Silencing Human Rights Defenders

The Bhima Koregaon Case

The Bhima-Koregaon or ‘BK’ case has been a long-standing account of the Indian State’s attempt to suppress dissenting voices. The case involves the arbitrary detention of 16 human rights defenders since 2018. The simple reason for their arrest was that they dared to speak and write critically about actions of the Indian government and tried to help marginalised communities. The so-called BK-16 group includes four academics, three lawyers, two independent journalists, a union organizer and social activist, a poet, three performing artists, and a Jesuit priest. All have a record of writing, speaking, and organizing for the rights of workers, minorities, Dalits and Adivasis through peaceful and constitutional means.

 

The majority of BK-16 are senior citizens with several comorbidities. At least six of the arrested have contracted Covid-19 in prison, others have reported various acute infections and a rapid deterioration of health. The only available medical care in the prison is provided by traditional medicine practitioners who are ill-qualified to treat these conditions and are dispensing inappropriate medicines that are worsening the symptoms of the prisoners.  One of the accused, Father Stan Swamy- 83 years old and suffering from Parkinson’s Disease, because of delayed medical aid died in judicial custody on 5 July 2021. 

 

Most of the arrested activists and many of their family members, colleagues, and their lawyers are victims of the Pegasus and netwire spyware attack. The recent reports by the reputed Boston-based IT forensic investigation firm Arsenal Consulting revealed that all the so called incriminating “evidence” used to justify the arrest of several of the BK-16 was remotely planted by an external agent using malware called Netwire Remote Access Trojan (RAT). This was done by analysing cloned copies of the hard disks of the arrested lawyer Surendra Gadling and activist Rona Wilson.

 

While the remaining 15 continue to languish in prison without trial, the National Investigation Agency continues to interrogate more people in the context of this case – it is believed that more than 40 activists, writers, journalists from around the country have been called by the NIA in the last one year.

Sudha worked tirelessly in Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha, a labour union in Chhattisgarh. She founded Janhit, a collective of lawyers, giving rigorous legal aid to several industrial workers, villages fighting acquisition and mining, Adivasi communities fighting for forest rights, environmental cases and PIL litigation. At the time of her arrest, she was teaching at the National Law University as a visiting faculty. She was released on bail on 1 December 2021, while the bail applications of 8 other detained BK16 was rejected. She awaits trial in front of a special NIA court on 8 December.

Sudha Bharadwaj

Lawyer, Trade Unionist

Rona has worked on the condition of political prisoners, the use of draconian laws such as the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and other legal conundrums. Rona along with other activists formed the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners (CRPP). Right before his arrest, he was accepted by the University of Surrey and the University of Leicester to pursue his doctorate. The topic of his proposed thesis is “The Fiction of the Muslim Other: State, Law and The Politics of Naming in Contemporary India.”

Rona Wilson

Scholar

Shoma is a reputed academician, a women’s rights activist and was an English professor at Nagpur University. During the time of her arrest, she was the Head of the Department of English at Nagpur University. She has written extensively on post-colonialism and women’s studies for several decades. Shoma’s writings have discussed the feminist subjectivities of Dalit and Adivasi women oppressed under multiple structures. She also worked vigorously to organise legal aid for women political prisoners.

Shoma Sen

Scholar, Women's Rights Activist

Sudhir was born in a poor working-class Dalit family in Indora slum area in Nagpur. Over the years, Dhawale has worked actively to resist atrocities against Dalits. In 2002, following the Gujarat pogrom massacres, he started a Marathi magazine named Vidrohi. It continues to play a pivotal role in highlighting the human rights abuse of Dalits and other marginalized sections across India.

Sudhir Dhawale

Writer

Hany is an Associate Professor of Linguistics in the University of Delhi. He is a Linguist, an anti-caste scholar and a social activist. He has been active in the 2006 pro-reservation and other social justice movements within the University of Delhi. Internationally renowned for his work on linguistics and the recipient of the Best Young Linguist award, Hany worked in several German universities from 1997 to 2001.

Hany Babu

Scholar

Anand is an engineer, a reputed author, Dalit scholar. At the time of his arrest, he was a senior professor at the Goa Institute of Management. Teltumbde is one of India’s foremost public intellectuals and an advocate of Ambedkarite (Neo Buddhist movement) values. He has been scathing in his criticism of the Narendra Modi government in his column ‘Margin Speak’ in Economic and Political Weekly, especially over issues of social welfare, communal harmony, and the persecution of social activists.

Anand Teltumbde

Engineer, Author, Scholar

Vernon is an activist and academic who has worked in some of the prominent colleges in Mumbai, including HR College of Commerce and Economics, and Akbar Peerbhoy College of Commerce and Economics. As a young commerce graduate, he took up a corporate job in Siemens but later left the job to work with trade unions, workers, slum dwellers and the working class in Mumbai.

Vernon Gonsalves

Scholar

Varavara is a poet, teacher, columnist, literary critic, translator, public speaker and a key figure of the progressive literary movement in Telugu (Indian language). He is a founding member of VIRASAM (Revolutionary Writers’ Association), which was formed in the early 1970s. In his career as a poet and writer spread over sixty years, he has published 16 volumes of poetry and about twenty volumes of prose, including literary criticism, socio-political analysis, memoirs and translation. Rao is a poet of international repute who is featured on international platforms such as Poetry International Web.

Varavara Rao

Poet

Mahesh is a young prominent activist working for the rights of Adivasi communities in his home district. Raut was one of the youngest students of TISS to be selected for the most coveted Prime Minister Rural Development (PMRD) fellowship. He has tirelessly advocated for laws like PESA and FRA which protect the democratic rights of indigenous communities against unlawful land grabbing by large corporations. He was the co-convenor of Visthapan Vidrohi Jan Vikas Andolan (VVJVA) which fights against the forced displacement of Adivasis and other marginalised people.

Mahesh Raut

Activist

Gautam is a senior journalist, writer/author, and an activist in the civil liberties and democratic rights movement. He joined the civil liberties movement in 1978 and has been an active member of People's Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) since its inception. A critic of state policies of counter-insurgency wars waged against the people, he has actively fought for democratic freedoms in Kashmir and Chhattisgarh and advocated for demilitarisation and peaceful resolution to armed conflicts.

Gautam Navlakha

Writer

Arun is a writer, a lawyer, a cartoonist and an activist. He was a leading member of Indian Association of People’s Lawyers (IAPL), an organisation of lawyers providing free legal aid to the marginalised. He was previously arrested in 2007 and acquitted of all charges and released in 2012. After his release, Arun completed his law degree and started practicing law in 2016. Through his momoir "Colours of the Cage" and other online writings, he has been at the forefront of exposing brutal realities of Indian police and prison conditions.

Arun Ferreira

Writer, Lawyer

Jyoti is a singer and a cultural activist who sang against Hindutva, casteism and inequality. In September 2020, unafraid and resolute, Jyoti, who joined the cultural troupe Kabir Kala Manch (Dalit cultural group with a Marxist philosophy) in 2007 as a 20-year-old, became the third member of troupe, to be arrested in the Bhima-Koregaon case and its youngest accused.

Jyoti Jagtap

Singer

Sagar is well known for his powerful poetry and performances which resist and counter Casteism, Hindutva and State oppression. He was part of the Kabir Kala Manch, a Dalit group with a Marxist philosophy, is a cultural group founded in Pune by a group of young people in the wake of the 2002 Gujarat riots.

Sagar Tatyaram Gorkhe

Artist

Ramesh is one of the founding members of Kabir Kala Manch (a Dalit cultural group with a Marxist philosophy). Ramesh has been instrumental in writing and directing most of their street plays. An association of 17 years with Kabir Kala Manch, Ramesh has been a poet of resistance, a Shahir, a theatre director, a songwriter and a cultural-political activist and organiser.

Ramesh Murlidhar Gaichor

Artist

Surendra is a fierce dalit activist and criminal and human rights lawyer who has a penchant for fighting political cases and has a legal practice of 25 years. He started his work among the people as a cultural activist in Nagpur when he founded the Awhan Natya Manch. As general secretary of the Indian Association of People’s Lawyer (IAPL) he along with others has worked towards highlighting the plight of lawyers who are persecuted for fighting cases under the draconian anti-terror laws.

Surendra Gadling

Lawyer

Stan was a catholic priest and the founder of Bagaicha, an organization dedicated to empowering the Adivasi and Moolvasi communities. He is one of the leading tribal rights activists in Jharkhand and has written and researched extensively on issues of caste, religion, land rights, and people’s struggles. In 2010 he published a book titled, ‘Jail Mein Band Qaidiyon ka Sach’ exposing the arbitrary and unlawful arrests of tribal youths by the police in the name of alleged links to the Naxal Movement. Due to medical negligence, he died in prison in June 2021

Stan Swamy

Priest