The Supreme Court on Wednesday extended the house arrest till September 17 of five prominent activists arrested by the Pune police in raids in five cities on August 28, reports agencies.
Lawyer and trade union activist Sudha Bhardwaj, Telugu poet P Varavara Rao, activist Gautam Navlakha, and lawyers Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves were arrested for alleged links with left-wing rebels called Naxals or Maoists.
Police said the arrests were part of their probe into an event called Elgar Parishad in Pune on December 31, 2017, when activists and Dalit organisations came together. The next day, violence broke out at Bhima Koregaon, about 40 km from Pune, as tens of thousands of Dalits celebrated the 200th anniversary of an 1818 war between the British army, manned mainly by Dalits, and the state’s Peshwa rulers.
The police crackdown was condemned by opposition leaders and other public figures as an attack on civil rights. “Dissent is the safety valve of democracy… the pressure cooker will burst if you don’t allow the safety valves,” the Supreme Court had observed on August 29, questioning the arrest of the activists nearly nine months after the violence. It ordered the Pune police to put the activists under house arrest and not jail them.
On September 6, the court extended their house arrest and pulled up Pune police officers for speaking publicly about their investigation against the activists.
The Maharashtra government and the police have argued before courts the activists were arrested because evidence linked them with the banned CPI (Maoist) group, and not because of their dissenting views. The state’s lawyer has argued that keeping the activists under house arrest would hamper police investigation against them.
Bhardwaj is under police guard at her home in Delhi, Rao in Hyderabad, Navlakha in Delhi, Ferreira in Mumbai and Gonsalves in the same city.