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The magnificent seven: The rights defenders targeted by the Indian state

On August 28, 2018, some of India’s leading land and human rights defenders were arrested or had their homes raided on charges of conspiring to assassinate the PM Narendra Modi, among other things. Here, we present their profiles and some selected writings/talks, as well as a video dossier of the draconian UAPA law, courtesy TheWire.in

SUDHA BHARADWAJ, trade unionist and a civil rights activist against land acquisition
At 18, Bharadwaj relinquished her US citizenship, and joined the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, to study mathematics, completing the five-year integrated course in 1984. Later, as part of the late Shankar Guha Niyogi’s Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha, Bharadwaj fought against corrupt bureaucrats to ensure proper wages were paid to the workers in the mines and plants located in Bhilai. She is currently the general secretary of the Chhattisgarh People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), and also the founder of Janhit (a lawyers collective).

1) This land is your land: Sudha Bharadwaj’s fight for labour rights and against land acquisition
2) Profile: ‘If You Try to Be Safe and in the Middle, You Will Never Succeed’
3) VIDEO: There Is an Attempt to Silence Lawyers Who Defend the Marginalised: Sudha Bharadwaj

FR. STAN SWAMY, activist for tribal rights

Stan Swamy, 80, is a people’s rights defender. He is the founder of Vistapan Virodhi Janvikash Andolan (VVJA), an all India platform for different movements that are resisting displacement of adivasi people, dalits, and farmers from their lands. In the recent past, he has expressed dissent with several policies and laws enacted by the government relating to adivasi people and their lands. He has also questioned their validity and legality in the light of the Indian Constitution.

1) Stan Swamy: Does Raising Questions on the Rights of Adivasis Make Me a ‘Deshdrohi’? 
2) Jharkhand govt’s manipulation of ‘self-governance’ by Adivasi Communities – Stan Swamy

VARAVARA RAO, Maoist ideologue and poet
Varavara Rao is a poet, journalist from Hyderabad. He is one one of the most revered critics of Marxist literature and has taught Telugu literature to graduate and undergraduate students for about 40 years. He founded Srujana (creation), a forum for modern literature in Telugu, in 1966 as a quarterly and later turned it into a monthly and successfully brought it out till 1992. He was one of the founders of Viplava Rachayitala Sangahm (Revolutionary Writers’ Association), popularly known by its acronym Virasam. Rao on June 9 refuted allegations that he had arranged funding for Maoist attacks in the country.

1) A poet against the state – Talking with Varavara Rao
2) The poet as revolutionary – Talking with Varavara Rao (Part II of the interview)
3) VIDEO: Varavara Rao giving the 9th Anuradha Ghandy Memorial Lecture)

VERNON GONZALVES, civil rights activist

Vernon Gonzalves is a gold medallist from Mumbai University and a former lecturer at Ruparel College and HR College. Security agencies alleged that Gonzalves was an ex-central committee member and former secretary of Maharashtra State Rajya Committee of Naxalites. He was charged in around 20 cases and has been acquitted in all of them as the prosecution could not furnish any evidence. His wife Susan Abraham is one of the best-known civil rights lawyers in Mumbai.

1) A rare interview with Vernon Gonsalves, who was jailed for six years on the charge of being a Naxalite
2) VIDEO: Vernon Gonsalves speaking in JNU on ‘Confronting Fascism’)

ARUN FERREIRA, civil rights activist

Arun Ferreira, is a law graduate from Siddharth Law College, and is associated with an NGO Navjawan Bharat Sabha. He has also been part of the Indian Association of People’s Lawyers (IAPL) and Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR). He spent six years in Nagpur jail as a political prisoner. He was arrested in 2007 for alleged naxalite and anti-national activities under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967. Eleven cases were registered against him. He fought a relentless legal battle to prove that the charges were false and completely fabricated. In January 2014, he was acquitted in all the cases for lack of substantial evidence.

1) ‘The high walls keep out realities’: Interview with Arun Ferreira
2) After almost five years in jail, alleged Maoist leader is found innocent
3) VIDEO: Arun Ferreira – Life in an Indian prison

ANAND TELTUMBDE, scholar and activist for Dalit rights

An engineer, MBA and former CEO, Anand Teltumbde is also a leading scholar and activist for Dalit rights. He has authored many books on various issues relating to Peoples’ movement with particular emphasis on Left and Dalits. Teltumbde’s critical eye spares none. Not even Ambedkar. He unsentimentally presents Ambedkar’s activism and politics as being guided by the “philosophy of pragmatism” and critically examines his lifelong refusal to let Dalits resort to retaliatory violence as a more effective weapon of resistance.

1) Anand Teltumbde: The unusual annihilator of caste
2) Review: Republic of Caste by Anand Teltumbde
3) VIDEO: Hitler’s Germany and Modi’s India – a talk by Anand Teltumbde

GAUTAM NAVLAKHA, journalist and civil rights activist

Navlakha has been associated with People’s Union for Democratic Rights and is a Delhi-based journalist. He is also an editorial consultant of the Economic and Political Weekly. On August 2, Gautam Navlakha was issued a notice by Reliance group owned by Anil Ambani for a story on Rafale fighter aircraft. During a press conference in July, he along with Sudha Bharadwaj demanded repeal of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967. They said, the Act, passed to regulate the activities of unlawful organisations, has been used by the government to curb extremist activities as opposed to unlawful activities.

1) Gautam Navlakha’s article on the Rafale deal: Rafale: Mixing Fact with Fiction
2) Interview: ‘RSS was silent during the 1984 riots. At places, it was implicated in the violence’
3) VIDEO: An unfolding tragedy in Kashmir: Gautam Navlakha’s must-watch interview

*Bios & image courtesy National Herald. Video courtesy The Wire.


Arrest of 5 Activists Under UAPA Raises Troubling Questions
The Quint
“Intent to strike terror in the people of India” “Intent to threaten the unity, integrity, security, economic security, or sovereignty of India” Raising funds “knowing that such funds are likely to be used by a terrorist organization to commit a terrorist act.” These are elements of some of the charges that have been slapped against a professor, a lawyer who fights for the release of political prisoners, an editor of a magazine, a human rights activist and an anti-displacement activist by the Pune police, under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967 or UAPA. These five people – Shoma Sen, Surendra Gadling, Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson and Mahesh Raut – were arrested on 6 June and remanded to police custody. The public prosecutor told the court that they are involved with banned Maoist organisations. But does any of this stand up to scrutiny? What exactly did these people do to get arrested? And does any of it actually make out the offences they’ve been charged with?

Fifty Years of Unreasonable Restrictions Under the Unlawful Activities Act
The Wire
Soon after its adoption, the constitution of India was amended in 1951. At the time, several progressive judgements by the judiciary held that laws that curb fundamental rights are essentially unconstitutional and fundamental freedoms could only be curbed in the most extreme cases. The first amendment countered this by amending Article 19 to add the word ‘reasonable’ before restrictions and to add ‘public order’ as being one more ground for abridging fundamental rights. The evolution of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) has to be seen in the background of this gradual but steady constriction of Article 19, which guarantees the fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly and association.

Republic TV’s hounding of rights activist shows ‘urban Naxal’ is convenient label to crush dissent
“Urban Naxals”, as defined in an essay in the right-wing magazine Swarajya in May 2017 by a filmmaker named Vivek Agnihotri, are “urban intellectuals, influencers or activists of importance” who are “the ‘invisible enemies’ of India”. Some of these people, Agnihotri claimed, “have either been caught or are under the police radar for working for the movement and spreading insurgency against the Indian state”. A synonymous term, coined by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley channeling the spirit of pulp fiction writer Chetan Bhagat, is “half Maoist”. It refers to people who “willingly or otherwise” have “become over-ground face of the underground”, he said in a tweet, days after the five activsts were arrested.



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