar converted to Buddhism. Ferreira was acquitted of all charges in 2014. After his release, Ferreira studied to become a lawyer and was one of a large group of legal professionals working for the release of the five activists arrested in June.
Gautam Navlakha is a Delhi-based civil liberties, democratic, and human rights activist; and a journalist. He is founder of the People’s Union for Democratic Rights. Navlakha has been involved with human rights protests in Kashmir and Chhattisgarh for decades now.
Watch video: Several activists arrested in raids across India for alleged Maoist links