New Delhi, June 25 (KMS): Amnesty International India and Human Rights Watch have called upon the Indian authorities to stop arresting Dalit rights activists.

Referring to the fear prevailing among people following arrests in connection with the Bhima Koregaon violence earlier this year, the Amnesty International said, “On June 6, Pune Police arrested five people including prominent Dalit activists Sudhir Dhawal and Rona Wilson, members of Committee for Release of Political Prisoners from Mumbai, Nagpur and Delhi for allegedly having Maoist links during its investigation into the Bhima Koregaon violence on January.”

“This is not the first time that activists working on Dalit and Adivasi rights have been arrested with little evidence. The government should protect people’s rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly instead of creating an atmosphere of fear,” said Aakar Patel, Executive Director of Amnesty International India.

The police had claimed that a letter was found in the residence of Wilson that talked about Maoists mulling a “Rajiv Gandhi-type incident” and suggesting that Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi should be targeted during his road shows.

“The police in India have frequently used counter-terrorism laws to target critics of the government and social activists, particularly those acting on behalf of marginalized communities. The authorities should follow Supreme Court directives not to punish ideological support for a movement and to protect freedom of expression,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

Amnesty International India and Human Rights Watch have repeatedly urged the Indian government to ensure that restrictions on organisations do not violate the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly under the international human rights law.

They have also called for the repeal of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, whose provisions use “vague and overbroad definitions” of terrorism, authorize pre-charge detention for up to 180 days including 30 days in police custody, place limitations on bail, and presume guilt in certain circumstances, the two rights bodies said.

“Instead of targeting those who speak out for the rights of the marginalised and against state abuses, the government should address the grievances of the affected communities,” Meenakshi Ganguly said.

On December 31, an event – Elgar Parishad – was organised at Shaniwarwada by Kabir Kala Manch to commemorate 200 years of the Koregaon Bhima battle. It was attended by Gujarat MLA and Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student leader Umar Khalid, Rohit Vemula’s mother Radhika Vemula and Bharip Bahujan Mahasangh President, Prakash Ambedkar.

The complaint against Manch members alleged that “provocative” speeches and presentations made during the event “promoted” enmity between two groups. The complaint also stated that “inciting speeches and presentations” led to the caste violence.

One person was killed in a clash between two groups near Sanaswadi, adjacent to Koregaon Bhima. The violence led to state-wide Dalit agitation. Vehicles and shops were damaged and torched on the New Year’s Day and houses were ransacked.

Pune Police registered a case against Hindutwa leader Milind Ekbote and another right-wing leader Sambhaji Bhide. Ekbote has been arrested in the case. A case against Kabir Kala Manch members was also registered.


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