On August 28, 2018, the Pune police arrested five activists – Varavara Rao, Sudha Bharadwaj, Vernon Gonsalves, Gautam Navlakha and Arun Ferreira – in connection with a case related to the “conspiracy to kill PM Modi”. The police raided the houses of these activists and their relatives across five states as their names surfaced after the Bhima Koregaon Dalit protests in June.
Seventy-seven-year old Rao is an activist and public speaker from Telangana, who has been subject to many terms of imprisonment and attacks from the public and the state due to his revolutionary, anti-establishment voice and pro-naxal stand. He has been writing revolutionary poetry since 1957 and founded Srujana (creation), which is a forum for modern Telugu literature.
Rao was arrested by the state several times, most notably during the National Emergency in 1975, and was released only after the Janata Party government came into power.
Varavara Rao, along with other activists, was selected as an emissary twice (in 2001, 2005) by the then Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Peoples War to hold talks with the Andhra Pradesh government in order establish peace negotiations with naxalites. However, the party aborted both the rounds of negotiations midway in protest of the state-led encounters carried out on naxalites.
On August 28, 2018, Pune Police, along with local task force, raided Varavara Rao’s and his relatives’ houses in Hyderabad and arrested Rao, and detained his and his relatives’ phones and other electronic devices.
Bharadwaj is an independent civil rights lawyer and activist who has been working in Chhattisgarh for 29 years now. The 54-year-old is the general secretary of the Chhattisgarh People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), and the founder of Janhit, a lawyers collective. Bharadwaj is also associated with the late Shankar Guha Niyogi’s Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha, a political party that was founded to uplift the people of the state. Bharadwaj was born in the USA and gave up her citizenship and returned to India at a very young age. She graduated from IIT-Kanpur with an integrated degree in Mathematics. After witnessing the poor condition of labour and working class in several states when she had been a student, Bharadwaj moved to Chhattisgarh to work toward providing better opportunities and working and living conditions to the people of Chhattisgarh who work in mines and plants. She is also passionate about and has worked towards the betterment of the human rights of tribals and Dalits in the state.
On Tuesday, the Maharashtra police put Bharadwaj put under house arrest, which will last until August 30 when she will be produced at the High Court.
Gonsalves is a former professor of business organization in Mumbai, who had been arrested in 2007 and had been convicted under various sections of Unlawful Activities (Preventions) Act and Arms Act. While Gonsalves had been charged with around 20 cases earlier, he had been acquitted under 17 of them as the prosecution could not produce proper evidence.
Gonsalves was arrested by the Maharashtra police Tuesday from his house in Andheri, Mumbai.
Ferreira is a Mumbai-based human rights activist and lawyer. He is an alumnus of the St Xavier’s college. In 2007, Ferreira was detained for of being an alleged Naxal operative; however, he was later acquitted. He was charged in 11 cases and had been acquitted from all of them in 2011. Ferreira was part of the ‘Indian Association of People’s Lawyers and and the Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights.
On Tuesday, Ferreira was detained from his residence in Thane.
Navlakha is a civil rights activist and journalist who is an editorial consultant of the Economic and Political Weekly. He has been a convener of the International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Kashmir and the secretary of People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR). Both Navlakha and Sudha Bharadwaj have earlier demanded for the repealing of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, citing that the law is being misused by the government to curb extremist activities instead of unlawful activities. Navlakha frequently visits Kashmir and writes on the issues relating to the state.
He was detained from his house in New Delhi on Tuesday.