On October 1, the Delhi High Court ordered the release of Indian activist Gautam Navlakha who was under house detention since August 28. The court rejected the request for transit remand (for transferring Gautam from Delhi to the State of Maharashtra by the Maharashtra police), noting that custody is “unsustainable in law.”
“I am happy, personally, that I have been freed. But it’s a long battle ahead because my fellow co-accused remain in jail. My happiness would only be full when everybody else gets their freedom,” said Gautam speaking to Newsclick.
Gautam, along with lawyer Sudha Bhardwaj, poet Varavara Rao, Vernon Gonsalves, and Arun Ferreira, were detained by the Maharashtra police on August 28 on charges related to their supposed involvement in the urban column of the Maoist armed movement. All the Left-wing activists were involved in various people’s movements and struggles against state repression and corporate exploitation.
This pre-dawn “knock of undeclared emergency” at the doors of activists was condemned by various people’s movements and organizations as “unprecedented and unheard of in a democracy.”
The case was related to an event in Bhima Koregaon in Maharashtra at the end of December. After a conference, on January 1, 2018, Maharashtra witnessed massive violence instigated by right-wing elements after Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote, both prominent Hindutva (Hindu right wing) leaders, made inflammatory speeches. According to the activists, despite the role of Hindu fanatics in inciting violence, the Maharashtra police have insisted that the violence was connected to the Maoist movement.
On the day of the arrest, August 28, a habeas corpus petition was filed before the Delhi High Court challenging Gautam’s arrest. The court, questioning the ‘serious procedural lapses’, had stayed his transit. The Punjab and Haryana High Court issued a similar order in the case of Sudha on the same day.
Later, the Supreme Court of India, ruling on a petition filed by prominent academics and intellectuals, ordered the house arrest of the five activists and began hearing the case. On September 28, the Supreme Court refused the plea that the case be investigated by a special investigation team (SIT) and ordered that the activists be kept under house arrest for four more weeks. However, one of the judges on the bench concerned, D. Y. Chandrachud, dissented, noting that the arrests were an attempt by the “state to muzzle dissent, and dissent is a symbol of a vibrant democracy.” The Supreme Court also allowed the activists to approach the lower courts for bail.
In the same case, the Maharashtra police had earlier arrested five activists- Shoma Sen, Sudhir Dhawale, Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut and Rona Wilson on July 6.
Below is a statement issued by Gautam after his release:
Statement of an Urban Naxal,
I wish to thank the majority and dissenting Justices of the Supreme Court for their judgment, which allowed us four weeks to seek relief in this matter, and the public-spirited citizens & lawyers of India for putting up a spirited fight on our behalf, whose memory I will cherish. I am humbled by the solidarity, which crossed borders, rallying in our support.
From Delhi High Court, I have won my freedom. It thrills me no end.
My dearest friends and lawyers led by Nitya Ramakrishnan, Warisha Farasat, Ashwath, along with others in the legal & logistics team, literally ‘moved heaven and earth’ to win me my freedom. I don’t know if I can ever repay this debt. Nor to the senior lawyers who argued in our favor in the apex court. The period of house arrest, despite the restrictions imposed was put to good use, so I hold no grudge.
However, I cannot forget my co-accused and tens of thousands of other political prisoners in India who remain incarcerated for their ideological convictions, or on account of false charges filed against them, and/or wrongful conviction under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act – UAPA. Fellow accused in the same matter have gone on hunger strike against the maltreatment inside the jails and demanded that they be recognized as political prisoners/prisoners of conscience. Other political prisoners too have time and again sat on hunger strike and demanded the same. Their freedom and their rights are precious to Civil Liberties & Democratic Rights movement.
But, there is reason to celebrate.
I salute the LGBTQ comrades for their monumental victory recently after a relentless and stubborn struggle, which has opened the door for as significant a social reform movement as the one fired by Babasaheb Ambedkar for the annihilation of caste, exhorting us all to ‘educate, organize and agitate’. Our solidarity was slow in coming, but your perseverance forced us to change. You brought a smile back on our faces and rainbow colors in our lives.
Also, freedom won by Bhim Army’s Chandrashekhar Ravan and his comrades Sonu and Shivkumar from preventive detention is particularly reassuring because it shows the power of indomitable resistance against a socially entrenched casteist tyranny, from ground below.
My Salaam [salute] to friends in JNUSU for the historic victory of the United Left panel which proves yet again that united resistance is the need of the hour – only thus can we face persecution and struggle so that it gathers critical mass support.
Friends, sacchai aur imandari se lade shabd goli aur gaali se zyada takatvar hote hain, aaj yeh saabit ho raha hai. Hamare geet aur kavitayon mein josh hai, aur hamare kaam aur lekhni ka aadhar reason aur facts hain.
[Friends, Comrades, today it is proved that true and honest words are more powerful than abusive language and bullets. Our songs and poetry are vibrant and our work and writings are based on reason and facts.]
To all my nearest and dearest, let us continue to speak up for the enforcement of our constitutional freedoms and against oppression & exploitation in all forms.
Let’s recall Pash [Avtar Singh Sandhu, a left-wing Punjabi poet during Naxalite movement] ke yeh anmol bol [in these precious words]:
‘Hum Ladenge Saathi
Ki ladne ke baghair kuch bhi nahi milta
Ki abhi tak lade kyon nahi
Apni saza kabulne ke liye
Ladte huey mar jaane walon ki
yaad zinda rakhne ke liye
HUM LADENGE SAATHI
[We shall fight, comrades
As nothing is achieved without it
We shall fight
Because we didn’t fight till now
We shall fight
To accept our punishment,
To remember those who died in the struggle
WE SHALL FIGHT, COMRADES!]
Monday, October 1, 2018
(Translations by Sonali)