Several human rights activists and teachers, including educationist G. Haragopal, were detained by State police forces in the Indian city of Hyderabad on April 13. The incident took place after the police obstructed a meeting conducted by the Democratic Teachers’ Federation in the city. The meeting was organized to demand the release from jail of activists and public intellectuals, including Varavara Rao and Sudha Bharadwaj, among others.
Last year, police in the city of Pune arrested nine activists – Sudha Bharadwaj, Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Surendra Pundlik Gadling, Sudhir Pralhad Dhawale, Rona Jacob Wilson, Soma Sen and Mahesh Sitaram Raut. They were accused of links with the outlawed Communist Party of India (Maoist). They were booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 for what the police said was their role in the Bhima Koregaon case.
Bhima Koregaon is a place in Maharashtra where an army comprising primarily Dalits (the former untouchable castes) defeated the upper caste Peshwa armies in 1818. On January 31, 2018, an event was held to mark the anniversary of the battle. This event was attacked by right-wing Hindu elements and riots took place over the next couple of days in the city. The leaders of Hindu right-wing organization identified as the instigators of this violence continue to roam free. However, the nine activists, many of whom were not even in Pune when the incident occurred, were arrested in connection with the riots under UAPA and were alleged to have links with the Maoists.
The UAPA, a draconian, overreaching law, has often been used an instrument of suppression by the Indian state for the purpose of silencing dissent. The case against the nine activists has been condemned for the flimsy evidence and procedural lapses.
Revolutionary Writers’ Association (Virasam) has condemned the obstruction of the meeting and the arrest of the teachers as undemocratic and an inhuman act by the State government of Telangana, where Hyderabad is located. “It is shameful to disrupt an indoor meeting of teachers who want to speak about the incarceration of fellow teachers like Varavara Rao, Saibaba, Shoma Sen and other intellectuals,” Virasam said in a statement.
They have also demanded the immediate release of the activists.
Sources who were present at the spot told NewsClick that the police locked the doors of NGO Bhavan, where the meeting was being held, and used barricades to stop hundreds of teachers from taking part.
P Viswa Prasad, deputy commissioner of police (Central Zone), Hyderabad, said over the phone, “It was not an arrest but preventive detention.” When questioned as to why an indoor meeting was obstructed, Prasad refused to provide an answer.