On August 28, Pune police raided the houses of prominent human rights activists across the country and arrested five activists – Gautam Navalakha, Sudha Bharadwaj, Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves – sighting their alleged involvement in instigating the Bhima Koregaon violence, in Maharashtra this January.
The arrests triggered outrage and furore from human rights defenders across the globe prompting members of the civil society including historian Romila Thapar, economists Prabhat Patnaik and Devaki Jain, sociology professor Satish Deshpandey and human rights lawyer Maja Daruwala, to move to the Supreme Court – seeking the immediate release of the activists. They have demanded an independent investigation into the allegedly arbitrary arrests. The Supreme Court since then has placed these activists under house arrest and the final verdict on the arrests has been reserved.
I started an online petition on the popular human rights and advocacy platform – Change.org for the release of these activists. The petition has garnered over 4000 signatures, and more and more people are signing the petition every day. The huge response to the petition is an indication that the people of this country have realized that the arrests of these activists, is an attempt to muzzle dissent and prevent human rights defenders from doing their work. The Bombay High Court has also questioned the Police and their intention behind justifying the arrests of the activists in front of the media when the case is already being heard in the apex court.
I have sent the petition and the list of 4180 signatures to one of the petitioners, Ms. Romila Thapar, who appreciated my effort and has shared the list of signatures with the lawyers in the case, leaving it up to them to use it in their favour in the court. The petition has also been signed by Sagar Gonsalves, son of arrested activist Vernon Gonsalves. It has come into the notice of Ms. Julie Ward, who is a British Member of European Parliament. I hope that the Supreme Court rules in favour of these arrested activists on September 24, and sets a strong precedent to protect human rights defenders in the future.
Readers can also sign the petition and support the human rights activists by clicking on this link